Wednesday, March 09, 2016


Mr. Bones turned up on my sofa this morning.  Just a pause.
He’s been hanging around since the Sixties.  He’s immortal himself, having been cast in plastic from the original who we were told was a Scandinavian man.  We wanted him to be six feet tall because his job was to be a sculptor’s reference and 6 feet was easier to scale.  I think we got him from Turtox — no Skulls Unlimited in those days.  With us he lived an interesting life, playing chess and all that other iconic stuff.  He never did get into Stick Game, though it’s a gambling game and probably more true to the role of Death.

He had a hanging frame and a dust cover, but his feet stuck out the bottom.  Our six-year-old grandson found him horrifying, so instead of the boy sleeping next to him, he slept in our bed with us.  After all, he was with us because his mother was dying back at home.  Death was a little too personal.

Dead people put one in a double bind.  At last it’s safe to say what you were afraid to say before, because you don’t want to estrange yourself right then.  It’s not that dead people don’t want to talk back.  it would often be very reassuring if they answered questions, but you never find out whether they think you’ve done the right thing at the end.  That’s what you wanted to ask about, before, you know.  You can ask a medium, but then you’ll only get a medium’s opinion.

It’s another double bind if you love this person that you don’t want them to die under any circumstances, even if they’re comatose with no chance at recovery, but you don’t want them to suffer and struggle.  

Concerns about double-binds don’t bother Mr. Bones.  In fact, he lets all criticism and doubt go right through him.  He’s fatalistic about life.  He promises he’ll never leave us.  Sometimes he gets a little overwhelmed and right now people have strange ideas about him.  I wonder if people talk directly to Death.  Oh, sure.

Not dead yet!  Marv receiving massage therapy

Marvin Backer, a therapist whom I knew because of his support and warmth as a Unitarian Universalist fellowship member and leader in Bozeman, Montana, has just died.  He knew Death rather well, having dealt with people’s concerns on the subject.  He was 78, so maybe he’d had a few little conversations with “The Force of Nature” on his own behalf.  Once in a while Death will back off a bit.  We never really know why.  Only rarely do we have any control.

The funeral home, evidently not having any experience with UU’s, uses a little quote about God on their website, but I’ll tell you a little about Marv and Susan’s house up Bear Canyon.  They were in the woods, which are pretty wild that far out, and had built bedrooms like reverse aquariums so they could watch the seasons and the wildlife.  One day they came home and found that a curious and muddy-footed bear cub had been trying to figure out what humans do by putting his front paws on the floor-to-ceiling glass walls and working his way along until he created a border of prints.

One New Year’s Day a few of us gathered to sing and eat in celebration.  Their house is accessed by going from the highway down into the canyon and crossing a small bridge, then going back up and parking under the house.  Just before midnight we bundled up and walked down to the bridge, then stood a little apart from each other in the sifting snow to feel the planet turning, our lives turning, the knittedness of everything.  In a while we went back up to the house.  On the path our footprints were overprinted by the prints of a couple of moose.  The brush hid them but their impact remained.

And that’s how it is with all of us, going along in the brush.  Nothing fancy.  Just going along step by step, and sometimes disappearing except for the imprints we left.

Marvin Backer (1937 - 2016)

Marvin Backer passed away on Jan. 10 from complications of metastatic prostate cancer. He was born on Feb. 7, 1937, in Schenectady, New York, to Lena and Louis Backer. He spent his childhood years in Amsterdam, New York, earned his B.A. from Cornell, and his M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

Marv served in the Army Medical Service for ten years, completing his internship and residency at Walter Reed Hospital. He served in Army hospitals in Landstuhl and Munich, Germany. Living in Europe for three years instilled a life long love of travel. He completed his service at Letterman Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco.

Leaving the Army in 1970, he began a private practice in psychology in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he met his wife, Susan. They were married in 1972. They moved to Bozeman in 1977 and lived for many years in Bear Canyon where the forest, trees, water and animals nurtured his spirit.

Marv was a wise and gentle counselor with deep compassion for his clients, family and friends alike. He had a lively intellectual life and continuing curiosity about human behavior. He was a creative and practical problem solver. A passionate gardener, he created beautiful spaces for contemplation, filled with flowers and vegetables. Planning the many trips he and Susan took over the years gave him almost as much enjoyment as the travel itself. He loved to cook and entertain, and stated many times that he didn't care about the details for his memorial service, just as long as good food and wine were offered.

He was a devoted member and leader in the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bozeman where he served as a lay leader, on many committees, and on the board.

He leaves behind his beloved wife of 43 years, Susan; his sister, Marlene Schain of Staten Island, brother and sister in law, Jeff and Kathy Bartsch of Billings, Montana, his niece Debra Lilley, nephews David (Ana) Schain, and Dan (Deena) Bartsch; great nephews, Dean and Drew Lilley, Mac and Emmit Bartsch, and great niece, Jordana Schain, as well as cousins and his beloved dogs, Abby and Lily.

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