Ralph L. Hartley
June 10, 1958 – June 14, 2017
Ralph and Kai
Life can be hard and I’m not really sure what to say about this picture. As I get older I find, not surprisingly, I suppose, that there are fewer and fewer people that have known me all my life. My parents, of course, knew me when I was first born. My grandparents, aunts, and uncles, basically, as well. But my dad is gone and so are my grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles. And now my older brother, Ralph. He was only 18 months old when I was born, but he has been there since my beginning and I have known him my entire life. Being so close together in age, we did a lot of things together, especially as kids. We fought, of course, but we played, as well. The family traveled a bunch, going out west and back a few times when we were young. Then in 1971 we moved to England, camping through much of Europe on the way. Ralph and I went to the Cambridge Grammar School for Boys that year. We explored castles and designed our own. We took another trip out west when Ralph and I were in high school, hiking down the Grand Canyon. We went to Greece for eight weeks in 1981, camping almost the whole time. Ralph only stayed for half of that but it was a really good time (and boy, did he have hair then!).
It was about that time that he met Tsai-Hong. They were married in 1982 and have had a wonderful marriage and two amazing children, now both married. In December of last year their grandson Kai was born. Late in 2015 it was clear that Ralph was ill. In January, 2016 he was diagnosed with lymphoma. In January of this year he had a bone marrow transplant and although the transplant was successful, the cancer was still there. They decided to do some traveling and went on a cruise in the Galapagos and another in southeast Alaska. Ralph was an avid and experienced caver and he took five of us into a ‘starter cave’ in West Virginia a few short weeks ago (see Saturday, May 06, 2017).
We all knew it was only a matter of time before he was gone but it came much more quickly than any of us expected. My mom called me early this afternoon to say that Ralph’s breathing had become labored and that I should come over. He was able to hold his precious grandson one last time before he left us, and that was so sweet.
We disagreed on many things and we fought from time to time (sometimes, particularly as kids, physically). But Ralph was the first friend I had and for most of my early life, my best friend. Some of the memories we shared were shared by no one else. I’m amazed by how rich I am in terms of friends and family. Richer than I could ever possibly expect or deserve. But, to quote something I read once, “the cultural memory of our little family has been dealt a terrible blow…. In what seems like the blink of an eye, whole volumes of institutional memory have simply vanished. And that is a terribly lonely thought, that no amount of company and condolence can ease or erase.”
UPDATE: I’ve fixed a few typos, including two years, which were wrong.