Fallen Pillars

Time manages to march on when one who held so many others up no longer stands amongst us.

A year ago today, my dear friend Rob Grogan lost a long, hard-fought, unjust battle with carcinoma cancer. I knew him from my first years in college, living in our shared adopted home of Fredericksburg, VA and working for a new restaurant in town. I waited tables to pay for the extra costs of college life–groceries, bar tabs, and oil changes. He tended bar to keep his dreams alive. Dreams of owning his own self-published magazine and caring for his wife and daughter the way only he could. Dreams he kept alive until his very last breath.

I recall the time in both our lives when our roles began switching.

He’d worked at the bar steady for 10 years. Through ownership changes and waves of college-kid waiters, he kept watch over a swanky bar with kind denim eyes and a quick gentle smile. He could listen to an old man tell of his younger days without trampling on or interpreting the stories. He could ignore the heated conversation of a couple choosing between adoration and animosity without neglecting to freshen their martinis. He could sip a scotch with the crew after hours, and share a smoke by the stacks of oven firewood kept out back.

I’d come and gone from the glory days of carrying heavy trays and memorizing six-top orders. When my dreams of being a stay-at-home mom ended and I needed work, my good friend who owned the restaurant graciously found me a full-time spot. I again felt alive when I strapped on the long black butcher apron and tied back my shoulder-length hair. I always enjoyed the work. The busyness of scurrying about a room, the physical nature of side work and room sets, the instant gratification of tips in hand. This time around, four years out of college, I was driven by a hideously late mortgage and mountain of debt I didn’t tell anyone about.

Rob and his beautiful wife Virginia opened their home, Bending Forest, to my first husband and I to have our wedding. Rob's daughter Alexis was our flower girl. It was in the same yard, to the same family, seven years later, when I first confessed the marriage was over.

Rob and his beautiful wife Virginia opened their home, Bending Forest, to my first husband and I to have our wedding. Rob’s daughter Alexis was our flower girl. It was in the same yard, to the same family, seven years later, when I first confessed the marriage was over.

Through those ten-plus years, Rob and his family opened their home and their lives to an entire town of dreamers and big-thinkers. We all are better for having received and accepted the invitation.

It may have been my idea, I don’t remember. I wanted more money, bottom line. I took Rob’s busier Saturday night bar shift. He gave up a post he’d held for years. Neither of us realized, but we were both headed for crisis. Mine would take me away from Fredericksburg, divorced, bankrupt and on a slow road to a stronger me. His would take his life.

Balancing child care for my two-and-a-half year old son with late shifts and a constant pull into the restaurant after-hour affairs, I pressured myself to perform for about a year before collapsing (literally) and admitting I couldn’t fix it. In fact, I made it much worse in the meantime.

I had moved by the time I heard Rob quit the bar. He was tired, didn’t feel like he could cut it. There were concerns. He had swelling and the doctors didn’t have any answers.

Once we all knew the diagnosis, more than a year after he first had symptoms, it was our turn to try to hold him up.

He always managed to be the one encouraging others through his own illness. It was one of the most painful descents I’ve ever witnessed. Though it’s sometimes difficult to remember him before the weight loss and doctor’s battles, I can always recall the generous moments he gave without want for anything in return.

6 Responses to “Fallen Pillars”
  1. Mary Lynn says:

    Oh, Ruth, I have no comment, other than you’ve said it all. Tears are flowing for all who loved him.

    • Ruth Cassell says:

      Thank you Mary Lynn…he loved us all and had such an impact on all our lives. Impossible to forget and absolutely a blessing to have shared this life with him. Miss you all!

  2. Twila says:

    Well written and from the heart. He surely left a legacy, as evidenced by your written words.

    • Ruth Cassell says:

      Thank you Twila, for reading and being such a good friend. You know more than others how the loss of those who influence us–in any way–leaves a space that must be recognized. Rob was one of a kind and I am fortunate to have known him. Much love and peace to you –RUTH

  3. Mary Ann says:

    Ruth, your writing touched my heart❤️Doesn’t parts of your life feel like a lifetime away, but still so close you can still feel their touch, hear that special laugh or simply bring you back in an instant? I try to live with no regrets and remind myself that all the events in our lives make up the fabric of who we are today.

    Of who we are still becoming…

    I feel blessed that you were placed in my path, responded when I invited you in and shared this space with me. I too want to write more, reflect and slow down more, and ultimately become a better version of me along the way💕 xo

    • Ruth Cassell says:

      Mary Ann–thank you so much for reading and commenting. I couldn’t agree more…everything we experience makes us who we are and who we will be. I value the many ups and downs of life, for without them I wouldn’t be able to recognize how special every moment is.

      I am so glad we have connected and are able to share our love of writing and personal reflection. I look forward to many more conversations in the future 🙂 Our journeys become us!

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