IN MEMORY of Stuart Harmon 

September 15, 1949 - October 5, 2010   

 
 

Terri's reflections as shared at Stu's memorial celebration on Nov. 13:


Stu and I met on the back of a bus in January of 1981, nearly 30 years ago. We had both joined the Washington D.C. ski club in order to pursue our interest in skiing, as well as our interest in meeting other singles. As people who had been on other Washington Ski club trips knew, you got on the bus first to claim your seat, and then you got off to load your gear. Since it was the first trip for either of us with the Washington Ski Club, we didn’t know about claiming our seats before loading our gear. We ended up being the last on the bus to claim our seats.


Stu was already seated at the back of the bus when I got on. The back of the bus had 2 bench seats facing each other, and I walked back to find myself among 4 other strangers who would be making a 13 hour bus ride facing each other. It was the kind of awkward silence you sometimes find in elevators. I don’t know what came over me, but knowing we’d be looking at each other for the next 13 hours I said “Well, at least nobody’s ugly.” Stu was the only person who laughed.


We spent that week at the Sugarloaf, Maine ski resort getting to know each other, and by the return trip back to Washington D.C. we shared a double seat, and made out the whole way home amongst good natured teasing from the other skiers. 


Stu and I had both harbored dreams of moving to California. I had dreamed of moving back to the bosom of my family ever since moving to Texas with my parents in the 5th grade. Stu was an avid Beach Boys fan, and he had dreamed of moving to a sunny surfin’ California since the 1960s. By the end of 1981 we had both found jobs in the bay area and moved ourselves out. We were married the following summer.


There were many things that attracted me to Stu. As all of you know, Stu is / was a very easy person to be with. He was attractive, nice, and thoughtful. He was a professional and a stable person, and I had a sense of security with him. We shared many values, interests, and hobbies. And my family absolutely adored him. In fact, when we told my family we were separating, they insisted on keeping Stu as an honorary member of the family. Many of them are here today.


Stu and I pursued our dreams together. We bought our first house together in San Francisco in 1983. It was a small Victorian house on Army street. We took out 4 mortgages to make it work, including a loan from my grandmother at 18% interest to cover the closing costs. Stu was working for Arthur Anderson in the government contracts division at the time, and shortly after we moved into our new house, he was assigned to audit the Alaska Pipeline. So for a year Stu worked in Alaska, and flew home every other weekend.


As you can imagine, he had a list of honey-do projects to take care of on those weekends at home. One of my memories of that time was coming home to find Stu vacuuming the backyard. He had fertilized the yard, but he hadn’t read the instructions first. It was only after he emptied the whole bag of fertilizer that he realized he was about to kill a backyard full of roses he took a lot of pride in. I don’t remember whether our vacuum cleaner survived the ordeal.


We had a lot of fun during those years. We took a couple of special vacations in Alaska, we went skiing at Heavenly, and camping in Yosemite. And we had a couple of adventures where Stu stayed with me when I got myself in trouble. I remember on one trip to Heavenly, we got bored with the beginning and intermediate slopes, and so we decided to try a black diamond run. We found ourselves at the top of a steep hill full of moguls, and I panicked.


There was no way down except to ski, and Stu stayed with me for what seemed like hours as I skied and fell every few feet, then got my courage up to ski another few feet. He never showed any impatience, though I can’t imagine he had much fun that day. Although I’d had a lot of fun and spirit for skiing prior to that experience, I lost interest in downhill after that. I’m now more of a fan of cross-country skiing.


As in most long-term intimate relationships, Stu and I had our share of challenges. We went through couples counseling, and a variety of self-help workshops. Stu always made friends easily wherever we went. I remember participating in a 3 week improv class that was about creating a “professionally effective presence”. 


As part of the class we spent a weekend in Bodega Bay in the hotel where they filmed Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. As part of the class, a few people had the opportunity to improvise singing along with a pianist. Stu blew everyone away with his improvised performance, and he had a great time doing it.


