Reflections on the Death of a Friend

My dear friend Roy “Duende” Harrison has left us. This is my attempt to share how much Duende meant–and will always mean–to me.

Duende was the first person to show me around Lake Atitlan, and to introduce me to the gringo community here. We met at a vegan restaurant and were drawn together by common interests in Adyashanti, vegan food, techno-geekiness (is that a word?), and the beauty of Lake Atitlan.

Duende on Lake Atitlan, January 2012
Duende on Lake Atitlan, January 2012

During my first rainy season in Guatemala, Duende was housesitting for friends in the mountains. I was by myself in Santiago Atitlan, turning my home into a B&B. We spent countless hours on the phone describing how we each saw the thunderstorms that traveled across the lake. We talked about non-dual philosophy and our relationships with our daughters. We shared books and movies. When I came to Panajachel, we’d meet for lunch and I’d drop him off up at the mountain house with his groceries as I drove back to the other side of the lake.

One day I was out in my kayak, talking to Duende on the phone (yes, we did that a lot). At that point he didn’t know that I sing. I sang a song that–though cheesy–spoke to my heart: Dream Away by Paul Williams. When I finished, there was silence. Finally he said “I’m blown away. Has Marco heard you sing?” At that point I had no idea who Marco was, but in hindsight it seems like a premonition.

Duende wanted to experience all of Lake Atitlan; he lived in more towns around the lake than anyone I’ve known. He registered the domain, and helped organize fun informational meetings with kids around the lake to educate them about the effects of pollution and fertilizers on the lake.

Playing his flute for the kids
Playing his flute for the kids

I went with Duende to one of these meetings in San Andres Semetabaj. It was so sweet. About a dozen children in a small concrete block house watched an educational video about the health of the lake. Duende tried to make popcorn and failed miserably before allowing the mothers and grandmothers to take over. After the video, he taught some of the children a tune on his flute.

Duende always carried his Native American flute in his bag. He offered his songs of healing to the lake. He blessed my home with his flute’s song. He wanted to teach local children to play, and had wooden flutes made in Santiago Atitlan to give to the children.

Santiago Atitlan, August 2012
Santiago Atitlan, August 2012

Together we attended Mayan fire ceremonies in San Jorge, cacao ceremonies in San Marcos, and processions in Santiago Atitlan. Duende was in love with the local culture and the people of Lake Atitlan.

In August 2012, Duende was living not far from me in Santiago. I called him and said that there was live music at the Posada de Santiago that night—did he want to come with me? We sat under the palapa watching the setting Atitlan sun and listening to Chris on piano and Marco on flute. It was a fateful day for me: two weeks later Marco and I were a couple.

Duende walking me down the aisle--my best man
Duende walking me down the aisle–my best man

Fast-forward to February 2014. Marco and I were married in Panajachel on Valentine’s Day. Our families didn’t come for the wedding, nor did my friends from San Diego make the trip. I asked Duende to be my best man and to walk me down the aisle. He joked about wearing a bridesmaid dress, but walk me down the aisle he did. He helped set up and took photos of the ceremony. I was an emotional mess after my mom’s sudden death a month before, and Duende was truly there for me.

Semana Santa 2014 - Carolina, Duende, and Dolores
Duende, Carolina and Dolores. Semana Santa 2014

I met Duende’s future bride, Carolina, on Good Friday 2014 in Santiago Atitlan. By that time, they were spending more time in Guatemala City where Carolina lived. I rejoiced that he had found a woman who could truly appreciate him.

Duende and Carolina lived for a time in Panajachel and were married a year ago in a civil ceremony surrounded by a few close friends. Their families and a large circle of friends joined them for a lakeside Mayan fire ceremony and celebration on Valentine’s Day this year. Marco and I were delighted to share our first anniversary with them.

Duende’s illness came suddenly. In May they moved to Guatemala City, and Duende told me he pinched a nerve in his back during the move. Before long they found out that the pain was from an extremely aggressive tumor. In spite of alternative treatments and then intensive radiation therapy, the cancer spread. He passed away peacefully this morning. Carolina was by his side, caring for him, for months. She is truly an angel.

Marco and I went to visit Duende a week ago. He was in and out of lucidity, but recognized me. I sat by his bed, singing to him. I reminded him of when I sang to him from the kayak, and then sang Dream Away. I asked if he liked Elton John, and got a big smile as I sang Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters.

Duende had a huge heart and plenty of personal demons. He was a generous and trusted friend who judged himself harshly for the misdeeds of his past. He helped others, sought love, and was loved by many who did not judge him as he judged himself. I will always be grateful for his wit, his generosity, and his friendship.

“And I thank the Lord for the people I have found. I thank the Lord for the people I have found….”

(From Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters)

That’s you my friend. Fare thee well.

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  1. Cindy thank you for sharing Roy’s death. I knew him from the States. He was all that said so well. I would like convey my deepest condolences to his wife and family. I am truly bless to have known him. May God bless him with eternal peace.

  2. Hello
    I loved everything that you wrote about Roy!! I knew him before he moved to Guatemala, as he lived in the bay area but I meant him when I lived in Santa Cruz county. He was totally gifted on the native flute in fact that is how I met him one day. Roy was very generous and would often take my daughter and I out to lunch or hang out at the beach. Roy took us to see lot’s of animation children movies which were fun, and he was great company. I admired Roy for being a strict vegan and being so thoughtful and kind helping me move and being there for me as a dear friend. God bless him always as he will be greatly missed.

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