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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Geof Whitaker

I'm no good at grief. I find my best coping skills in cases like this is to pretend nothing has changed. I did that when my dad died. I went to bed one night with a super healthy 45-year-old father and woke in the dark to the news I didn't have a father any more. I just pretended Dad was at work. The thought that he was never coming home again was simply more than I could understand or bear when I was 15.

I feel myself wanting to fall on old patterns. My friend Geof has died. I saw it coming. I knew he was suffering. I wanted more time. Now all the people who loved him have to pick their ways through the shattered glass his death brings into our lives. Relationships need to be rearranged to patch the void left behind, but band-aids can't fill the hole some people leave in our lives. I want to pretend I can pick up the phone and ask Geof for his excellent advice about how to deal with his death.

Our first real conversation was a fight about abortion. We both got overheated on the topic, even though our perspectives weren't so different we couldn't have found a middle ground if either of us were trying to find one. We weren't trying. The next time I saw him, he met me at the door with "I'm so sorry!" and I responded with a fast "Me too!" More than anything else, maybe that moment cemented our friendship?

His wife Korki encouraged our friendship because she saw Geof didn't have enough creative playmates since he'd been forced to retire early from commercial photography after being savagely beaten by a lunatic with a baseball bat. Geof wasn't just a photographer, he was amongst the absolute best. He taught me things about color and lighting that will influence my work for the rest of my life. He critiqued my work without pity, but also with encouragement and praise. He was always right. When I critiqued his work, he took it in stride and I felt pleased to return his favors.

Geof quite possibly knew everything there is to know about everything. He could discuss quantum physics to politics to dandelion fluff in a seamless, amusing, educational stream of consciousness. He had opinions about all of it too, and his opinions were based on kindness and understanding. He understood me. In a world that has told me so often that I am "too much" of everything that I am, Geof understood and encouraged me to be all of those things.

Geof understood why I wanted to sit on the free side of a table, while he wanted to sit with his back planted against a wall. Korki obliged us both with good humor and sensitivity. I have tried to keep this blog a happy place with happy memories, but Geof knew about my demons, and he imparted a path towards peace with memories I couldn't see before. In the same way I didn't judge him for being beaten with a baseball bat, he took in my lifetime of traumas and praised me for surviving.

Geof came into my life at a time when I lost another dear friend, another close friend and her kids moved away, my heart was broken, and my health fell apart. It was a terrible year, and Geof helped me pick up the pieces. He let me ramble on and gave me sage advice how to deal with things. Sometimes the advice was simple, and sometimes so insightful, I couldn't understand how those ideas hadn't occurred to me before. His lengthy, daily emails were so important, I saved them in case I needed to take refresher courses in living.

He shared his own life too, which wasn't always pleasant or easy. He made sacrifices for his children that his kids will never know or appreciate. He was a complex, brilliant, sensitive man, and it was my blessing to have known him. When my friend Betty died, my sister said "Some people are irreplaceable". Geof is irreplaceable too.

The photo of cherries is Geof's work. In case you think that's an easy thing to do, try it sometime. I did. I failed. Add in the fact that he had a tremor from getting hit with that bat, and that he went blind in one eye, I think you can see Geof's knowledge and talents were remarkable. He knew when to get that shot, how to set the exposure and focus, and probably a thousand other things I'll never learn. Mostly I look at this photo with the knowledge that he gave it to me because I like cherries and because he was cheering me up one day. All I can think is that it was my honor to have known him while I cry a puddle of tears on my keyboard.

In Geof's own words...

There is a kind of mysterious way things work... By some manner of magic there are people who have entered your life who see the world the way you "know" it should be... I began living like I mattered, and suddenly I did.


  1. You realize it's not polite to make a guy cry at work? What a wonderful, thoughtful, honest and poignant post, Linda. My condolences. How lucky you were to have known him and how lucky we are that you shared part of him with us!

  2. Misery loves company, right? Thanks Rand!

  3. Linda, words are never adequate at times like this but yours are totally eloquent. What a loved friend he must have been, he would be so proud to read your words. I wish I could reach out and give you a hug....I can only extend my sympathies to you at the sad time but they are sent with love across this vast distance. Grieve, but stay strong, we're all here for you.
    RIP Geof,
    Jane x

  4. Linda, I wish I could say something to ease the pain you're experiencing now. I hope you can find comfort knowing that Geof will always be with you in a very large part of your heart, and that his kind and creative spirit continues to serve as a mentor and make you smile. :o) My most sincere condolences and hugs to you, my friend.

  5. Thanks so much! Geof will stay in my heart. I was so lucky to have known him.

  6. Linda, no one could have written a more touching tribute to my Geof. May I use it at the service on Sunday?

  7. Beautiful words Linda. I'm here when you need me. My prayers are with you Korki.

  8. My prayers are with Korki too, and I hope everyone else will offer their support to her too. She is a remarkable, wonderful woman.

    And yes Korki, I'd be honored if you use this on Sunday.

  9. Oh, Linda. I am deeply sorry for your loss. Your words are tender and moving and show just how precious your friendship was. Sending my prayers to you and his family.


  10. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I think that those that give so much of themselves and honor us with their friendship are the ones we miss the most. He sound like a remarkable individual.

  11. Hi Linda (and Korki)

    hugs from me too.
    There's not much I can say but tell you how sad I am at your loss and how touched I am by your beautiful tribute.


  12. Thanks Patti and Andrew. Good people need remembered.

  13. A lovely tribute to your friend, Linda...it sounds like he left a wonderful legacy for his friends and family to remember him by.