My Friend Billy

(Note – I saved this for the weekend, when people who might read this would likely be more relaxed. This is not the usual fare for WUWT, but it is something that is revealing, enlightening, entertaining, and educational, while at the same time sad and sunny all at once. If you want science, skip this article. If you want a perspective on life, read on  – Anthony)

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Warning: Viewer discretion advised. This post discusses adult themes and content. Oh, not the usual adult themes we get on TV, like D: Suggestive Dialogue or V: Violence. Instead, it is a discussion of the following well-known wanted criminal:

qf88585_createdFigure 1. The one with many names … the Pale Rider. The Grim Reaper. The Angel Of Death. Thanatos. Azrael. Cronus.

I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. The gorgeous ex-fiancee is a Family Nurse Practitioner, and she and I have been taking care of her 86-year-old father in his final illness. “Billy”, that’s what the rest of the guys in the band always called him, so that’s what I called him when I came to be friends and play music with him over the past four years. He was a jazz drummer his whole life, and a very good one. Having had the honor of playing music with him myself, I can testify that he was a very skillful, fun, and inventive percussionist.  But when he came out of the hospital back in February, he hung up his sticks and said that was it. His time with music was over. I knew then that his days were short. So we’ve been giving him all the love and support possible in the face of his approaching death.

Here in the developed world, we tend to distance ourselves from death. But in the third world, it is ever-present. The first dead man I ever saw who wasn’t rouged, perfumed, and embalmed was on a side street in Trench Town, a dirt-poor, less than fragrant, and more than turbulent suburb of Kingston, Jamaica. It was a strange scene.

Trench Town is not a good place to be at night. Even in the middle of a hot afternoon, it’s a place where you feel a need to take an occasional look over your shoulder. I was walking down the street, the only melanin-deficient guy in sight. (I hear that the new PC term is “melanin-challenged”, by the way, to avoid hurting people’s feelings by making them feel deficient … but then I’ve never been politically correct.)

In any case, halfway down the block, a man was lying in the gutter. At first I thought he was just drunk and sleeping it off, until I got nearer, and I saw he was lying in the proverbial pool of blood. I remember particularly the sound of the flies. I was reminded of when I used to kill and butcher cows and sheep and other animals out in the farmers’ fields for a living, and how fast the flies would appear. Seeing that man lying dead in a cloud of flies, in the middle of just another average city afternoon, was a shock to me. The cities I was accustomed to back then didn’t feature much in the way of dead bodies in the gutter. I was beyond surprise.

But the bigger shock was the reaction of the people in the street. By and large it was ho, hum, another day in the life, step over his corpse and keep going, Many people looked once and didn’t give him a second glance. The public level of concern seemed to be on the order of “It’s the tropics, mon, cover him up ‘fore he stinks”.

I realized then that in such places down at the bottom of the economic ladder, the death of a stranger is no big deal. Oh, I don’t mean that people don’t mourn or grieve their loved ones the way it happens in the industrialized countries. That’s the same everywhere. But in countries where death is more common, countries where most families have lost a child, countries where malaria or some other tropical fever takes away the young and otherwise healthy, everyone lives in much closer proximity and familiarity with death and the dead. Like the song says about a tropical murder, 

Nobody talks about it no more, 

though it happened just a week ago. 

But people get by and people get high,

in the tropics, they come, and they go.

A decade later in the Solomon Islands, my good friend Willie died after a long wasting illness. Willie was a Solomon Islander who was loved by all, and in those fractious, jealous, contentious islands, that says a lot. There was no funeral home in the Solomons then, may not be one now. So family and friends do everything. Willie died in “Number 9”, which is rumored to be a hospital. In reality it is a collection of buildings left over from World War II that vaguely resembles a hospital. From the curbside, that is. If you don’t focus too closely.

I went there as soon as I heard Willie had died. Up close, it’s an ancient, sad collection of sticky hot rooms baking in the sun, most without even fans to cool the patients. I was already sweating before I got inside.

When I went in the room, Willie’s wife was there, weeping. I joined her. We spoke for a bit. She had brought his clothes, she said, to dress him. She wept. I wept. She made no move to dress him. We sweated. We waited. Solomon Islanders are good at that.

After a while, I asked if she wanted help dressing him. Oh, yes, she said. I stood up, and walked over and lifted the sheet off his legs … ah, the legs that used to run had been replaced by bone and parchment. I lifted them up one by one. They were almost weightless. She and I slid them into his pants. Dressing a dead man proved to be much harder than I thought. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their level of cooperation is quite low. I had the crazy urge to apologize to him for moving his legs. Finally the pants were on. After that it was easier. With his pants on, I could take off the sheet entirely. We put his shirt on. I’d been very close with him for two years. I’d never seen either the pants or the shirt before. My sense was that they were “Solomons new”, meaning bought from a Chinese store which imports used clothing by the bale. Willie looked good in his new outfit. I hugged his wife, and left her to her sorrow. It was the first time I had ever touched a dead body.

