Death, Grief, Loss, and Life

Note: This was originally written many years ago. I’ve updated it a bit for a friend.

Merv Buttel, a father-figure as well as a friend and brother, passed away. Merv had suffered a heart attack earlier in the year, and his death was a result of the damage that had occurred then. According to Cherre, he fought right to the end after he promised her he’d be okay, but it just wasn’t meant to be. This says more about the man than any words could ever do. His word was/is his bond, and death be damned.

I first met Merv and Cherre when I took a 1996 HD Heritage in for some paint work at a motorcycle shop they owned in Columbus, Ohio. This simple act of wanting new paint led to a friendship I will always treasure. Oh, it also led to lots of ‘pieces parts’ for my scoots. At one point I decided I needed an S&S carb and chrome lowers for my baby. Cherre ordered the parts and I showed up on my appointed day to have them installed. Merv directed me to the back of the shop and had me bring the bike in and put it on a stand. He then smiled and said, “There’s your parts and you can use those tools over there. If you need me, I’ll be over yonder.”

After a lot of trial and error and help, I finally got the carb on. Next came the lowers. After removing my old ones, I tried putting the new ones on, but they wouldn’t fit. “Hey Merv, these lowers don’t fit” “What do you mean, they don’t fit. Of course they fit you just ain’t doin’ something right” “I’m tellin’ you man, these ain’t going to fit” “Do I have to come over there and do it for you?” “Yes, that would be nice” “Grumble….Okay look…” At this point he stopped to look at the lowers, turning them over in his hand. He looks at me and grunts. Then he yells to Cherre, “Rhee? You ordered the wrong lowers, these here are for a RoadKing.” And then we set about tuning the carb which almost burned his beard off when it backfired. Karma. Merv’s reason for having me do the work btw? He thought I had the ability and if you can do something for yourself, you damn well better do just that.

Several years later, the whole gang rode to DC for the Run to the Wall. This is the event where 600,000 of your closest biker buddies all meet up in the Capital over Memorial Day to show support for vets and our POW/MIAs. To say this event is emotional is the understatement of the millennium. On Saturday, after touring the downtown area, we got lost heading back to our hotel. We ended up stopping in an area, that some in the group affectionately called “Crack Alley,” to try and get our bearings. After speaking with some of the folks that had gathered around the bikes, Merv said he had an idea of where we were, and we set off again. Weather was turning sour, and Merv clearly didn’t really know where we were, he just wanted out of this area. He not only had Cherre with us, riding her own scoot, but his daughter Stacey was on the back of his. At one point I see a sign for the 495 and shout. Next light Merv tells me to take the lead and I was off. An ivy-cold rain had started to come down and I had visions of trading the freezing rain in on cold beer and warm clothes. Head down, I pushed on faster. I see the exit; we get off and pull into the lot. As I was getting off my scoot Merv came up to me pissed as hell. “Don’t you ever do that again” “What man, I got us here” “Son, I had Stacey on the back, Rhee was following, and none of us were riding in our comfort zone. When you lead a ride, you ride to the skill level of your group. Not only do you not outrun your headlights, you sure as hell don’t outrun your followers. You do that again and I will whip your ass.” And he walked off to his room to put on dry clothes. Nothing else was said about that, but once again the old man taught me a valuable lesson.

I could go on, but this isn’t meant to be Merv’s biography. It’s about dealing with loss, and how that never seems to go away. And it’s about dealing with our own guilt. If only… Man, we need to strip that little phrase out of all our brains. If only I… If only he… If only she… Pointless. How we all deal with personal loss is, well, personal. One thing is common. Folks like Merv touch a lot of people’s lives in incredibly positive ways. We all have “Merv” stories. Stories that make us laugh, cry, and think. I can tell you from personal experience that not a day goes by that one of my actions wasn’t a result of something Merv taught me. That’s the immortality we all should seek.

As we go through life, we will deal with death and loss. When we do, and we try to move through the healing process, I urge folks to reach out to each other. Call. Write. Visit. Being family means we are all each other’s tools. When I try to deal with grief and loss, I picture Merv leaning against a wall, pointing to all of us and saying, “There’s your parts and your tools. If you need me, I’ll be over yonder.”

God Bless.

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