Grief is a weight that can shatter or strengthen our faith. We get to choose the meaning we give it.
I was scanning my email, when I saw this subject line:
Chris Crowley Memorial.
My heart stopped. Chris has been a friend and client for 10 years. This can’t be right. Confused, I tapped on my screen to open the email. It was from Chris’ wife, Jacqueline.
Included is the information about the memorial for Chris. I hope that you’ll be able to join. Please do share with other friends as well.
Below the text was an image.
I stood in my living room, overcome with shock.
In a trance, I replied back to Jacqueline to express my condolences.
In the meantime, I went onto Facebook and brought up Chris’ profile, trying to determine what had happened. I wondered if he had been sick, and perhaps I hadn’t known.
I had just thought of Chris a few days earlier. Walking in the East Village, I passed a restaurant where we had eaten dinner. I realized that I hadn’t spoken with him in a while, and made a mental note to get in touch.
Now, with the news that he was gone, I started to wonder if “a while” was perhaps longer than I thought in my mind.
I hadn’t seen him show up in my Facebook feed in a while; of course I’ve had a different relationship with Facebook since my 4 month break last year. But even when I’ve been active, most of my feed is filled with self-promotional content from friends, not the real news of their lives.
Jacqueline had posted to Chris’ profile on July 1 to share the news that Chris had died in his sleep at some point in the prior few days.
I read some of the comments to her post. Friends mourning and grieving and expressing shock.
That was it. He went to sleep. He didn’t wake up.
I’m Sorry For Your Loss
A few minutes later I received an email reply from Jacqueline. She shared that Chris died of a pulmonary embolism.
“A rare and fluke thing that can happen,” she wrote.
Over email, it landed with a matter-of-fact-ness that hid the grief.
Not just “can.” Did. It did happen.
I am usually not at a loss for words. But suddenly, I was speechless.
Conditioning told me to say “I’m sorry for your loss,” but even as I typed the words, that sentiment seemed so trite.
“I’m sorry for your loss” doesn’t seem to cut it in this situation. I want to say more, but I’m not sure what. And I’m not sorry just for Jacqueline’s loss. I’m heartbroken for everyone who knew Chris, myself included.
Colleague. Client. Friend. Teacher.
Chris and I have been friends for 10 years. Ours wasn’t an instant friendship; it was an evolution that unfolded as we interacted through our various roles.
We first met in 2006, when I joined a startup called Creditex as an in-house attorney. He was the the brilliant financial guy from London who explained to me the concept of credit default swaps … before they made headlines as the instrument that took down the economy in 2008. In the context of my work at the company, I knew Chris mostly as a finance genius who was always creating new products and platforms that needed to be licensed to banks and hedge funds. Most of our interaction was via conference calls, as Chris was across the pond with the team in London. When he visited New York, our interactions were all business.
I left Creditex the next year and started up in real estate that fall. Just after I started my real estate practice, Chris decided to relocate to New York. He reached out to me for help and he became a client. I helped him rent his first apartment on the Lower East Side and from there to Williamsburg … (Before everyone started moving there).
It was in that period that we truly became friends, rather than “former colleagues.” Over time, Chris became a teacher to me.
Chris was a model of how to live a life that was true to yourself. He never tried to be someone else just to fit in. He lived his truth.
Intellectual and Creative
As I got to know Chris better I learned that beneath the all-business, financial-genius British guy I knew from Creditex was hidden a true artist and creative. I discovered that we had a shared passion for food and wine, entertaining and – surprising to me – circus arts.
Whenever we talked about my passion for flying trapeze, he would remind me of his skills in fire eating. I could never quite wrap my head around the vision of Chris doing fire eating. But that was Chris, always full of surprises.
We would meet periodically for dinner, sharing a bottle of wine and our opinions about flavors and textures of the food we were eating. Our discussions ranged from the real estate and financial markets to flying trapeze and circus to food and wine and Chris’ passion: experiments in cooking.
Feasting on Life
I don’t think I know of any cook — amateur or professional — who is more innovative and creative than Chris. He represented a perfect mix of analytical intelligence and creative artistry; possessing a palette for nuanced flavors and textures and a keen understanding of the science required to make it happen. He would light up when telling me about some new piece of specialty equipment he was buying — a sous vide machine, a “packo-jet” — and what he was planning to do with it. He would regale me with tales about how he sourced some exotic ingredient, and his ideas for new twists on classics.
It was an honor to score an invitation to one of Chris’ legendary feasts. He would spend days preparing a multi-course tasting extravaganza with creative cuisine that bested the top NYC restaurants. Chris didn’t just love to eat food or cook food.
He viewed food as something to be experienced with all the senses: visuals, sounds, smells, textures, tastes and intuition.
As much as he delighted in the food, I always felt that what was most important to Chris was bringing his friends together to share a meal.
Like the food, the guest list was impeccably sourced; a carefully curated mix of people from all walks of life would gather around Chris’ long rectangular table to delight in a shared passion for food and adventure and expand their culinary horizons.
I never got up from his table without a full belly and new friends.
Authentic is a word that has lost a lot of meaning in our current culture, but I feel the need to seize it back from the grips of marketers to describe Chris.
Chris was authentic.
He was himself, always, in every situation.
He was serious when necessary, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He made time for adventure and play. He unapologetically embraced all parts of who he was: an intellectual and a creative. Financial genius and innovative chef. Friend and husband. And soon to be father.
I always felt that Chris could have been a successful professional chef if he ever decided to leave his finance career. What fascinated me was that Chris did not seem to feel the need to choose one over the other. He worked hard in his day job, and it seemed to fill a part of his passions. He never seemed to get caught up in the race for more money.
For Chris, what was most important was his friends and family.
A Generous Friend
Chris was a generous with his time and attention. He didn’t count minutes when he was with his friends. He didn’t back out of making plans with lame excuses that he was “too busy.”
Chris was present. He shared moments. He was often the most knowledgeable person in the room on a topic, but never made anyone feel like their opinion was less worthy.
He was gracious and humble, but never falsely so. He owned who he was and he valued himself.
He Died Too Soon
It’s tempting to say “he died too soon.” That’s what we say when someone dies young, right?
Except, who are we to say it? How do we know the Divine plan?
This is what I know: in almost 40 years, Chris lived more life than many people who live to be twice that age.
He approached life the way he approached food, embracing it through all of his senses, making the most of every moment.
He worked hard, for sure, but he also played hard.
Questions of Faith
I want to lash out at the world at the seeming unfairness of it all. With so much evil in this world, why goes God take a generous soul, a father-to-be, from this world?
We are reeling. We want answers. I want answers.
And yet I know that the search for answers would be in vain.
The heavy weight of grief can shatter our faith, or strengthen it.
There are no answers here. We supply the answers. We supply the meaning. The choice is ours.
Faith tells me that there was a higher purpose here. For Jacqueline, for Chris’ son, and for his family and friends.
This will take some time to process.