Tropical death plays no favorites. My friend Turk was in his forties, a local airline pilot. He went into Number 9 to have a doctor look at his hemorrhoids, and never came out … you learn to watch your step very carefully on small tropical islands, and in particular, do your best to never step into a “hospital”.

I was back in the US when my father died. The gorgeous ex-fiancee was his nurse in his final days. He refused an operation for his bladder cancer. Said he wouldn’t leave my beloved stepmother broke, and besides, he’d done everything he wanted to do. He’d been a well-known architect, made money, built the house he lived in, his kids all loved him, things were getting painful, there wasn’t much left to keep him here. Enough, he said. He didn’t want to go to the hospital, he wanted to die at home.

Sadly, bladder cancer is a painful way to die. When the pain got bad, he asked me to see if I could get some pills that he could take to end his life. He was in chronic intermittent but intense pain. I did not want to, but I had no choice, and I set out to do that. I would have said that I could have found the pills, because I’ve always knows lots of people with strange proclivities. But for whatever reason, I was unable to find any downers. I looked for reds, or any kind of barbiturates. I asked my friends in low places and I never got more than a couple of pills.

And so each time I saw my Dad again, and the pain was even worse, I had to confess that I had failed him. It was gut-wrenching, worse each time. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

The night that he died, the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I went to his house. Again I had to tell him that I hadn’t found the pills … dear friends, he smiled and said what he’d said the other times, that it was OK. It broke my heart. I hugged him and turned away so he couldn’t see my face.

That night I found out how thin the line is between tragedy and comedy. I had brought my guitar, because I knew Dad always loved to hear any of his kids play music. I sat on his bed. He was moaning as the waves of pain rolled over him. I sang for him the songs of his childhood that I knew he loved. I sang him the songs of my childhood that he used to sing to me, as he shifted restlessly and groaned in pain. Finally I was weeping too hard to go on singing, but I kept playing the guitar for a bit. And then I broke down entirely, and the music stopped. I couldn’t play another chord.

He opened his eyes, and he smiled his smile that went so deep, and he said “Oh please, don’t stop playing … I swear I’m not moaning on account of your music!”

We both broke up laughing. I didn’t know I could laugh and weep at the same time. I don’t know how he could laugh and moan at the same time. He fell asleep with without saying another word as I played and wept. What can you do with a man like that?

I left at around ten that night and went home. The gorgeous ex-fiancee said she thought she should spend the night with him. I got up at four thirty and went out commercial fishing, trolling for salmon. Around noon, my dear nurse called on the ship’s radio. I knew what the message was before I got to the microphone. I was glad I was on the ocean. I kept fishing, it calmed and soothed me. I was fishing with my long-time shipmate and fishing partner. He understood my silence.

My mom’s death, on the other hand, surprised everyone. When she knew she was dying of lung cancer, she wrote and asked me to come see her. I was in the Solomon Islands at the time, but that’s not a request you can ignore. I flew to Sedona, Arizona, where she was parking the RV she’d lived in for four years by herself, traveling all around the US. She was 69 at the time. I found out something strange. The main reason she wanted to see me was to find out whether I took my dad’s side of the ancient argument and whether, like him, I blamed her regarding their divorce thirty-four years earlier … go figure. She wanted absolution from me, or at least to know that I didn’t blame her for what happened, thirty plus years in the past.

I told her the truth, that I didn’t have a dog in their fight. I said that I used to think that one or the other of them had done wrong, and to be sure they had each caused the other one a lot of grief and sorrow, they had hurt each other deeply. But by then, I was old enough to know that both of them were just fools whose intentions were good, and that they had both striven in their own way to make it work. The fact that they couldn’t make it work was not important, I knew they’d both given it their best shot. She liked that, and she sent me on my way.

About a week later, she took a fistful of pills and was found dead in the morning. I was glad she found the pills somewhere, lung cancer’s not a good way to go. I was even gladder that she hadn’t asked me to find them for her. The family believed for years that I’d given her the pills because I’d visited just before her death, and they knew I’d tried to find pills for my dad. But I hadn’t given her anything but love and support, as best as I knew how, and at the end of the day no one ever knew where she got the pills.

