We were Chicagoans at heart, but it wasn’t until another friend Fr. Rollins Lambert introduced me to him and his wife Jean we came to know each other in Chicago.
I’ll never forget our first luncheon together. We met at his apartment overlooking Belmont Harbor, shook hands, and immediately Tim asked, “What can I get you?”
Not only were the cocktails and appetizers unforgettable, but more so were our conversations. Tim loved church talk: how do we read the priest shortage?, what the latest scoop on bishops, the pope, and the bishops’ conference? He had an insatiable appetite for insider information and the direction the church was or wasn’t going. How he loved to express his thoughts in poetic language filled with subtle ironies that made us chuckle. He was a poet, satirist and reporter all in one.
To dwell on Tim Unsworth, the writer, would be an injustice to him because he was kindness personified foremost.
When my parents died, Tim and Jean were there for me, as they were for so many others. He spend as much time on visiting hospitals, attending wakes and funerals, and caring for shut-ins, as he spent on his writings.
Equally touching was his concern for resigned priests. He had a second sense that they never leave the priesthood and are always in need of support. Tim was always there for them.
This Christmas I visited Tim at his nursing home. He confided that he was blessed with many supportive friends, and then jokingly added, “You know what, people stop coming to see you after a while.” Then he said with a smile of resignation, “And I know I will never leave here.”
It would be dishonest to say I relished visiting Tim. It’s very difficult seeing a friend deteriorate. We all love to remember good times, and we also tend to avoid anything that reminds us of their ending.
When I left Tim, an unexpected happiness ran through me. It was that last knowingly smile of his he had imprinted in my memory. Behind it was a man who knew life, how to accept it, and most of all, how to run with it. I had experienced a spirit that was not extinguished by suffering or the fear of death. During that brief visit, Tim gave me the most precious gift we can possess: the beautiful undying spirit of a friend. Thanks Tim for still being alive in me!