Alston left us this afternoon after a courageous and open battle with cancer. This past summer when it seemed the end might be near, I felt the need to tell Alston how I and many others have seen him. I thought it would be appropriate via a blog post given we met via blogging. But it was difficult since anything written at that stage of his illness came across like a eulogy. Nathalie suggested that writing it as a letter might avoid that while getting across what I wanted to say. But then there was the question, am I writing it for him, or am I writing it to appease my sadness of losing him.

With those concerns in mind, I decided to go ahead and send him a copy and ask if he would be OK if I posted it on the blog. While he said he appreciated it, he did think it still felt like a eulogy and that I should correct some spelling mistakes. He asked that I not post it until after his passing since he did not feel he would not be able to take an outpouring of blog posts from friends that it could generate. This is what I sent him:

Dear Alston,

You are a great friend. I am writing you to reflect back to you how I see you and what you mean to not only myself but likely so many people in your life. As with almost every blog post I’ve written I feel it fitting to recount our history.


Back in my early days of blogging, it was all new and exciting. The monthly meeting of YULblog brings a whole different facet to normal blogging. It has created a community here in Montreal that not only interacts online but also in real life. In those early days, I was in awe of the older bloggers. They were mini-celebrities to me and I felt like a groupie. To actually meet in the flesh the personnas seen online was exhilarating.

I had been to a YULblog or two when a group of us (who would later call ourselves the YULblog splinter cell) decided to meet up. I arrived a bit late, but in the end John, Dan, Paolo, Zura, and Sadia were there. It had the awkwardness of meeting someone on a blind date, but we were all wondering when Mr. Jonas Parker would make an appearance. Casually late and with the air of a rockstar you arrived. The atmosphere changed dramatically. Your outgoing and relaxed nature put everyone at ease and conversations started popping. It became a very lively evening until suddenly you got a call and mysteriously disappeared without much of an explanation. This of course added to the image of a busy celebrity.

The Hands

Over successive YULblogs and occasional off-YULblog get-togethers my admiration of you waned from that of a rock star to admiration of an extraordinary person. On the blog side you have always been upfront with your opinions, your feelings, and what has been going on in your life. Your articulation with words enhances the expression of them all. You have educated us on many aspects or viewpoints on race we may not have realized. You have been opinionated on other topics like regarding Palestinians, but you have always been honest where you stand and explained your stance with reason.

Alston & Ulka

While I enjoy the company of all the friends I see at YULblog, I can say that part of me always hopes to see you there. You are easy to talk to and the two of us have fun acting adolescent more often than we probably should. There is always good laughing while you are around. While we can act silly, there is also an ease to talk about more serious subjects with you. There is an ease to talk about personal topics that doesn’t happen with everyone. We don’t have a long history like many of my very close friends, but that ease is still there. Quite likely that ease comes from you being forthcoming with your life and what is going on.

On a side note, I remember one of the funny things you enjoy pointing out to people is that your arm span is longer than your height. You say it should be the same like the Vitruvian man where the two are equal gently suggesting that it makes you a freak.

Smiling Alston

Your forthcoming nature did not stop when you were diagnosed with cancer. You have been honest and articulate about what it has been like, the range of emotions, and your thoughts about it all. It has helped us to understand, empathize, and support you as best way we can.

Alston, you are loved and admired by your numerous friends. If there is anything we can do to help, please do not hesitate to contact us.


~ by Frank on October 4, 2010.

4 Responses to “Alston”

  1. Frank, that’s a beautiful letter. Thanks for posting it; it really sums up how people felt about Alston. The fact that he preferred you not post it back then — and corrected some spelling mistakes — is so Alston. He had a wonderful sense of humour, and a very keen grasp of what’s what.

    It’s always difficult to know what to do or say around people when they’re sick. The last time Martine and I saw him was at Michel and Suzanne’s pot luck in August (you were there; you brought burgers). I think a lot of people sensed that might have been the last time they’d see him, but people weren’t maudlin about it — at least not on the outside. As I mentioned on my blog today, every time you see a terminally ill person you think it might be the last time. But you can’t make it a big drama. Most people — Alston in particular — wouldn’t want that. Social events with the terminally ill are really about the here and now, and if we always got all weepy then it makes it that much harder for the sick to go out and try to enjoy the day.

    I’m glad he gave you permission to post this after his passing. Thanks.

  2. Frank, I’m so glad that Alston got to read your words before he died. We all often wait until someone is gone to say what they really meant to us, and this is a good reminder to tell our friends and family how much we love and appreciate them now.

    I had to laugh at the thought of Alston telling you to correct the spelling mistakes. I can totally hear his voice in that deadpan, oh BTW manner.

    Thanks for taking the initiative to organize the get together for Alston in August. After we had it I was wondering if it was all a bit too much (energy-wise) for Alston. But I’m so glad that so many of us got to see him one more time, as Blork said.

    Though he didn’t have the energy to speak often, we could see that the classic Alston style and humour were well intact when he muttered (while pulling out his phone/camera) ‘Someone’s gotta get a shot of that’ – referring to Luca grinning ear to ear with a piece of smoked meat hanging out of his mouth.

    Thanks again for expressing the words many of us have thought.

  3. […] Frank Hashimoto […]

  4. Ed: Yes, for the pot-luck, although I organized it so it would give Alston a chance to see everyone, I tried not to make a big deal out of it and ambush him when we got there. But then afterward I kinda felt like I didn’t make enough of a point to talk with him. But in the few instances I did talk with him, it was evident that it was a chore.

    In general, I made a concerted effort to keep all interactions with Alston the same as before for the reasons you mentioned.

    the milliner: Thanks. I wish we could have been better organized in order to get to the potluck earlier. Luckily we were still able to see everyone.

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