Archived entries for Lives Lived

Andrew Embiricos 1985-2011

“With death comes honesty.” -Salman Rushdie

Today would have been the 26th birthday of the one and only Andrew Ali Aga Khan Embiricos (1985-2011), my unbelievably gregarious friend who died one week ago.

I don’t know exactly when he entered my life. It was maybe four or five years ago, on Eighth Avenue in Chelsea. He was bopping down the street, listening to music with gigantic headphones I thought looked ridiculous. But he had a look about him, something mysterious that intrigued me. Time passed, and I’d occasionally see him around, in restaurants and bars, and of course still bopping on Eighth Ave.

Then one day a couple years later, a friend said he wanted me to meet a guy he knew. The three of us showed up at a bar, and when I saw him, I was floored. “This is Andrew?” It was the same handsome guy I’d seen in passing for years, but had never met.

Our connection that night was instant (Planes. Paris. Various other “P” words perhaps not fit for publication.) It was if I’d reconnected with a long lost friend. Of course that’s how Andrew made everyone feel.

On a Sunday morning last April, around the time he started the job at Virgin Atlantic that he was so excited about, he suggested we wake up at the crack of dawn to do the JFK Runway Run. I picked him up to drive out to Queens (he brought Cascada CDs, of course) and I was confused when I saw him toting along a loaf of sliced bread. When I asked him what the hell that was for, he explained he’d gone on Google for racing tips, and found one about starch-loading before a race to improve performance. (I don’t think Wonder Bread was what they had in mind.)

That morning was so brisk, and Andrew so poorly dressed, he put on the free race participant t-shirt, which was only available in XL (or XXL?). With his trim figure, he looked so ridiculous, but laughed it off as we ran five kilometers under the path of jets landing from places like Dubai and Johannesburg. He was so excited be in the thick of the airport action. His energy was always contagious. I’m surprised we ever crossed the finish line because we spent so much time plane-gazing and laughing and joking along the course. He ended up beating me — the one of us actually on a running team! — by four seconds and I never forgave him.

One of us in Lululemon, one of us…not. 

Another time, we were on a Delta flight (who else would he fly?) when I had an allergic reaction that caused my lip to swell. We landed in Salt Lake City and in typical Andrew fashion, he expressed increasing and genuine concern at my new “plastic” look before laughing uncontrollably and suggesting I just tell everyone I’d been to Orange County. That night in Park City, it was my go-to line.

A true aviation geek, he once called me to debate — for 45 minutes — the merits of spending nearly $1,000 on a massive set of KLM delft houses on eBay. “This asshole keeps outbidding me!” he said. I eventually talked him out of it. With all his Delta “collectibles,” there was no room in his apartment for another village of airline crap. His agonizing over the purchase made for a good laugh, just like every interaction with him did.

“Death is a great revealer of what is in a man, and in its solemn shadow appear the naked lineaments of the soul.” -E.H. Chapin

This past Thursday, after days of dreading the prospect of it, his funeral came.

I tried to hold back the tears as hundreds of loved ones came together on the Upper East Side to celebrate his life. The tributes were all so touching. His friend Czarina read comments that had poured in from around the world on Facebook. “Andrew had 1,211 friends on Facebook,” she said, “and I think every single one of them has posted a remembrance this week.” They all described him the same way: smart, unselfish, and always full of laughter. One person announced that although Andrew didn’t know it, he was soon going to receive a promotion at Virgin Atlantic. (Back in April, when he started there, he texted me SO excited to say “I think I’ve found my industry!”)

His friend Aaron remarked that there was no shortage of people who considered Andrew their best friend, but there was never competition for the title because he was so generous with his love and friendship there was enough to go around for everyone.

I was doing OK until Andrew’s casket was carried out of the chapel. I finally broke down. It was finally real. He wasn’t coming back.

I decided to walk the 60 blocks home that day to clear my head. It was a beautiful day; all the way down Fifth Avenue, the sun was shining so bright and high in the sky. I stopped at a church (quite a feat for this agnostic), lit a candle, and sat and closed my eyes for a few minutes. Later, when I reached Andrew’s building — we lived steps away from each other — I stopped and looked up and just cried at the drawn curtains of his sixth-floor apartment.

That day, a friend remarked online that the streets of our city seemed oddly void of their usual energy. It does seem duller, less vibrant without Andrew’s smile and incredible energy.

Andrew’s death has left a hole in the heart of all who knew him well.

Boo, we’ll miss you, but like your mom said to me when she tried to comfort ME (how selfish of me!) as I wept at your funeral, we’ll always smile at the memories. (Except for those awful sneakers you know I hated. And your inability to ever decorate your apartment.)

La mort c’est jamais la fin d’une histoire.

