Monday, March 10, 2014

First Senior In My Set To Die, an Anniversary & Remembrance

I am coming up on the anniversary of my friend Sandy's death which occurred ten years ago.  She was 55 at the time. Sandy died suddenly, of a brain hemorrhage. One day she was here, the next she was gone.  She slumped over in her car and by the time the EMTs got to her she was already vegetative. Life support was removed by her sole surviving relative at the hospital when it was clear there was no hope.

This is not really the saddest part of my remembrance though. The saddest part, one that haunts me from time to time, is how she lived the last year of her life, not knowing that was all she had left. Her older husband preceded her in death by a year of a sudden and virulent cancer. Unfortunately, they had never adequately resolved all of the many issues his first family brought to the table. She hadn't even met him at the time of his divorce but she might as well have been the other woman for how well she fit into step family life. Upon his death, everyone within that extended family got along worse than ever with one another and with her.

She was a fantastically talented artist in any medium she tried. This she did in her free time as she also had a terrific career as a graphic artist who had morphed into an industrial designer of containers she did via computer. She was incredibly self sufficient. It was wonderful to go to an art exhibit with her as we could each see so much more in the works by listening to one another's comments as we toured.  We spent one whole weekend viewing Quilt InterNational at the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio, and it was a primo shared art experience.  We also had both gone to college there, at Ohio University, so of course revisited all of our old haunts.

In her last year, she could have spent it enmeshed in art projects, which had always sustained her in the past.  Or she could have spent her free time with friends like me, of which she had many. She did neither because she was mired in contacts with her late husband's first family. These became issues over the most trivial matters imaginable. She could rarely talk about anything else.

Never one to remain silent, I started taking a stance. I told her she had to cut this out and get on with all of the positive stuff in her life. There were obvious solutions after all. Get a new unlisted phone number, a new email address or caller ID, stop going to events where all of these people were going to be present, OR for God's sake, just come out and tell them these were bad relationships for all of them and there was no reason for any of them to see one another again. Since she and her husband had no children together, there was no blood relationship of any sort that needed maintaining. After I would finish saying this for the umpteenth time she would resume talking about all of these people just as if I had said absolutely nothing! She was even turning down dates in this period. She worked in a male dominated career so there was no shortage of single men in her orbit.

The last phone conversation we had was a month before her death.  It was more of the same. There was no other topic other than this first family and whatever was the current contretemps with them. It frankly all had begun to sound the same to me.  I could not distinguish good guys from bad guys, only people who should end any vestige of a relationship. They were all bad for one another and only brought out the worst sides of the other. And then she was gone.

What has stayed with me in the ensuing ten years is that I do not want to spend my last days like this. If I am on my last year, I want to savor all of the things I've liked best in my life and not become mired in the aspects which were the low points of it. I especially do not want to be continually upset with some group of people when I can simply retreat to my lone wolf status and make art, enjoy the arts, and enmesh myself in my own version of a Walden Pond like contemplation.  She was every bit as much of a lone wolf as I am.  I think every artist is at heart. She was about as likely to get on a cruise ship and party with strangers as I am. We both were the worst at being thrown into large parties or any other group event. So why she chose to let all of these people dominate her end life is something I will never understand.

Something positive did occur from this experience though. Whenever I find myself growing bitter over some perceived ill, I remind myself of how little time is left and that I better just get on with making the best of my end days. I retreat and focus on something else until I forget about whatever or whomever was the cause of the upset. Every day we have the chance to seize the day or instead be caught in its undertow. I can only hope that I continue to seize it instead of letting the undertow catch me as that last big wave comes towards me.

I made my own art work at the top of the page to accompany this piece. I made it in GIMP, the open source free image software. I let instinct guide me and created it freely using gradients, filters and layers until I saw something emerge which felt right for this entry. I do see something in it but I would be curious if anyone else does.  If yes, please leave a comment below.

Later note about my image: I do see the rings of a tree trunk which has been left on a tree stump in a forest of a tree which is now dead. There is also a fading in and out of those rings which to me is the transitory, ephemeral existence we enjoy here.


  1. I see rings in a tree, each ring symbolically representing a year in a person's life: along each ring there are areas of inner growth (green), outer activity in the world & passion (red), gray areas of wondering and musing and maybe feeling in transition about things (gray)... and in each ring/year of life, these life events are different lengths--some years feel more productive to us than others, some years present greater challenges and sorrows--but when you look at the overall picture of all those rings in harmonious, balanced, creative assembly it adds up to a rich, full life!

  2. I see a head of a person... from the neck up... facing left. JCB