He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.
But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.
Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.
But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.
(From In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden)
2017 has, in many ways, been a season of loss for me. I already mentioned that I lost my tribe and connection with our church. Along with that also came the loss of a number of friendships, primarily because I discovered that some people I thought I knew had disturbing views on race and poverty. It was kind of like running across the white robe and hood in the coat closet.
But this post is about four people we lost to death this year. These four were meaningful to me for different reasons, but all were significant parts of my life, and I feel the void.
My first job after passing the bar exam was at Greater Bakersfield Legal Assistance, where I worked with senior citizens regarding basic needs like housing, healthcare, and safety. It was kind of like working in an emergency room, but with law rather than medicine.
One of the other programs that GBLA administered was the Long Term Care Ombudsman, which advocated for nursing home residents.
Nona headed up the LTC Ombudsman program during most of my time at GBLA, and we continued to work together on cases involving nursing home residents after I left GBLA to hang out my own shingle. We became more than mere coworkers and colleagues, particularly after we joined Facebook. (For us introverts, Facebook has been a fantastic tool for keeping up with people we otherwise would not see regularly.) We realized we shared a love for poetry, music, literature, and nature. And Filipino food.
Nona’s advocacy over the years really did make the world a better place. I can think of numerous clients whose lives were made better because she was looking after them, making sure that they got appropriate care.
Heart disease took Nona away from us all too soon, and I miss our conversations. I remember the last time I saw her in person. We ran into each other at the local Filipino grocery, and talked about Death Valley, and other winter destinations.
My biggest regret is that I never did get to writing about the political nature of music, a topic Nona encouraged me to write. Here’s hoping we can continue that conversation in the next life.
Dan was married to one of my Symphony colleagues. He played keys in a local blues band, had a life history full of fascinating stories, and always had time to chat with my kids. He also blogged, and encouraged me with my own blogging. Likewise, as an author, we enjoyed talking about books and words and the like. He was a constant advocate for the arts, and all of us who perform locally feel his loss keenly.
After the diagnosis, Dan continued to come to our concerts - up until the end, really. He had no illusions about the endgame, but kept on living while he was alive, and I really admire that.
Another thing that I admire is the way that Dan treated others. If you read his blog, the final entry is from his stepson, who maintained a good relationship with him over the years. As a lawyer, I have seen a lot of bad step parent relationships. (The old fairytales are sometimes right…) But there are good ones too, and I believe one of the best indicators of a person’s true character is how he or she treats other people’s children. (This applies to politics too. You cannot turn your back on other people’s children and call yourself a decent person. Sorry.)
Dan’s legacy lives on in the impact he made on individual lives, and in the local arts scene. I have his CD, but you can listen to a bit of his stuff on SoundCloud. (Under Dan McGuire 2.)
I miss you, Dan, and I’ll think of you every time I hear your voice and keyboard work on my playlist.
Jennifer married my cousin a year before I got married. I assume I must have met her at a family gathering before that, but really got to know her later, after their kids were born. Jen taught high school English, so naturally we talked a lot about books. And kids, and cats and food and Disneyland.
And, in the last couple of years, we talked a lot about raising kids to be decent, compassionate, informed people in an era when hate, tribalism, and willful ignorance are newly emboldened. (And in charge of the government.) It was she who recommended that I read Kindred, which I have since encouraged others to read. I can’t even remember all of the children’s books we discussed, but I know I learned a lot about resources for discussing racism and sexism. She was an ally for someone like me, who grew up in the ultraconservative homeschool culture (and in a mostly minority neighborhood at the same time) and didn’t know too many fellow parents with the same concerns. I know she made a difference in the lives of her students (the outpouring of love throughout her entire illness from former and current students was amazing), and the world is a more lonely place without her in it.
She left behind a husband and two small children. Life isn’t fair.
Jennifer also deserves credit (along with a law school colleague) for introducing us to Terry Pratchett. My kids now are huge fans, and I have found that they are practically an ethics course for kids. I really wish we could have continued to talk about the books as we work our way through them. I’ll think of her with each book I read.
The last real conversation we had was about Hamilton, right before I went to see it. I’m keeping her #riseup tag in mind as I work to continue her legacy of fighting against the darkness that surrounds us right now.
I recently read Homegoing, which she recommended, and I promise that one of these days, I will read The Great Gatsby, her favorite novel. And maybe the Dodgers will win it all this year. I hope you’re watching, Jen.
My grandfather made it to his mid 90s. And was in reasonably good mental and physical condition up until the last year or so, all things considered. He was my last living grandparent, so his passing marks the end of an era.
My mom’s side of the family has never been the most functional, so things are complicated. My grandmother suffered from some form of mental illness which primarily manifested itself (to me at least) as an inability to carry on a conversation (in the sense of listening and responding - she was always a famous talker, but didn’t listen or respond as if she had heard you.) She died over a decade ago, and I made an effort to see grandpa when I could. I’m not sure that you could say we were close, but as I was the eldest grandchild, he was proud of me in his own fashion. Certainly, I inherited a few things from him. My fast walking speed (he walked miles a day well into his 90s), his love for growing things.
He was in many ways, a product of his particular era. A missionary to Mexico back when kids were seen as an impediment to ministry. He was from the era in which men weren’t supposed to admit weakness. He was the functional half of a difficult marriage. A man raised in an era when men weren’t encouraged to show their feelings or affection. For years, he sent birthday cards to each of his numerous grandchildren - well into his 90s. It was his way of keeping a connection. He wasn’t perfect. But I miss him.
So it has been a season of losses. Gains too - and I cherish the new friends and deeper friendships that have blessed me this year. And, I have a renewed appreciation for the many good people in my life, who have been gracious and loving throughout my theological and moral journey. I’m not going to miss 2017 much, but here’s to the next year. May it be better than the last.