Brendan Burke

“If we don’t fight hard for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we really don’t stand for them.” – Brendan Burke

I had no idea about the story of Brendan Burke until just this week! The gay hockey player, whose dad is general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, died in a car crash earlier this year, just two months after coming out in an ESPN.com article. Now this week his brother has penned an excellent piece that appears on my friend Cyd’s site, OutSports, about Brendan’s life and his family’s experience with his coming out. I actually teared up a bit reading it…and you will too!

Coop on Carter

I was re-reading old blog posts when I came across this one, in which Anderson Cooper talks about his brother’s suicide in an essay on CNN.com. The piece is rife with fascinating quotes and observations on life and death and is a must-read! The ending zinger is rather profound:

I used to think suicide was a conscious act. A plan made, then carried out. I know now it’s not always like that.

My brother was a sweet young man who wanted to be in control. In the end, he simply wasn’t.

None of us are. We all dangle from a very delicate thread.

The key is not to let go.

Two years ago today

nick_young_old

On the night my brother died, I was half a world away, wandering the cobblestone streets of Prague’s Old Town on a drizzly night. It was a perfect evening: the cobblestone slick in the light rain, the streets shiny under the glow of gas lamps, the muted clop of a woman’s heels the only sound in the world. It was a perfectly unremarkable evening, too, until my phone rang and another brother told me the news.

Life froze.

In that moment, thousands of miles away, my little brother (well, he always towered over me, but I always thought of him as my little brother) lay lifeless.

Joan Didion once observed that when tragedy strikes, we fixate on the normalcy of the moment.

The light. The sounds. The air. The calmness.

“Confronted with sudden disaster,” she wrote, “we all focus on how unremarkable the circumstances were in which the unthinkable occurred.”

“Life changes fast,” Didion said. “Life changes in an instant.”

After my brother died, a higher-up at my office offered to buy me an early plane ticket home. Another friend took me for Long Island Iced Teas when I returned. Long lost friends appeared at his burial. Each outpouring, in its own way, represented to me the true kindness of people — and the true friendship that emerges in times of chaos.

My brother and I were not best friends, but the truth is, we were accidental companions. Our age drew us together — we were probably closest to each other, among our family of five kids. We went on wild excursions through the back-of-beyond (dans les concessions, as they say in Acadian French), where he taught me how to successfully make a car do a recreational 360-degree spin on snowy roads; he introduced me to my future obsession, Sarah McLachlan; he taught me how to shoot a gun (indeed); we even went on a particularly embarrassing double date or two (ditto).

The experience of his death taught me a few things: we all grieve in our ways, and in death, we often remember people differently — sometimes quite differently — from the reality of how we knew them in life. Varying versions of history and memory emerge when one is gone, though perhaps none is more or less valid than the others.

But mostly, I was struck by the profoundness and simplicity — oh my, I sound like my English-teacher mother — of one line that I discovered.

“The timing of death,” writer Mary Catherine Bateson once said, “like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it.”

Alex Hivoltze-Jimenez, 1974-2008

Life works in funny ways. Today I was riding the New York City subway, thinking about an upcoming trip to Beirut. I thought that I needed to call my friend Alex tonight, the Lebanon expert, for advice on the best places to visit there. Minutes later, I got off the subway and had a voicemail waiting for me from our friend Lucas. I sensed a weird tone in his voice and called him back right away. Lucas told me Alex’s body was just found dead in his apartment. It’s hard to believe…

alex

I met Alex half a decade ago and he kept me in stitches ever since (his obsession with my friend Mike, a complete opposite, was among the more humorous aspects of our friendship). He was full of contradictions (how many drunk, oversexed theology students could there be?) and full of endless surprises. He was a complete intellectual, a complete dandy, and one of the best listeners ever. And no one in Boston ever had bigger hair than he did (it was quite toned down in this shot from last month). More than a few bottles of red wine were downed on my roof deck, musing over eastern religions, bad clothes, sexual politics, our shared experiences at Boston University, and the latest South End gossip (he had me rolling on the floor when he discussed the merits of colonic irrigation). Alex brought many people into my life (oh the stories we could tell!), and expanded all our lives. For that he will be missed.

Brooke Astor is dead at 105

There’s no doubt that Brooke Astor, whose last years were marred by stunning accusations of elder abuse and punctuated by the transfer of guardianship to JP Morgan Chase and Annette de la Renta, was one of the most witty souls that ever graced the streets of New York. Her lengthy obituary is an interesting read. It notes that “Although aristocratic in upbringing, style and social milieu, she never sought to be the arbiter of society that the Astor name might have entitled her to be. She never wanted to rule over a world that she was among the first to recognize was no more.”

