Okay, it’s a little bit creepy and obsessive, but it’s mostly sweet and touching and another set of uses for the artifacts of our culture – that’s OUR culture, not the songwriters, the singers, the record labels – OURS:
- Kenneth Roberts is an old man with a broken heart and an armful of compact discs. He shuffles from table to table at Leo’s Coney Island restaurant, asking strangers whether they’d like to learn about his late wife, Josephine.
“She was in my life for 55 wonderful years, and I miss her so much,” he says as he hands out the free CDs — an audio version of his self-published book, “Remember My Jo.” Everyone is polite and curious as the 79-year-old retiree recounts what his wife meant to him. The photo of Mrs. Roberts on the CD shows a strikingly attractive young woman, circa 1943. “She was just as beautiful on the inside,” Mr. Roberts tells everyone. “I want the whole world to know that.”
….For widows and widowers today, technology is making it easier to celebrate their late sweethearts. As older people get more comfortable on their home computers, they’re making video montages, burning CD tributes, building memorial Web sites and tapping out their love stories, which they self-publish at their local photocopy stores. More than 50 Internet companies have made passes at the online remembrance business, allowing people to post memories and photos of deceased spouses.
….Mr. Roberts has the same motivations, on an unusually grand scale. The suburban home he shared with Mrs. Roberts has become a one-man factory in her honor. Seven spools hold scores of CDs that he makes each morning on his computer. There’s a box of Rubik’s cubes with Mrs. Roberts’s photos on them. Stacked everywhere are “Remember My Jo” cassettes, flip-books of her photos and postcards pitching Remembermyjo.com. Mr. Roberts, who worked as a technician for Chrysler Corp. and Marathon Oil Corp., has spent $100,000 on “Jo” projects, about a quarter of his savings.
He knows that some people think he’s beyond obsessed. He agrees with them. “I’m a ridiculous old man,” he says. But this is his way of channeling his grief. “I’ve written to Bill Gates to thank him for all the computers, so everyone in the world can know Jo.”
….In his grief, Mr. Roberts visited two nuns who told him it might be therapeutic if he found ways to tell others about what made Jo special. And so an obsession was born.
The couple’s estate planner and attorney, Armand Velardo, figures Mrs. Roberts would be overwhelmed by what Mr. Roberts is doing. “She’d say, ‘I knew you loved me, Ken, but I didn’t think you loved me that much!’ ” Mr. Velardo doesn’t try to dissuade his client from spending his savings on “Jo” projects. “He’s competent, it’s good therapy for him, and it reminds other people how precious life is,” the attorney says.
….Joyce Woody, a creative-writing teacher who helped Mr. Roberts structure his book, calls him “Johnny Appleseed, spreading a message that love conquers all.” Still, she’s troubled by his focus on the past. “It’s because there are no children or grandchildren to love,” she says.
….At Leo’s restaurant one afternoon, he approached several tables of teenagers. “You must have lived a wonderful life together,” said Ali Pullman, 13. At another table, postal worker Morrey Weinner, 55, called Mr. Roberts an inspiration. “I’m going to try a little harder in my marriage now,” he said.
After working the dining room, Mr. Roberts sat down and ordered a chili dog. He explained that he cherishes these lunchtime opportunities to talk to others about his wife. His nights are harder. Before bed, he longs to have a dream about Mrs. Roberts. “I don’t know why,” he said, “but I never do.” [Wall Street Journal]
I salute Mr Roberts’ energy, industry and ingenuity in using the newfangled technology to help create his tribute world, but it is also something of a twilight world, between this one and the next. I am very pleased to see that Mr. Roberts uses his devotion to his late wife to interact with others rather than shut himself off with his elaborate memories. I hope you find peace and happiness Mr. Roberts, and maybe even someone new to love.