Roger wasn’t just well-loved. He was also _broadly_ loved. He was also an iconic source of pride for the city of Chicago, just as the Golden Gate is for San Francisco or the “Left Turn Only” sign is for Boston.

So his memorial services are more complicated than the usual. When I heard that funeral services would be public, I wondered if the Cubs were out of town because surely, Wrigley Field would be the only venue capable of hosting such a thing, right? I’m told that Holy Name Cathedral, site of today’s memorial, has a capacity of roughly a thousand. I’m certain that people will be turned away.

Yesterday, about a hundred or more of Roger’s friends and family gathered in a small chapel for a private service. His wife, Chaz, didn’t eulogize Roger. She testified, in many senses of that word. She paced around the wood-paneled room like the trial attorney she once was, speaking with resolution and without notes. And she spoke of her love for Roger the way that a deeply religious person speaks of their love for God.

“This is the day The Lord has made,” Chaz began. Many in the room were able to complete the verse from the 118th Psalm: “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” She said that she felt that and said it every morning when she woke up next to Roger. “He was a humble man who walked with kings. And he was my prince.”

I learned more about Roger’s final days. He was hospitalized and on painkillers, but his mind was at its usual full luminosity. There was a curious difference in his final days, she said. Roger, of course, communicated largely through handwritten notes. During the last week, he started to initial and date them. Chaz wishes she’d saved them. Roger went through countless sheets of note paper throughout the day and nobody had any idea that he’d be gone.

Roger did get in one last joke. His family asked him if, after he died, he could send some sort of sign that there was life beyond the grave. They were kidding around. Roger was an agnostic, not an atheist, but he was a skeptic at heart and didn’t go in for that kind of theatrical nonsense.

So they were surprised when he agreed, earnestly and seriously. “Well, what will the sign be?” they asked. “When the first female black president is elected,” he responded.

Roger was about to leave the hospital and begin home hospice care. That’s a form of end-of-life treatment, but it indicates that he was healthy enough to leave the hospital and everyone, Roger included, expected him to have many more weeks or even months. His death was sudden and peaceful, like the light from an incandescent bulb gently fading out after a lamp is switched off. It was as if Roger knew that he’d be dying at 1:40 PM on Thursday and he was eager to stay up and experience the whole thing.

This pleased me. I lost both of my parents within about a year of each other due to terminal illnesses. Mom and Dad’s final week of life was like watching a sand castle eroding and crumbling piece by piece in the face of a slowly-advancing tide.

Instead, Roger got to enjoy his last days on earth. His bed was surrounded by those who loved him, and they continued to hold his hands long after he went.

Chaz then invited anybody with thoughts to share to step up and take a turn at the podium. Seeing so many people from so many backgrounds underscored Roger’s unrestrainable affection for people. Here I speak both of “people” as individual and as a species.

A member of the community of film critics (I’m sorry that I didn’t note his name) explsined something very important about Roger very well. Roger was a special person in any group he found himself in. But rather than do what politicians often do, which is to dumb down and put on phony airs,

(“aw, shucks, they maht call me ‘Senator Cole’ up thar in Warshington. But here with you’n’all, ah’m just yer pal Jesse. Incidentally, I call your attention to the scuffmarks on my Western-style boots, which you’ll readily recognize being consistent with one who ‘clears brush’ and…well, the word escapes me but my staff tells me it a kind of maintenance that the fences on a ranch periodically require.”)

…he would elevate everyone else, pointing out their aspects and achievements that made _them_ special as well. Every time Roger introduced me to a friend of his, I shook their hand thinking that this was one of the most incredible people I’d meet all year. Roger’s enthusiastic introductions were genuine. He was as excited as I was when I got to tell millions of people how awesome this new “iPhone” or “iPad” thingy was. He’d made this fantastic discovery and he wanted to share it.


I’m writing this on my iPad from the guest room of my pal Ben’s house. Crimeny, there are so many things I ought to be writing instead (including editing an interview with the principals of a really cool creative project that will launch on Kickstarter this week). I’m not really back in that kind of work mode yet.

What a weird trip. As the shock of Thursday’s news began to recede enough for the logical centers of my brain to get more airtime, I started to think about Roger’s funeral arrangements. Despite tremendous affection for his Catholic upbringing, Roger wasn’t religious and neither is Chaz. I imagined that there’s be a small service for his immediate family and then a memorial a couple weeks later.

A higher lifeform than I would have thought “Well, still, no harm in getting a suitjacket over to the dry cleaners just in case, right?” but alas, I yam what I yam. I learned about the public memorial on Saturday, at around dinnertime and scrambled to get a game plan together.

Needless to say, I was hoping not to have to realize “there is in fact an amount of money I’m not willing to spend to attend my friend Roger’s funeral.” The airlines’ salivary attitude towards last-minute travel is legendary and God only knows what they would charge someone who, in effect, is saying “I am desperate to travel a thousand miles on 12 hours’ notice.”

When I have to book last-minute travel for an Apple event, it’s an “ouch” moment for my credit card. I learned, though, that the tables turn slightly when the airline discovers that a plane is about to take off for Chicago in ten hours whether there’s a bag of money — er, a passenger — in that one remaining empty seat or not. There was definitely a markup, but it’s not like I felt I needed to take a bag of peanut-butter sandwiches so I could afford to eat during the trip.