It continued “Mrs. Astor was a widow for 48 years. Though she had a number of suitors, she did not want to marry again. ‘I just don’t want anyone tugging at my sleeve at 10 o’clock telling me it’s time to go home,’ she once told her friend Marietta Tree. ‘I want to go at my own speed, and it’s a lot faster than theirs.’”

The Washington Post obit mentioned, “In the early 1990s, she helped start a furniture bank to give chairs, tables and other goods to thousands of formerly homeless families. ‘How can you build a new life if you have nothing to sit on?’ she said.”

“Power, for me, is the ability to do good things for others,” she once told Harper’s Bazaar magazine. “I have the means to do it, thanks to Vincent’s money, and the act of giving makes me powerful inside. I would tell anyone, if you have enough money for three meals a day and you’re not too busy, you ought to do something for others.”

brooke_astor_dies

Bluma Appel, founder of CANFAR, is dead at 87

Bluma Appel, the fabulous hat-wearing founder of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the northern equivalent of amFAR, died yesterday in Toronto. The Starsays she was 87 while the Globe said she was 86! “She was somebody who was very intolerant of complacency,” the director of the Royal Ontario Museum, one of the beneficiaries of her largesse, noted. “She was famous for just tracking everybody down she thought could help her causes and just relentlessly coming over and insisting they become involved.”

bluma_appel

Barbara Gittings, dead at 75

gittingsI’ve been meaning to write about the Feb. 18 death of seminal gay rights activist Barbara Gittings since that day, but I’m a little slow…

For those of you who don’t know about Barbara, Mark Segal, publish of the Philadelphia Gay News told Bloomberg, “Gay people didn’t have a face until Barbara started demonstrating in 1965. Up until that point, no gay face had been seen in the newspaper, on television or in the movies.”

I met Barbara in 2003 during a small dinner party near Rochester, where Barbara was the guest of honor prior to a speaking engagement at my university. I sat a seat away from her, and remember listening with jaundiced eyes at her stories. She had the most vivid reminiscences about playing a hand in just about every important gay rights event in our history. It’s no surprise they called her the Rosa Parks of the gay rights movement. At once, she had the most domineering presence of any old lady I’d ever met, and she also seemed among the sweetest.

Gay Rights Pioneer, Barbara Gittings, at 75 (Washington Post)

Coop talks about brother’s suicide

anderson_cooper_suicideAnderson Cooper tells the story of his brother Carter’s suicide in a stirring and frank article. Carter jumped from Anderson’s New York bedroom balcony window in 1988 while  Anderson himself was away in Washington.

“I try not to imagine him hanging from the ledge. Try not to imagine him falling. Did a couple out for an evening stroll catch a glimpse of him before he let go? Did a family gathered around the dinner table see him plunge past their window?”

“That’s the thing about suicide. Try as you might to remember how a person lived his life, you always end up thinking about how he ended it.”

“I used to think suicide was a conscious act. A plan made, then carried out. I know now it’s not always like that. My brother was a sweet young man who wanted to be in control. In the end, he simply wasn’t. None of us are. We all dangle from a very delicate thread. The key is not to let go.”

‘The Rock without the rock’

coo_angela_adamsThat’s how one person this morning described the plight of North Haven Island, now having gone a month without its famed Mother Coo.

Today was the memorial service for Coo, the colorful and humourous cook, socialite, mother, friend, and Republican party insider who died last month, shown here in a photo modeling for the ‘Corice’ line of home goods from Angela Adams.

Coo and I were neighbours for every summer of my life so today’s service was especially poignant. It’s still hard to believe she’s gone, but our lives are richer for having known her and having endured her quick-witted, long-winded stories, and her gregarious company. In the end, I suppose, the best tribute one can hope for is a lot of laughter, and we sure had that today.

Besides her charm, Corice will be remembered fondly for her effortless style. Her Barry Goldwater glasses were even mentioned in today’s sermon. As the designer Angela Adams said of Coo on her web site, “Corice has always been a snazzy dresser. I especially admire her red ponchos. Ever since I was a little girl, I’d see Corice coming up the road with her big red poncho waving in the wind. I was always pleased to notice her matching red lipstick and cat-eye glasses.”

Old Mother Coo

cooYesterday the world lost one of funniest, kindest, and most spirited purveyors of style and wisdom. Corice G. Hurd, better known as “Mother Coo,” to her adoring fans in North Haven, Maine, died at a ripe old age that would probably shock anyone who had ever been in her sharp-as-a-tack company these last few years.

She is perhaps best known for her fashion sense, which was at once peculiar, stunning, and effortless. I’m not sure she ever purchased a single article of clothing after the fall of Nixon, but as we joked one summer, it didn’t matter since style is timeless and trends fleeting. The well-worn clothes she bought in the 60s had come full circle and always looked great with her signature big Gucci sunglasses.

