My best buddy Monty (RIP 1/10/15)

Monty was an individual - his gift was being true to himself.

Monty was an individual – his gift was being true to himself.

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 could be very difficult at times - and could also be full of joy.  He pissed me off more than anyone else in my life - and there were other times that we totally, completely got each other's sense of humor.

Monty could be very difficult at times – and could also be full of joy. He pissed me off more than anyone else in my life – and there were other times that we totally, completely got each other’s sense of humor.

 

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.

Monty was incredibly smart - and largely self-taught.  He was in many ways a kind of personal growth guru - but he seldom ever set foot in a personal growth workshop.  He would read Fritz Perls and others, but mostly  he wanted the insights to come out of himself.  Even if something originated with John Welwood, he wanted to chew on it until it became his own.

Monty was incredibly smart – and largely self-taught. He was in many ways a kind of personal growth guru – but he seldom ever set foot in a personal growth workshop. He would read Fritz Perls and others, but mostly he wanted the insights to come out of himself. Even if something originated with John Welwood, he wanted to chew on it until it became his own.

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.

Monty challenged me more than anybody else in my life - and sometimes quite harshly.  And nobody has ever admired me more.  Our relationship was sometimes a battle, but a battle between equals.

Monty challenged me more than anybody else in my life – and sometimes quite harshly. And nobody has ever admired me more. Our relationship was sometimes a battle, but a battle between equals.

 

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.

Monty adding his own vision to the "Before I die" wall on Biltmore Avenue - photo taken August 22nd.  Monty said that he didn't like some things about himself - like how judgmental he was of others - but that he never got down on himself for it, never felt bad about himself, never felt guilty.  I don't know how he pulled this off - I couldn't - but I believe he did.  When he walked through that final door, I'm sure he did it with no regrets.

Monty adding his own vision to the “Before I die” wall on Biltmore Avenue – photo taken August 22nd. Monty said that he didn’t like some things about himself – like how judgmental he was of others – but that he never got down on himself for it, never felt bad about himself, never felt guilty. I don’t know how he pulled this off – I couldn’t – but I believe he did. When he walked through that final door, I’m sure he did it with no regrets.

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. 

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18 thoughts on “My best buddy Monty (RIP 1/10/15)

  1. Hi MaJo,

    I’m sorry to hear of your loss. Sincere condolences to you.

    I’m glad you had your best buddy for as long as you did.

    Andy

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  2. Majo, I am so sorry for your loss. I don’t have words that match the pain you must be feeling. May your wonderful memories help you heal quicker. Judy

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  3. I understand that Monty was mentioned twice at Jubilee yesterday – once by Howard in reference (I think) to how ephemeral life is, and once by Peter Johnson when he announced the team meeting this week where Monty and I were going to pitch our “Case for God” workshop. (I’m going to go ahead with it and will do several things to bring Monty into the room.) Which is all kind of ironic because Monty did not much like Jubilee. I think it was too happy and too spiritual for him. He switched over to the Unitarian Church, which he found a better fit. I have been happy today – celebrating Monty and our friendship. And I have several times caught myself thinking thoughts like, “And then Monty and I are going to…” or “I need to get Monty my coffee maker”, etc. Marlisa Mills wrote me and said, “Friendship of a lifetime, grief of a lifetime. Take care of your heart.” That has stuck with me.

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  4. Majo,

    Man that’s a heartbreaker. I am sorry for your loss and grateful for your vulnerablity in sharing the life of you’re friend. Let me know if you need an atheist to take his stance in the workshop (I’m a good actor and that’s an easy role.) prayers for you both this evening.

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    • If you had even a part of you that could genuinely play the role of the atheist (I do), i would love you to come and do it. You could even announce before you do it that this is just what you are doing – playing out one of the voices within you. I just think that would stretch the group in a good way.

      Thursday night at the hospital a minister came into the room and offered a prayer with Monty’s roommate: “And may the Lord Jesus Christ…” As he moved over to my atheist Jewish friend, I thought, “Oh Lord what’s this going to be like?”
      “My friend, may I offer a prayer.”
      Monty’s reply had so much integrity and even humor, “To who?”
      The minister was greatly taken aback. “Well do you want a prayer?”
      “No.”
      I bet he doesn’t get that reply too often in the God-fearing and (maybe more important) polite South.

      Let me know if you want to come to the workshop. I would consider you a part of the staff and waive the $15.

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      • John, we (Pat and I) were taken aback when we read of Monty’s death. I didn’t know that you and he were such close friends until we came across your blog. I have many memories of Monty. The first…before I ever met him or knew his name…was while on line to see a movie on Erie Blvd. The crowd in the street had to wait for the in-house crowd to exit. The film (which I’ve long forgotten) had a lot of gratuitous violence. Monty came out through the throng with his wife and another couple. In a stage whisper (loud enough for many of us to hear) he announced: “That may where they’re at. It’s not where I’m at.” A succinct, unapologetic and penetrating movie review that I’ve used myself more than once. Tom Cullen

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  5. Friends like Monte never leave you.
    They stay in your head, your heart and live through you vicariously (hope I spelled it correctly).
    Now Monte can live on without his aging body….
    My heart goes out to you in your loss of his physical being and presence as you knew him.

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    • Julia – this is so wise. And yes, he is living within me – “What would Monty do?” I think I said at the Artists Network last night that he never would continue attending a group where his heart had left. I actually liked that meeting last night quite a lot and feel good about where the group is going – i think it has a lot of aliveness. And maybe will be stronger still from not depending on me, but developing the leadership from within. I think John David and Kiah will do a great job.

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  6. Thanks Pam. One of my friends wrote “Friendship of a lifetime, loss of a lifetime. Take good care of your grieving.” This has become my mantra. I am very grateful that I have other good men friends – that this loss doesn’t leave me empty in this regard. And I can see already that those other few guys are already even more important to me than they have previously been.

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  7. Thank you, Majo for this reflection. As you say in one of your comments, Monty had been attending the UU congregation, and I had not heard of his death. My condolences on your loss. Lisa Bovee-Kemper

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  8. Pingback: My highlight is you | Real life in the checkout line

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