This Side Up

Can there ever be closure?


Can there be closure? I don’t believe so when it comes to the death on a close friend or family member.

Yet that is what we seek: To say there is peace; that we have come to terms with what’s happened.

So when I learned Robert Mastronardi was close to death, I knew the days ahead would not be easy for those close to him. Making it all the more difficult was his yearlong fight to rid his body of the malignant demons that eventually stole his life. His was not a passive acceptance of his leukemia. It was his decision to fight all the way to the end. It meant chemotherapy and bearing the effects that it had on his body. It meant two bone marrow transplants, which failed to stop the ravages of the disease.

Bob wasn’t one to give up.

I came to learn that about seven years ago. I was in pain. My back was giving me problems and an MRI revealed I had a herniated disc. Options were mentioned, some of which seemed extreme. I quickly settled on physical therapy and a decision to give it some time.

Somehow – I just don’t recall the circumstances – I mentioned it to Bob. His immediate offer was that I come by his office in Pawtuxet in the morning. Visiting a chiropractor was not something I’d considered, but then I thought, “Why not?”

As promised, he took me without an appointment, although I felt a tinge of guilt that I was jumping to the front of the line when I saw two people in his waiting room.

Bob was deliberative. He assessed the condition. He didn’t make any promises. He didn’t give up on me and his faith was well placed. With successive sessions, there came a time when I no longer needed to see him.

These were the attributes I came to know more of under totally different conditions, at the time to make wine then and in the years to come. Bob had a passion for wine. Actually, I believe it was a passion for the process, which involved a core group of amateurs with a common mission – to make the best wine possible, and have fun doing it. The “fun part” was enjoyed as an observer, and with a taste from previous vintages, at the garage in the back of Dr. Robert L’Europa’s office in the Knightsville section of Cranston.

Bob was more a conductor than a member of the orchestra. In place of a baton, he waved a cigar in one hand and cupped a glass of wine in the other as his friends stirred vats of crushed grapes that bubbled with fermentation.

When it came time to make wine last fall, I didn’t hear from him. Knowing of his battle, I wasn’t surprised.

Only a couple of months earlier he had been elected president of the American Chiropractic Association. It was a position he questioned accepting. He suspected he could be undergoing extensive treatments and not be very useful but his colleagues wouldn’t hear of resignation after all he had done for their practice. They lent their moral support to the fight he was about to undertake.

The support didn’t stop there, although I was not to learn that until after Bob’s death on April 25.

One of his close friends and a neighbor at one time, Geri Bergeron, called to talk about the wake and service that followed some days later. She told me about a book Bob was given on his 60th birthday. The book was the inspiration of his three children, Michelle, Danielle and Jon. In place of gifts and cards, the children asked friends and family to write a fun time they had had with Bob. They were looking for a collection of memories to fortify Bob and, just as important, to spiritually rally those who cared for him. I knew I had to see it.

Geri brought the book, a three-ring binder with pages encased in plastic sleeves, to my office yesterday. There has to be 60 messages, maybe more.

Bob’s kids wrote about their ski trips, their personal moments together and watching him play racquetball.

Jon recalled, “holding your bent pinky while we walked down Scarborough, to you putting up the tire under the old deck, and teaching me to pitch and ‘having to put a little something on it.’”

Most of the contributions, with the exception of professional associates typed on letterhead, are handwritten and signed simply with first names.

Wine is a common theme to many of the notes, including the comments of Claude Bergeron.

“Wine was an expression of you,” he writes, “and you shared your wine so willingly, you shared yourself along with it.”

A colleague, Bill Wolfson, questions whether he is really an Italian-American since, he observes, he is “rarely animated, but always getting his point across with sincerity, conviction and making sure our collective are for the betterment of the ACA [American Chiropractic Association] and profession.”

Is this the whole book on Bob? Hardly. Yet the remembrances of shared times offer a wonderful picture of a man who meant a lot to many.

Closure is not something the book offers.

If closure is an end of mourning, that will come. But like those words preserved, the memories can’t be extinguished. There is no closing the door, no time when the past is erased.

And isn’t that what we really want?


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