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Monday, October 07, 2019

My Achy-Breaky Heart

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved on stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others." ~Pericles, Greek statesman, orator and General, 495-429 BCE

     It has been ten months since I stepped off the bow of NB Valerie for the final time. It has been nine months since I returned to the Washington State, USA. There are some things that make attempting to forge a new life easier in my birth country. I know the systems here and how they work. I have an innate grasp of American English and I can wield it well. Yet this homecoming is bittersweet for so many reasons not the least of which I didn't want to come back; I felt I had run out of options in England and this was my final choice. In the eight years I was gone over the Pond, I am not the only thing that changed. As my life was spooling out with Les on the canals of Britain, the lives of my friends and family in America have as well, with some coming to their inevitable end.
     It is typical at age sixty-one that those around me are beginning to die. We know intellectually this is the case, but it is another thing all together to experience those losses one upon another with one's heart. Upon my return in late January I was facing the memorial service of Jim Barron, the husband of my dear friend Karen--she whom I met at Hospice volunteer training and who introduced me to Kamiak Butte where Les and I were married and where I scattered his ashes. We would have had a very different wedding without Karen kicking me in the butt metaphorically. I was swanning about all "moons and Junes," my head away across the world with Les on the boat and my heart there too. Karen brought me back to earth to face the necessary details required to plan a wedding. Jim was like Les--solid, kind, smart, funny, and he too knew how to love. In better times Karen and Jim were involved in square dancing with all the accouterments: the fluffy skirts and petticoats for her and bolo ties for Jim. He had many, many dozens of them, most made by Karen. At his service Karen displayed all Jim's ties and invited everyone to choose one to take in remembrance of him. It was a brilliant idea.
     I was notified two weeks later that a former coworker of mine also died suddenly. While we worked together every day for six years we were not close. The former receptionist was her best mate and no one would ever fill her shoes--not that I tried. I had my own way of doing things and I was quite successful in that position. Nevertheless I had to endure my co-worker's daily tirades, mean digs, impatient rants, and deliberate nastiness while letting it flow off my shoulders like water off a duck's back. The only thing that offered me any small comfort at all was the knowledge that she was an equal opportunity abuser, treating volunteers and staff with comparable disdain. Whenever she would approach my desk with her shark tooth smile I would smile back while picturing her head exploding all over the lobby. Nevertheless I didn't wish her any ill will and I would certainly never have wished her the death sentence of advanced metastasized cancer that was a part of her demise. I could have gone to her memorial service as a mark of respect but opted out. There was precious little respect between us in life and I have never been able to put lipstick on a pig and call it Marilyn Monroe. Still her death marked another milestone for me, the passing of an era as I remembered some of the better memories surrounded by creative, articulate, and very funny people who seem to be drawn to public radio.
     On February 19th I was notified that our dear Canadian friend Bryce Lee had died of complications from the cancer and Lupus he fought valiantly for a decade. Many of you who follow this blog will remember seeing Bryce's comments. He adored steam trains, canals and locks, boats of all kinds, photography, ham radio, motorcycles and men in leather. A giant bear of a man at six feet eight inches tall and 300 plus pounds, Bryce had fingers in all kinds of pies. He was a living example of Dorothy Parker's maxim, "Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity." He was a major supporter of the Tallylyn Welsh steam train line among many other groups and individuals he underwrote with his time, talent, and finances. A gentle giant, I called Bryce Cousin Kindheart once I knew he was gay. As someone with roots deep in the LGBTQ  community over the last thirty years, I always consider someone who self identifies in this way as family because so often their own families disown them for being who they are. Les felt this way as well, and Bryce was on his short list to receive regular packets of Towpath Talk newspapers, Canal Boat and Waterways World magazines. Bryce offered and paid for three months in Cow Roast marina when Les was recovering from liver surgery in 2014. When my Best Beloved was in the last six months of life, Bryce called us frequently to chat about this and that, keeping us linked to him across the miles. After Les died, Bryce called me often, his rich Canadian baritone filling my ear with kindness, compassion, humor, and  satisfying some primal need of mine to hear a North American accent. Over the six years of our growing friendship he consulted me frequently about herbal supplements that might help him deal with the ravages of years of chemotherapy and radiotherapy which laid waste to his immune system and his body. He claimed I helped him endure and exceed the limits his doctors gave him and for that I am grateful. We talked on the phone earlier the week he died,  but Bryce hid from me how truly ill he was and I was not aware of the severity of Bryce's condition. We made plans to meet up in May of 2020 in Vancouver, Canada so I was shocked and grief stricken to learn of his death. I tried to arrange attending his memorial service but it was not to be. There was no chance of me arriving in time. It would mean an expensive commercial flight from Spokane to Vancouver BC. A connecting flight from Vancouver BC to Ontario and then a train ride to Burlington and still I would not have made it on time.
