Robert Ellis Blaha
I am heartbroken to share that Robert died on October 8th. He left this dimension and headed to parts unknown, on to his next adventure. I lost the love of my life, my soul mate and playmate of nearly 46 years.
Robert was known by many as a fearless and determined “Mr. Fix-It.” Unfortunately, brain cancer (Glioblastoma Multiforme, or GBM) was something that he could not fix. Though, for a while, we thought he might! He was always interested in how things worked or, more importantly, how or why they didn’t. He was definitely someone you wanted on your team. A quiet, gentle, kind, easygoing, observant, behind-the-scenes man who took care of everyone and everything in his sphere.
Being diagnosed with brain cancer six months into Covid was a tremendous blow, but Covid did present some silver linings. One of those was the opportunity for us to go inward and further cultivate the tremendous bond we shared, and to quietly reflect on the amazing life that we had together—a union that began in Pittsburgh, PA in early 1977. He was literally my “knight in shining armor,” courting me—still in high school—with his shiny new silver Malibu Classic, and his rugged handsomeness and gorgeous blue eyes. Ahhh. We married in June of 1979.
Robert proved to be a great companion, and a perfect mate for me. We always traveled with a bag of games; and spare ping-pong supplies, in case we happened upon a table. You could find us in a restaurant or pub, playing cribbage, backgammon, dominoes, cards, simply enjoying one another’s company … He was our “Activities Director,” always coming up with more places to explore. Because of Robert’s initiative, we had a very fun and adventure-filled life. He was a nature lover, an avid traveler, wanderer, hiker, and bicyclist. He had some epic bicycle treks, the biggest in 1983, when he took 6 weeks to bike from Louisiana to Santa Barbara (when we moved from PA to CA); and some encounters: the most dramatic being the “ram incident” in the Canadian Rockies.
Being the quiet, behind-the-scenes kind of person he was, Robert had more friends and admirers than he ever imagined. It’s too bad it took this diagnosis to realize how much he meant to so many. However, over the 2+ years of living with cancer, he had the opportunity to take in all of the love and respect of so many people that he had touched throughout his lifetime. This turned out to be a gift that time granted him. He taught many of us how to die with tremendous grace and acceptance, and without fear. I believe he was somewhat of a “treasure” for the staff at Serenity House; a warm, caring, and thoughtful patient.
Our families and friends are heartbroken by this loss, but at least we know he lived a great, full (albeit short), authentic life. He did what he wanted to do and followed his heart, but not at the expense of others. One niece wrote of how he was always there. “When you were by our sides, we knew you were there, you were 100% present. I can look back now and know that I learned the importance of being there from you. You would sit down, cross your legs, make eye contact with me, and have an in-depth discussion about anything. You were all in. I knew it; I felt seen.”
Robert will also be remembered for his dedicated work: 14 years at the Isla Vista Food Co-op, where he wore many “aprons” (beginning as produce manager and ending as general manager); and 18 years as the facilities manager at Lotusland. He loved his work and especially the great variety of people he encountered. That’s how he came up with so many ideas for places to explore.
I used to frequently joke, “None of us get out of here alive.” It took on a whole new meaning when Robert was diagnosed with GBM on 9/11/20, and I stopped cavalierly throwing it about. But … it is the truth. Take it to heart. None of us know our expiration date, but we’ve all got one. So, take it from Robert: live your life to the fullest. It’s the only one you’ve got—make the most of it.
I want to express great thanks to the amazing staff at Serenity House for their tender, loving care over the last 4 months of Robert’s life. We were able to build a lovely “nest” for the two of us bluebirds to settle into. And from there, Robert touched the hearts of everyone he met.
Robert is survived by his wife, Monica (Moe); his father, Leo; his siblings, Debbie Griffith, Sandy Popinski (Stan), Cheryl Sciullo (Mark), Richard (Sonia), Chris Podnar (Mark), and Barbara Rector (Charles); and by his sisters- and brothers-in-law: Mary Ann Engel (Tony), Joseph Koegler, Maggi Brown (Ric), John Koegler (Peggy), Johanna Roth (Jeff), and twenty nieces and nephews, and twenty-two great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his mother, Betty.
There will be Celebrations of Robert’s Life in the new year. If you knew Robert, please celebrate him in your own way. Raise a glass in a toast, enjoy a beautiful hike, hop on your bike, or play a game with a loved one.
Please consider donations in Robert’s honor to the following organizations: Serenity House/VNA Health; Hospice of Santa Barbara; Dying in Grace; Ridley-Tree Cancer Center; Life Chronicles; ABTA; Ganna Walska Lotusland; or any environmental, humanitarian or peace-keeping organization of your choice.
From “We all know how this ends.” (by Anna Lyons & Louise Winter):
In the end, what really matters is knowing that we’re loved, and that those around us know they’re loved.
We don’t know what happens next. We haven’t died and lived to tell the tale. But what we do know is this: life is about love and the way we show our love. It’s about the stories we live and tell. It’s about our connections with each other. It’s about the mark we leave imprinted on the hearts and souls of the people we love and who love us in return.
It’s all a glorious, unpredictable, fragile, unstable, frightening, beautiful, wonderful and surprising mess.
Life, in the end, is all we have.