Some title, huh? I would have liked to be more creative about it, but I’ve been put off-balance, spun round and sat down by the magnitude of mysteries lately. It’s not as hard to accept the inevitability of death when the person dying is old, but it can still pop up in unanticipated ways. I must say goodbye to two different men I sang with for years in church choirs. One is 80, and last year he had a hip replacement that gave him greater mobility and a significant reduction in pain. Things were really looking up for him, just in time to discover he has terminal cancer.
My other friend was still in his fifties. He was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer, and he died within weeks, before those outside his family had even heard he was ill. Besides being a gifted singer, he was a talented chef. Last summer he was in our kitchen, demonstrating how to make reduction sauces.
I was inspired by reflecting on the life of one of my little town’s most vibrant spirits. Frank D’Amore’s father died when he was a child, and his mother was an abusive alcoholic. He was a homeless teen in Seattle. But he was born so full of life force that he always believed he could transform difficult circumstances through the energy of his will. He referred to it as his magic, the ability to make things he imagined become real.
Frank learned to bake through welfare programs, and co-founded two bakeries and a café that still exist here. He also founded our local Marine Science Center, was an extreme sports enthusiast, and a carpenter who helped restore Victorian homes during our rebirth in the 1970s. He believed in taking care of people who had less, as others had helped him. The only thing he couldn’t transform with his magic was the Type I diabetes that overtook him at age 60.
Producer-Director Tony Scott committed suicide by jumping off the Vincent Thomas Bridge yesterday. Scott had a number of film and TV projects in process. His films were big, loud and hyper-kinetic, and he still had the stamina to direct “Unstoppable”, about a runaway train, at age 66. What would cause a man in that situation to end his life in such a dramatic fashion, like it was a scene from one of his own movies? There must have been some kind of sad mystery going on there.
Some of the lives around me that continue are just as mysterious. Mary’s aunt is 101 now. She’s been in dementia care for years. She’s lost the ability to feed herself, has been hallucinating, and is incontinent. She often slips from her bed to the floor when trying to reach a chair. She asks the same questions repeatedly, and is unable to operate the TV or phone without assistance. But the rest of her body, aside from her brain, just keeps on trucking. This could go on for a couple more years. I don’t understand the purpose of dying in that kind of slow motion, since she herself has lost the ability to reflect upon it. I would never want that gradual dissolve to oblivion for myself, though I wouldn’t consider jumping off a bridge either.
My mother has a new boyfriend. She and I share a similar attraction to unusual people. He’s a retired policeman who was in a serious auto accident. The top of his head was shaved off and his brain was exposed. He was in a coma for two years. Nobody expected him to continue living, let alone wake up and regain most of his former faculties. He apparently has an occasional lack of editorial restraint, but otherwise he drives, speaks normally and seems like quite a nice guy. Doctors are studying his recovery using the latest neuroimaging techniques like PET, MEG and NIRS. How much injury brains can endure and recover from is a big mystery.
Mary still needs a small amount of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs each day to function properly. Our life is less stressful and slower than it was in El Lay, and that has helped reduce her need for medicine. Raising the puppy is physically and spiritually good for us both. My old kitty cat, Dixie, is too arthritic to groom her hindquarters now, but her mood is as upbeat as it has been since the day I rescued her from a parking lot at three months of age. Every morning she meows to be fed, and she still wants to cuddle on the couch next to my butt, chattering away in imitation of human speech. What is it she’s been talking about for the past 15 years?
I’m fine. Rather incredibly well in fact. I’ve been dropping a few pounds by doing more exercise and drinking more water. I need new reading glasses, but nothing hurts and everything physical works. There are three retired psychologists on my block in case I need help with my inner demons, and I’m not afraid of therapy. No slave to fashion, I live in pajamas (medical scrubs) and read, write and walk around my beautiful little town until I get a phone call to go take bone pictures. There’s so much life. On moonless nights, the plankton glow in the bay. The trees are everywhere. The deer are everywhere. If things continue this way I might still be around to retire and write fiction. A lot of stories have formed in my mind from all this observation. How it will turn out is still a mystery.