I’ve mentioned in the past that I’ve been a strong fan of traveling light. This trip is pushing that idea to its limit. It feels freaky to be heading to an airport carrying practically no more than what I’d be taking if I were headed to the coffeeshop to do a few hours of writing.

Scratch that up to how quickly I needed to put this trip together and what a leap of faith it was. I hadn’t yet been contacted by Roger’s family about the arrangements. All I knew was that there was a public service. Didn’t know for sure that I’d get in (I reminded myself that Roger was a famous person and beloved by his city) or what I’d really be doing during my 16 hours in Chicago. I doubted I could enter the cathedral holding an empty garment bag.

Really, the only solution was to travel with just a little shoulder bag containing my iPad, a razor and a toothbrush, and a dress shirt and tie carefully folded and protected from the rest of it inside a big Ziploc bag. Otherwise, I flew out wearing the clothes I’ll wear to the service: black blazer (brushed down as best as I could), black 511 Tactical pants, black sweater vest.

(Here we see the advantage of choosing “clergyman casual” as my mode of daily dress.)

I did think my chances of getting in for the service were rather better than just good. It’s just that I didn’t want to bother the family, who surely had more than enough problems on their hands what with needing to assemble a service for a legend on just a few days’ notice. By the time my connecting flight to Philadelphia landed, the details about the private service on Sunday were in my Inbox.

(Sometimes, things just work out. I chose a flight that was (a) available and (b) reasonably affordable. But it turned out to be a perfect fit for the schedule I didn’t know I’d be following.)

It was only a minor leap of faith. And even if it had failed, it would have pleased me just to be in Roger’s city.

I rushed to pack and assemble what I needed on Saturday night. I’m wearing my tactical pants (the kind the FBI wears; it has a discreet but ample number of extra pockets here and there) instead of dress slacks because I discovered that I don’t own any. I don’t even own a pair of dark casual slacks. Nothing that would be conventionally appropriate for a funeral.

A sad thought struck me that night, during a weekend loaded with sad thoughts about Roger. He was my eldest close friend by a couple of decades. This was the first time that a friend of mine had died. I lost my grandparents and my parents, more or less on schedule, and each time I went out and bought something appropriate. It wasn’t really important that I keep that stuff clean and ready for “the next time.”

I guess I’ve just entered that age when I should start expecting to lose friends. This trip was hard to throw together because I’ve never had to do it before. In ten year’s time, I imagine, I’ll have a suit hanging in my closet and I won’t need to spend a half an hour trying on different combinations of things. I’ll know how to book the travel, and I’ll know that the important thing is to just get there and trust that the details will sort themselves out, either from the family or through friends.

I guess I should be happy that this experience is so new to me.

Can’t imagine any reason whatsoever to be happy this weekend, though.

I am slightly cheered by the sudden thought “You should be grateful. The only person who never has to deal with watching his friends die is the one person in a social group who goes before all the rest.”

It’s true, and it doesn’t make me feel much better. But it’s kind of clever, I suppose.

Time to dress for the service. Love to all.

13 thoughts on “Services

  1. ChiMike

    Welcome to Chicago! I live close to Holy Name and in the downtown area. As a life-long Chicagoan I would always be happy to welcome you into my home or show you this city especially on such a sad occasion. I always remember Dr Seuss’ quote at these times .”Dont cry for the loss, but smile for the great opportunity for having the experience.” Roger was an incredible experience!

  2. Maury

    Perhaps without acknowledging this, you have taken up more of the mantle from your friend. Continue your style of story sharing. This is your tribute to Roger.

  3. John

    I remember my father, who died over 25 years ago, looking at the obituaries in the paper every morning. Not understanding, I asked him “Why?”. He explained that you get to an age where you might read about a friend. Now, as I am on the bad side of 65, I find myself doing the same thing. The good news is that I am still here to do it, the bad news is reading about friends and acquaintances. Sorry about your loss.

  4. Sid

    About 25 years ago I stumbled upon an email address attributed to Roger Ebert. I found a typo regarding his birthdate in a copy of Microsoft Cinemania. On a lark I sent an email to Roger to see if it really was him and mentioned the error. Sure enough it was. He was humble enough to communicate with me just like an everyday person. He even made a joke about the error. I’ve always respected his views regarding films. Roger’s email helped me to realize that he was a real, genuine person as well.

    Andy – thanks for sharing and reaffirming my conclusions about him.

  5. Dena

    My dad was a funeral director in San Francisco, and I spent many weekends and summers around funeral services. Every type of person passed through those doors in every form of dress, from furs to flip flops, and I never heard anyone say, “Why is he wearing that??”

    So why buy a special suit for sad occasions? What a downer of a visual every time you open your closet, huh? Wear what makes you the most you, Andy, because a) no one will think less of you and b) the important thing is, as you said, to just get there.

    So sorry for your loss.

  6. Rick Conley

    Thanks for sharing a little bit of your relationship with Roger with us.
    I keep a dark suit in a garment bag in my closet for special funerals. For most funerals I just go casual (dockers). But for family and close friends it just feels right to wear a suit. Maybe it’s just my age (mid-fifties).

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