     In June the first of the Wednesday Women died. For those of you who followed my blog So This is Love, you may remember the talented group of women of which I am fortunate to belong, who vetted Les at a dinner and grilled him thoroughly in February of 2011.
     Marian Moos, Spokane's feminist fairy-goddess mother was in her 90's and dementia had developed. Marian spent her final year of life living with her daughter Ginnie. Marian contracted an illness which put her in hospital where she died. Ginnie went to visit her mom four days before she passed, and true to Marian's indomitable feminist spirit, she found her mom propped in bed with a magnifying glass in hand, reading Michelle Obama's latest book. I will miss her independent spirit and the excitement with which Marian always approached life.
   On the 3rd of August Rosemarie Duffy, Major, retired USAF died after a many years of dementia. Rosemarie was a firecracker. She called things as she saw them. She loved life, cats, her garden, and men. She created a studio space in one half of her basement to provide women artists with safe, free space to hone their craft, and she had a small apartment built into the other half of her basement which she rented out for a very low sum to struggling single mothers trying to get on their feet. Rosemarie was a nurse anesthetist with many connections to the Spokane medical community. She worked with local doctors, traveling to poverty stricken areas of the world to set up mobile hospitals and assist with eye surgeries to help other less fortunate people have the gift of good sight. She volunteered her time with Crosswalk--a youth shelter where many GLBTQ runaways and those tossed out of their homes ended up. Rosemarie also took in litters of kittens from pregnant cats at the animal shelter, caring for the babies until homes could be found for them. She wrote poetry for me, and it was her idea of forming intentional community that created the Wednesday Women. The gradual loss of her memory over eight years took its toll on her and weighed on the hearts of those who loved her. Rosemarie was aware of all she was losing, until it was gone, and essentially so was she. Her spirit trapped in a failing mind and body was simply waiting for death to tap her on the shoulder.
     The bigger picture of life in the USA these days is sobering and ugly. Those of us who do not espouse Trump's divisive MAGA rhetoric do what we can to counteract his tyrannical meanness whenever possible; we are bone weary from fighting decades for things such as clean air and water, the endangered species act, protection of our national parks, safe, affordable access to women's reproductive health including abortion, freedom of and from religion, equal rights for women and GLBTQ folks, assistance for migrants and refugees, and recognition of the diversity that made the USA the most successful immigrant country on earth. Watching all we have fought long and hard for disappear under looser regulations or a roll back to none at all; rallying to fight court appeal after appeal which keep us mired in the mud of contention as we valiantly fight to protect past legislation is exhausting and demoralizing as Trump's minions dismantle program after program. His nasty tirades draw out the worst of those who live in the corners and shadow of this country, welcoming racists, bigots, Christian religious fanatics, and ignorant bullies to walk down the middle of the street in defiant glory, wrapped in America's flag while they abuse and kill others, smiling defiantly, backed by the Republican Senate.
     In my other country across the Pond, I stare at the news in mute dismay and sorrow as Britain too appears to rise to bait of the worst in human nature, imploding while politicians drag their feet on the majority vote to leave the EU, thinking their delaying tactics will derail Brexit. Meanwhile no solid plans have been made to prepare for exit from the EU, leaving Brits everywhere feeling overwhelmed and under-protected, worried for want of basics such as food and medicine because the MP's in Parliament would rather fight each other like bully boys in the Lord of the Flies, throwing the entire populace they are elected to represent under the oncoming train, instead of facing forward and making the very best of the situation. Every time I see televised footage of British Parliament I am ashamed of how they behave and I am worried for all those across the Pond that I love.
     Unlike so many people I know on both sides of the Atlantic ocean, I continue to follow the news every day. I have never been a looky-loo, slowing down to stare at automobile accidents, but I cannot tear myself away from the politics of this age playing out in both of my beloved countries. Too many of my compatriots no longer watch or listen to the news. Their hearts simply cannot take any more. It seems I now live in heartbroken times personally, politically, locally, nationally, and internationally. 

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs

NB Valerie & Steam Train by Les Biggs