After 13 years of marriage, we decided to separate in 1995. We both had learned a lot and grown a lot in our workshops and therapy. Stu became one of the best listeners I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. After we ended our marriage, our friendship continued to blossom. I’ve heard Stu say that we had to end the marriage to save our friendship. We were always there for each other. We both had deep love, tremendous respect, and a fierce loyalty and commitment to each other.


Seeing us together throughout the years, I think our friends and family were puzzled about why we weren’t still married. I know many people have been inspired to see how well former spouses can get along. For us it was easy and natural. I think it helped that there had never been any betrayal or disrespect between us.


When Stu told me of his diagnosis last year, there was no hesitation before telling him I would be there to take care of him following his bone marrow transplant. Along with his friend Laura, I supported him through the process of meeting with different specialists, and deciding on his course of treatment. Stu chose to go with a full ablative transplant, which meant being treated at UCSF.


From the moment he was diagnosed, Stu was very clear that he had more living to do, and he wanted the best chance to be really rid of the MDS cancer. I supported his decision, and moved down to Sunnyvale to be there when he was released from the hospital on May 22 of this year.


The first few weeks following his bone marrow transplant were fairly easy. We were both very optimistic about a full recovery. We enjoyed each other’s company, and we spent a few weeks really making his bachelor’s pad apartment more of a home. Stu wasn’t allowed to go shopping himself, so I would bring home several different styles of curtains, silverware, dishes, or whatever, so Stu would be able to have as much choice as possible to offset his restricted lifestyle.


I enjoyed the first few weeks of caregiving, and having a purpose in supporting Stu’s recovery. I found myself falling even more profoundly in love with him as we faced his healing journey together. I liked the person I was when I was being of service to Stu in his recovery. And as I told Stu in one of our pre-transplant conversations, I was ready for a change in my own life, and I was looking forward to the opportunity to step out of my habits and patterns. I was also looking forward to being welcomed into Stu’s community of friends. Those first few weeks following the transplant were a special time for both of us.


Stu’s complications began towards the end of June. He began passing blood clots and experiencing severe chest pain. His was admitted back into the hospital on June 30. That hospital experience was a nightmare for Stu, and a turning point in his recovery. We continued to do our best to keep our spirits up, and to take the recovery steps one at a time. He was hospitalized again and again.


Our hopes of Stu’s being able to re-claim his independence by the end of the summer faded away. The stress of his pain and loss of strength was very challenging for both of us. Still, we both did everything we could to comply with the doctor’s recommendations, and to keep our spirits up.


We were both very grateful for support we had along the way. We talked with Terry and Charlie Rowland who had been through the bone marrow transplant process 3 years before. We never met them in person, but we both valued their caring and their generous sharing of their experience through numerous phone calls. I was not prepared for how challenging caregiving would become, and some of the friends Stu met through his mother’s dementia care facility were a great resource for me as well.


We weren’t prepared for Stu to lose his battle with cancer. I’m still not sure it’s sunk in for me, though I’ve been dealing with the very real physical aspects of taking care of his things. I will need to take time to reflect on what this last year has been about for me. I don’t know what this journey was about for Stu. And I don’t understand why he had to suffer so much the last few months of his life.


As I’m guessing each of you would say, Stu was a very very good person. I loved him very much. I’m looking forward to that time when I am finished with most of the practical aspects of taking care of his estate, and to the time when the haunting memories of the past few months will fade and be replaced more and more with the cherished memories of the nearly 30 years we spent together.


I am very grateful to those of you who have supported both Stu and me these past few months. I love hearing you share your experiences of Stu, and sharing in the grief we feel at his being taken away too soon. He was the light and love of my life, and I believe I was that for him. I am so grateful for having had the opportunity to have Stu as my life partner.


There were many things that inspired us about each other. There is a quote from Rumi: “Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” For me, Stu’s mastery and beauty was his ease with people and relationships. I look forward to your stories of how Stu touched your life.


Thank you,


Terri Harmon