Lest We Forget

By Jim Willis

Part Three: Colin’s Choice

I have one sister, Lynn, and one brother, Robert (nine years older than I). He is a psychotherapist and his wife, Pat, is the curator of rare books at the Beinecke Library at Yale. They live in Connecticut. A few hours after Colin’s death, I tried to call them but reached an answering machine message that referred me to another psychologist. He then informed me that Robert and Pat had just left for vacation in Canada. By the time we finally tracked them down, it was just before the funeral, and Claudia told them that we had plenty of support from friends and other relatives and that they should not come to the funeral but instead should visit us at Christmas time when we could have a real visit. A week or so later, we sent them a videotaped copy of the funeral, and Robert then sent us the following letter.

Dear Claudia and Jim,

We got back home just before noon yesterday. Among the carton full of unessential mail, we discovered Colin’s video. We watched — or, should I say, tried to — this morning. If Pat’s sinuses were dripping before, she’s flooded now.

Thank you for sharing the celebration with us. It’s a rare privilege to be part of such love. My heart ached for you all, but it also swelled with gratitude. Colin couldn’t have been blessed with more life than he enjoyed with you, his brothers and sister, your dear friends. And how could any community of faith have been more supportive?

Your taking special to mean miraculous, Jim, seems so true. That good-bye to him brought out the best from a race of humans not always marked by compassion, creativity, and selflessness. I don’t know as infiltrator isn’t better than spy.

I was especially touched by the place kids took throughout. Most often death leaves them out. But they need to say “so long,” “thanks,” and “remember when” too. And they have a right to know in their hearts that death does not mean abandonment nor “good-bye,” “I’ll forget.” I was thrilled by the balloons they sent aloft, filled with spirit and alive with color: just like Colin. And I suspect he would have nothing to do with a dour God. I could well hear him agree with Zarathustra: “I should only believe in a God that would know how to dance,” and “How many things are possible! So learn to laugh beyond yourselves! Lift up your hearts, ye good dancers, high! higher! And do not forget the good laughter.

I was thinking about the gifts that were brought to the altar. So often they lack what his toys are: presents from loved ones, presented to one loved, which make each present to the other, in a present that widens and stretches and never passes on. A moment of mutual touch creates a soul and molds a heart in the birth of an eternal hello. Presence remains simply present. Chronos bows before a greater god, Kairos: the former is empty, if flashing; the latter has fullness and body that have wonderful lasting power. Oh, how I love the reddest of roses!

I spent an afternoon thinking about and talking things over with Colin. He told me about his last night and the hard choice he had to make. He so much wanted to dance! I assured him that you desired that for him too. I also said I’d pass on to you what he decided and why. He didn’t want you to think that he was abandoning you either.

Pat and I would like to join you, say on Thursday, December 26, to share a toast of celebration. What a dance is being danced . . .


The paragraph about his conversation with Colin was so comforting to Claudia, but I was naturally skeptical. Robert has special powers, and he is able to go deep within himself through meditation and leave the boundaries of time and/or space. Don’t ask me how, but he does it. The next time we talked on the phone, Claudia said, “Well, I understand you talked with our boy.” I got on and said, “Now, Robert, you know I’m very Aristotelian . . .” He laughed and said, “Do you mean did Colin and I have a conversation the way you and I are having one now? No, but we had a conversation.” I have no reason to doubt him.

He also included a poem he had written, inspired by his conversation with Colin. Every time I read this poem, I burst into tears, and yet I also find it very comforting.

Colin’s Choice
His room from sleeping blackness bursts alive
In dancing flames as rainbow lights appear.
They flicker, wheel, with jingling laughter dive
Before his breathless eyes. The dancer near

His ear begins to speak: “Hello, I know
Your silent plea for legs to run,
Wide fields to roam. Come, my friends will show
You dances, leaps, vast heavens full of fun.”

The child laughed, then sighed: “I cannot leave
My family; they warm my heart.” A flame
Of love then jumped in him. “I do believe
They share your life’s desire; they wish the same.”

The sparkling figure beckoned, “Follow me
Across bright meadows, your playful spirit free!”

His Uncle Bob
August 1991

Dan Sapone pointed out to me shortly after we received Robert’s letter that the poem is a Shakespearean sonnet — 14 lines, iambic pentameter, rhyme scheme of a, b, a, b/c, d, c, d/e, f, e, f/g, g. Not only is the poem inspiring. It is also carefully and lovingly crafted!

Claudia and I spent many hours trying to find the right thing to put on Colin’s gravestone. We looked in Oxford’s Quotes, Shakespeare, wrote our own tributes, but nothing seemed quite right. Finally, we found the perfect words. And they are the last line and a half of Robert’s poem, “Follow me across bright meadows, your playful spirit free!” Those words not only apply to Colin, but they could be his invitation to the rest of us. Near the words, engraved in the stone, is an image of Colin, thick glasses and all, sitting on the lap of Jesus. Overhead is a butterfly. Claudia was the creative force behind those.

Colin Smiling /><i class=“Follow me across bright meadows, your playful spirit free!”

This past year has been very difficult for all of us. Every first has been tough — his first birthday since his death, the first Christmas, the first Easter, this first anniversary. There is the saying that “Time heals all wounds,” and I suppose it is true, but in some ways the sense of loss has seemed to increase throughout the year. I guess that’s the price of love. The year has been especially tough for Claudia. Taking care of Colin was her occupation, her vocation, for almost seven years, and now he is gone. She has much more free time now, of course, but there is an accompanying guilt that goes with that. She will begin her junior year of college (at age 44) next month (September of 1992) at Cal State, Hayward, and we all hope that it will be a rewarding experience for her.

By the way, when an obituary appears in the newspaper, it often includes the mention of a favorite charity to which the family wishes donations sent. Claudia came up with a marvelous idea for Colin’s obituary.

Kaleidoscope is an activity center in Dublin for handicapped children. We have set up a scholarship fund there for poor, handicapped kids who otherwise could not afford to use the center. The principal ($2,016.98 as of 5/26/95) cannot be touched, but the interest is used for such scholarships. Most of the money, by the way, has come in $1 or $2 donations from students of mine. It makes me very happy and very proud that because of Colin, many poor, handicapped children are able to have a good time. That is just another way that he can live on forever.

Colin Willis Scholarship Fund
Kaleidoscope Activity Center
3425 Larksdale Avenue
Dublin, CA 94568

I could go on and on about Colin, but it’s time to close. I hope that my writing this encourages Claudia, Erin, Robert, Corrigan, and Kenon to do the same. Because my mother died when I was 16 and had been very sick most of those years, my memories of her are very, very dim, and I have to rely on others (my sister and brother primarily) for their memories and insights. I am not going to let that happen with Colin. I have written this to you, my little bud-bud, and about you — lest we forget.