A fantastic cook, Coo endowed me with numerous culinary skills and bestowed upon me “Cooking for Dummies,” when I moved away to college. “Anyone who can read can cook,” she always said. She was also a well-graced socialite and at an early age nicknamed me the “butler” because of my domestic abilities. Coo was just, “dahling,” to me.

She was a rabid Republican, always accenting her flamboyant outfits with a jeweled GOP elephant brooch. (In the photo here, taken on July 4th, 2000, she is wearing it…and look at that patriotic outfit!). Despite our obvious political differences, we always had energetic debates on the state of affairs in Washington. If there was a book written on politics, she had read it and could quote it. Same goes for the Wall Street Journal op-ed pages going back decades. When our neighbor Pete du Pont ran for president in 1988, she marched right up to him and declared she was deserving of a spot on his cabinet.

In 2000, soon after Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, I attended a speech on my college campus in New York and afterward sent Coo various pieces of Hillary kitsch. I packed it all up in a nice, neat package and sent it to her place on Raspberry Patch Lane. One week later, the package had been returned to me. No note, just a “Return to Sender” stamp. It was classic Coo…

Doc Walker is Dead

docwalkerGail Walker, a beloved professor at Alfred University who was an expert on death and dying and who herself faced a battle with ovarian cancer in recent years died this morning at age 53. Those of us who knew and loved Doc Walker are staggered by her death.

In 2001, she wrote a farewell essay to the Alfred community in the student newspaper after doctors gave her only a few months to live. Though she had taught one of the university’s most popular classes, “Death and Dying,” for years — and had won 10 outstanding faculty awards, more than any other professor — and was an expert on grieving, her illness was new territory:

“Many people have asked whether being an ‘expert’ in the field of death and dying has made this process any easier for me,” Walker wrote. “I have had to tell them that the roadmap is no substitute for the journey. Although much of what has been happening is familiar from my experiences gained from accompanying others in their time of tribulation, there is a level of poignancy that is distinctly personal.”

As she said goodbye that first time, to the small community that had embraced her tenacious spirit, her unparalleled joy for life, and her unselfish and giving spirit, Doc Walker wrote: “I have learned that every moment is precious and fleeting, that every person is unique and irreplaceable. I thank you all for your prayers and kind thoughts, and for the love we have so freely shared. I thank the Creator of All Life for allowing me more time. May the Great Spirit continue to bless us and keep us, in all of the ways in all of our days.”

Just last week, as I was laying outside on a quiet and still Boston evening, looking up at the stars, I got to thinking about Doc Walker. I told myself I needed to email her the next day and see how she was doing because it had been too long. There were some things I wanted to tell her, because she had always been the perfect person with whom to share stuff — anything, really. No judgments, just that smile and that unforgettable laugh. But I never sent that last note and now today, she is gone forever.

• Read Doc Walker’s essay, “Sunset and moonrise: Reflections on living with terminal illness.”

• Read her obituary from Alfred University

Death and Discourse

I’m not going to comment on the impending passing of the Pope, but will instead share this passage from Margaret Wente:

“We kept a brain-dead woman breathing in and out for 15 years because her parents convinced themselves that miracles are possible. At the same time, half the world has been praying for the Pope, as if there’s something shocking about an 84-year-old with kidney failure and Parkinson’s disease facing death.”

“I’m not surprised we’re so irrational about death. I try to give as little thought to my own demise as I possibly can. Like everybody else, I desire death with dignity. I also have a totally natural desire to live as long as possible, preferably forever. It has occurred to me that these two desires are probably incompatible, but I’d rather not think about it.”

“If only all the answers could be tidy, crisp and clear. But the questions often turn out to be messy, complex and baffling. And you can never know for sure what your answers will be until the questions are real. Maybe you’ll have some choices to make, and maybe you won’t, and maybe you’ll be able to have things your way, and maybe not.”

• Is Jerry Falwell next in line?

• Lives Lived: Janice Platner, 54, former director of GLAD, in P’town

Louis Robichaud dies

Louis Robichaud, the premier who took 60s-era New Brunswick and transformed it from backwater to a Canada’s only officially bilingual province, dies at age 79. He was also the first Acadian premier in Canada. Also today, Statistics Canada reported New Brunswick leads the nation in new job growth, reversing a decades-old trend of decline, especially in the northern reaches of the province.

Roy Aarons is Dead at 70

Roy Aarons, founder of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, died yesterday in Sonoma, Calif. Roy was a mentor of mine when I interned with NGLJA’s Student Project in Philadelphia in 2002. He was an invaluable source of wisdom, advice, and professional support. He was also a deeply kind man, and surely everyone who knew him will miss him. Read the statement from NLGJA



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