By Chris Priest
I wrote these words within a day or two of Rob’s death. Everything that is being said today is inadequate for the moment, this moment that we are all now facing. I have known Rob for thirty-five years.
I saw Rob as my closest friend, but because he had so many other friends I was never sure if he felt the same way about me. It didn’t matter. Look at the personal tributes on his website! We now realize he was at the centre of a vast network of closest friends. At least two or three times a week the phone would ring and Rob would say, ‘Chris, mate … just a quickie.’ That was usually an hour of the day used up. Other times he would say, ‘Chris, mate … just a real quickie.’ That was about half an hour. The phone has been very quiet recently.
Like most of his friends I have hundreds of vivid memories of him. All of them are about funny incidents involving Rob, or sudden surreal comments, or weird or insightful things that Rob would abruptly say. Or, many times, they were odd or touching or charming insights into his gentle side. Any gathering with Rob was a gathering of writers. We almost never talked directly about writing. Indirectly, we talked about nothing else. We always laughed with Rob. He was the best company imaginable.
I believe that death itself holds no terrors, but that what we really fear is the process of dying, knowing that we are coming to the end of our lives. I want to describe the comfort I take from the special way that Rob died, and hope this gives the same comfort to others.
While Rob was still aware of the world and conscious he did not know he was mortally ill. He did not have to fear death, he did not have to undergo dying. For most of his final illness he was sleeping or sedated. He suffered no pain. He did not have to regret anything, there was nothing to frighten him, he did not have to worry about the people close to him. His passing was peaceful. His death was as unusual as his life.
I want to end with some of Rob’s own words on death. This is from an interview he gave a few years ago. It’s the sort of thing writers say off the cuff, not meaning it, not really believing that death will indeed finally get them. Rob’s words are beautiful and surprising, but they end with a moment of pure bathos, the quintessential Rob:
Everything we know now is destined to die except for the forest and the earth. Earth is the eternal survivor, and homo sapiens is not part of its mindless and inexorable plan. There are many forests to come. There will be flashes of intelligence. The last thing to burn will not be a man, but a leaf. So eat pizza and drink beer. And cheer up. It’ll soon be over.