By Cynthia Toussaint.
In October I lost the man who, next to John, was the most important male figure in my life. In fact, Dick was my surrogate father for 25 years. The grieving is “ginormous” as Dick would say, but the blessings make that pale in comparison.
I learned about Richard Freed from one of the brilliant movies he produced. It’s called Wildflower and was premiering on Lifetime in the early 90’s. Dick insisted on casting a young, unknown actress named Reese Witherspoon for this film that tenderly told the story of a disabled girl who was abused by her family. This was tough material told with sublime grace.
After seeing the film, I knew I had to meet the gentle person who made it. I found Dick’s production company in the Hollywood Creative Directory and reached out with my own story. He called and we immediately hit it off. Though our film project hit a snag and we parted ways, I couldn’t let this loving, brilliant man go.
When Christmas card time rolled around, I called Freed-Laufer Productions and recognized Dick’s smile-inducing voice. Pretending I was an assistant for a big Hollywood talent agency, I coyly said I was doing my end-of-year Rolodex address checking. Dick being Dick asked who I was. When I confided, we had a good laugh over my spunk, something we both possessed in spades. In that exchange we recognized each other’s risk-taking for making our passions happen - and from that point on, we never looked back.
Dick and I teamed up and worked steadily on multiple fronts. We fought the HMO that didn’t want my story told. Dick was a founding Board member of For Grace and indefatigable with ideas to help women in pain. He taught me how to write and edited my entire memoir, one…word…at a time. He always had another notion to share, and I forever asked his advice and confided everything. We often spoke many times a day, and would work for five, even six hours at a stretch. In my life of pain and isolation, Dick was always there. In fact, for about a decade, when next to no one checked in, he was my lifeline.
Dick could take anything. When I spoke to him about my loneliness, suffering and suicidal thoughts, he gently and firmly reminded me that I made the world a richer place – and that he, for one, was deeply grateful for the gifts I bestowed. I believe there’s a good chance I, and possibly John, wouldn’t be here today if not for Dick’s love.
John and I were happy and excited to attend Dick and his beloved “bride” of 60 years vow-renewal at their breathtaking Northern California home in July of last year. I’ll never forget the sparkle in his eyes when he first saw us. He forever compared his union with Kathy to John and mine, marveling at the joy we were both so blessed to have. That was the last time I saw Dick.
As if he knew what was coming, Dick’s health began to fail just after. He was hospitalized several times and his 90-year-old body was racked with pain. I kept talking to Dick, but not nearly as often as he was difficult to reach between hospital, rehab and home.
Then one night Dick called to say good-bye. As his gorgeous words spilled out, I couldn’t hold back my tears. It was unthinkable that this man, so loving of life, could leave this world, could leave me. I found myself writing down his words… as I had done sooo many times before. They were always gold.
After his passing, I looked at those notes, and at the very bottom was written, “I think the main thing is, don’t be afraid to scream.”
I’ll never know exactly what Dick meant, and that’s part of the gift he intended to leave. He provided the occasional soulful riddle to unlock. I believe Dick was speaking to my pain in its various forms – and that I shouldn’t be afraid to be honest and show my emotion.
So often we women in pain are told to button it up, to shut it down, to make pretty so as not to make others uneasy. Dick was that special someone who could always hear it all, not out of duty of family or intimacy of spouse. He was just that extraordinary.
I hope that for the holiday season each of us has that special someone who we can be unconditionally unfiltered with, who we can tell it as it is.
This will be the first year I won’t get a call from Dick at 12:01 New Year’s morning. He would wish me a happy New Year’s Eve birthday, always the first person I spoke with in hopes of beginning a healthier year. That call made me feel safe.
Perhaps this year I’ll let out a scream at midnight. I am heartbroken, but filled with immense gratitude for having loved someone so much that it’s so damned hard to say good-bye.
As Dick ended every call with me… “bless us all…”
Cynthia Toussaint is founder of For Grace, a Los Angeles-based non-profit that works on issues facing women in pain. She is also a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report.