Monty (Montague Sam) Berman has been my best buddy for 35 years, but we have not lived near each other for 30 years – until last June, when he moved here to Asheville after living in the same house in Ithaca for 15 years. Moved here at age 85 (I’m 68, but Monty thrives on close connections with younger people), knowing no one but me. Came here hoping that he would somehow get more opportunities to teach than he was getting in Ithaca – and that maybe we would get a chance once again to teach or lead workshops together.
Monty and I led men’s groups together 30 years ago, before they became so popular. He loves to tell the story of the one group where he played the good cop and me the “shit detector”, who would call men on their shit when they weren’t being really honest. That’s a lot different from how I had facilitated before – or ever again did after that group. And maybe the last time this irascible and challenging character Monty ever played the good cop in a personal growth group – maybe that’s why it was so much fun for both of us, because we were each going way outside of our usual personas.
When a new doctor asked Monty yesterday what brought him to Asheville, he said “My best buddy John”. (I’m still John to all my pre-Asheville friends.) Maybe he moved here so I can help him die. I have thought that thought several times since Monty’s lab studies and MRI’s over the last few months have showed his long-time prostate cancer to now be wildly out of control – moved probably to his bones, definitely to his liver. The most recent prognoses have ranged from 1 – 1 1/2 years (his primary doc) to 4-5 years (his oncologist, who is very impressed by the new drug he put Monty on). The new doc that Monty was talking to yesterday was the ER doc at the VA Hospital, who examined him, listened to his symptoms (a ferocious new pain in his side, which she thinks is bone cancer), went through all his records – and told him he may have just weeks to live.
She referred him to the VA hospice unit, with a promise that if he gets stronger he can go back to his apartment (or maybe better an assisted living apartment). Monty and I have a tentative date to run a workshop at Jubilee in February: “The Case for God”. Led by Monty (a devout atheist) and me (a non-theistic mystic), I think it will be hot. Let’s all picture him being strong enough for it.
I wrote this post Friday afternoon, but didn’t have any of my Monty photos in the laptop I was using so didn’t post it. Monty died Saturday morning at 5 a.m. All photos courtesy of Maureen Simon, who very quickly brought forward and captured so much of Monty’s spirit and depth and aliveness – and who I think kind of fell in love with him, which was maybe why he let himself shine for her.