This is such a surreal time. Event after event canceled, weddings reduced to a small, socially-distanced collection of core relatives or just postponed with the hope of pulling it off next year. Funerals, where families gather for closure in their grief, not allowed.
Such is the case with the passing of Bjarne Varnes. We won’t be able to give him the big sendoff he deserves.
Bjarne (pronounced Byarna, although I’ve heard it like Barney with a y) was an impressive force in the local Norwegian community, and he welcomed me as a brother when I first started finding myself surrounded by all things Norwegian. When I met my wife back in 2007, she had immersed herself into the various Norwegian organizations and so, if I wanted to spend time with her, I’d need to attend meetings of the Sons of Norway, the Norwegian Commercial Club, the Norwegian-American Chamber of Commerce, a Norwegian Ladies Chorus Concert or a Nordic Heritage Museum event. And if I was there, so was Bjarne Varnes.
He was that guy with the friendly smile who walked like he might be in pain, but he would never let you know it. Bjarne would always greet you by name and if you could spend enough time with him, he’s easily work in a story about one of his recent trips to Norway. He had construction skills, and if he had the time to help you with something, he’d be all over it. He always had something going on.
He emceed events in a way that made everyone feel welcome. Folksy would be a good word. But like I said, Bjarne was everywhere.
He was the University of Washington employee interviewed in this NBC story years ago.
Just a few years ago, he was among the contestants at the annual Lutefisk Eating Contest at Ballard Seafoodfest.
But Bjarne didn’t just show me a lot about life, he also taught me about the inevitable. Those close to him knew he had some health issues, which is code for battling cancer, for the last 7 years. I don’t recall the exact last time I saw him, but I remember sitting down to chat with him and asking him the typical, “How’s it going?” and he replied, “Not good, not good.” But he didn’t go into detail and he didn’t stay there. He was just informing me as a friend of the reality of his situation. He then returned to that smile of his and off we went into some other subject that had to do with living and doing and being.
You know, with this pandemic, there have been a lot friends I haven’t seen for a long, long time. I heard about Bjarne’s health failing and that this was going to be it, but before I could figure out a time to stop by and see him or if that was even possible, he passed. It’s a bit hard for me to realize he’s actually gone, because he was always so alive.
I don’t know about you, but at one time in my life, I felt if I made it 75 years, that would be plenty. Soon I will attempt a soft landing on my 65th birthday, which will put me at 10 years remaining until 75; I can already tell you that is hardly enough. I know that it was far less than what Bjarne had in mind, but the thing about Mr. Varnes was–he made every single one of those years count.
Rest well, my friend. Thanks for showing me how one of the good ones do it.