Life Is Beautiful

Rob and Hugo
Rob and Hugo

Fourteen months have gone by since I wrote the following letter, on December 21, 2008, the day after my wife Susanne’s godfather, Hugo, died, at his home in Gothenburg, Sweden.

I’ve wanted to share it for a long time as a memorial to Hugo and to remind myself, and maybe help others remind themselves, that life is beautiful, that we need to cherish it, be kind, pay it forward, live in the present, and generally try to do no harm and leave this earth better than we found it.

The reason I publish this letter today is two fold:

1) Yesterday, sitting in my parents warm home here on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, working on my MacBook, twittering away on Twhirl, I saw a tweet from Alex Hoyethis tweet, which no longer exists (screenshot of his tweet and my reply below).

I don’t know Rob, and barely, if at all, know Alex (through last year’s Seedcamp week in London) but I saw this tweet in a sea of updates and I knew a life was at risk.  Today I learned that Rob did not make it: TechCrunch UK and TechCrunch (with screenshots of all the tweets).  I send my condolences and support to Rob’s friends and family.

2) Today I was emailing with a new friend, Evan, about adversity.  I will leave out the details of that conversation, only to say that out of adversity can come strength, depending on many factors, possibly the most important of which is perspective and choice.  Evan and I know this first hand, as I’m sure do many/most of you.

For those two reasons, I post my letter:

Susanne’s godfather, Hugo…

He passed away Thursday afternoon. He was 85. He died at home, in the building next door to us, with loved ones by his side. We spent the entire afternoon and into the evening with Kirsten, Hugo’s wife, Birgitta, Susanne’s mother, and Claes, Kirsten’s nephew (he’s 10 years older than me), at Kirsten and Hugo’s apartment, with Hugo in his bed, where he died.

This may sound strange, or it may not, but it was actually quite a beautiful afternoon, I mean of course with many tears, but also with lots of wonderful stories.

The various Swedish doctors, nurses, and others came through, first to write-up the cause of death (kidney failure) and then to wash Hugo and set him up nicely in his bed, with a candle by his side. They then left, telling us to call when we were ready and they would come and get Hugo.

So we had coffee and visited with each other in the various rooms of Hugo’s and Kirsten’s apartment, which is nicely decorated, with antiques and original drawing and paintings, some made by a famous relative of theirs.

We circulated through the living room, which had been made into Hugo’s bedroom since he moved home from the hospital, Kirsten’s bedroom, where we had our coffee and told stories, and the kitchen, where we had some sandwiches and cookies. Individually and together, we periodically visited with Hugo. And then, before it got too late, Birgitta called for them to come for Hugo.

Forty minutes later, two very nice and well dressed men came, Nikolas (the junior) and Johan (the senior). They quietly, and with great and visible respect, setup their rolling stretcher, prepared Hugo in his sheet and carefully slid him onto the stretcher. Then they carefully wrapped the sheet around him, buckled him in, and gently slide a pillow under his head. They then asked if we wanted Hugo to have anything, such as a flower. We gave Johan a piece of Hugo’s favorite candy (“Lala” as Hugo and Kirsten called it) for one hand and a flower for the other, which he carefully and gently placed into Hugo’s hands. Then they closed the sheet and placed a black velvet cover over the stretcher, that was held in place at its four corners and pulled taught, so it looked like a very nice and dignified temporary casket. They then slowly and carefully rolled him away.

We visited with Kirsten some more. Then Claes left, then Birgitta went home. Susanne and I stayed. A little while later, Birgitta came back to spend the night with Kirsten and Susanne and I went home.

All in all, I don’t think anyone could have asked for anything nicer.

Hugo will be buried in the family grave in Jönköping. His funeral will, hopefully, happen at the church where Susanne and I were married. The priest will, hopefully, be Åsa, the woman who married Susanne and I. Åsa was also the one who officiated last year at Susanne’s grandmother’s (Astrid), funeral (she was 95).

You could say that Hugo got to live a whole second life for free after WWII, when his ship was attacked and sunk by Germans. Many people died in that attack, but Hugo was saved, pulled unconscious from flaming water, with scarring burns over much of his body. He could have died then, but he didn’t. He went on to do many things, including meeting and marrying Kirsten and becoming Susanne’s godfather, Santa Claus, father figure, playmate, teacher, discipliner, her everything… he was THE man in Susanne’s life. And they are both very lucky for that. And I am thankful for that.

It has me crying writing this note, but crying because it touches me again to write this… not because it makes me sad, but because it makes me remember again that we are all so lucky and life is so beautiful and precious. Thank you is all I want to say… to you, to Susanne, to my parents, to everyone who shares and makes life together.

With much love,
Chris and Susanne

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