Later, when we were living again in Fiji, my daughter was about 12. One night, the matriarch of a Fijian family I worked with died. Her daughter, grand-daughter, and son-in-law all worked alongside me for the same company. I took my daughter to the wake, which was the very next day. Without embalmers, tropical funerals are never delayed long. It was late, there were only a few people still there. The night was warm and enfolding. In back of the house was a wooden table. It was spread with a nice cloth. The matriarch lay in state on the table. The family welcomed us. We gave them our best wishes and condolences. I had told my daughter I wanted her to touch the dead woman. She caressed her shoulder. The mom saw it and smiled. I didn’t want my child to be the stranger to death that I had been. Touching a dead person makes it all real.

There’s an old tale about these matters, one that the Fijians understood without ever knowing the story. A man goes to a sage and asks him to write down a good luck charm. The sage gets out his inkstone and brush, grinds some ink, and on a crisp new sheet of rice paper he writes something down, folds it up and gives it to the man. The man opens it and reads it. In exquisite calligraphic script it says:

Grandfather dies.

Father dies.

Son dies.

The man can’t believe it. “What have you done! Did my enemies pay you? This is a curse on my entire family, it’s not a good luck charm!”

“Ah, no, that’s the best good luck charm I can give you,” the sage calmly replied. “If it happens in any other order, that is very bad luck …”

The first person I saw actually die was my sister Kristen. Well, half-sister, but us kids all decided among us early on that half- and step- were out, we were all brothers and sisters. She was about 50 at the time. She’d gone to the hospital to get some tests for intestinal discomfort, walked in the door, and passed out in the reception area. So they checked her, and after testing they decided that they had to do an immediate exploratory operation to see what was wrong. Her mother, who was our beloved stepmother Virginia, and a bunch of us brothers and sisters and I all went immediately to the hospital, to be there when she woke up from the operation.

When the operation was over around noon, the surgeon called us all in. She started talking, and she only got partway through the explanation of the operation before she started crying. She said that a 6-foot section of my sister’s intestines had died, and that was too much of a loss for her to live. She said medicine was powerless. She said when they saw what it was and how bad it was, they immediately closed up and got out to prevent further harm. They did not know why part of her had died, but there was no human power that could save her. She had maybe 24 hours. That was it.

We were stunned. What now, we said. The doctor said my sister was out of the OR and that she would be waking up soon. She’d likely stay awake for maybe an hour or two, perhaps a few more. But then the pain would start, and so she would be on a morphine drip. After that, she’d be awake some but she would mostly sleep. I felt so bad for the doctor. She had all of her knowledge and all of her skills and tools, and here she was, totally powerless. I could see she was shaken, frustrated and sad.

So we were all there when Kristen woke up. Of course, she was glad and surprised to see us. She remembered passing out in the lobby. But she was still kind of groggy. So as she became more alert we mostly made small talk. We told he she’d had an operation. We hadn’t though ahead about who would tell her the bad news, we didn’t have a plan or anything, the usual family deal. Finally she asked what the doctor had said about the outcome of the operation, what they had found … silence.

After a long pause, one of my brothers stepped in. But he kind of danced around the subject. He is a lovely man and he did his best, but he described it in all kinds of generalities, words like “preparing for the end” and “short time” and “so sorry”, and “inevitable”, but nothing concrete. I could see he wasn’t getting through, my sister wasn’t following him.

Finally I couldn’t stand her confusion. I said something like “Kristen, the doctors operated, but they can’t help you. They said that part of your intestines died, and there is nothing that they can do. They say that you will die within a day.”

Silence.

“Can’t be”, she said after a bit of thought. “I feel fine.” She wouldn’t believe me. I repeated that she was certain to die within twenty-four hours, by far the saddest and most final news I’ve ever had to deliver in my life. She looked in my eyes. She didn’t like what she saw. She turned to Virginia. “Mom,” she said, “that’s not true, is it?”

Her mother had to do then what must assuredly be one of the most difficult things that a human being can do. She had to tell her darling, her joy, her only daughter that she had only a day to live. Ah, my friends, I can only fervently wish that no one would ever, ever in their life have to say what she said to her daughter then—Oh, sweetheart, I’m so sorry. The doctors say you only have a day to live. It’s true. 

I couldn’t bear watching Virginia say it, how could she bear the saying of it herself?

Silence …

It can’t be true, my sister finally replied.

Yes, it is true, my stepmother said.

It is not true!, said Kristen.

Yes, it is true!

IS NOT!

IS TOO!

They voices had gradually raised until they were almost shouting, and all of us realized at about the same instant that it was such a prototypical grade-school playground level argument, and we all laughed at the absurdity. When death is present in the room, our feelings simply overflow, and tragedy and comedy get all confused and mixed up.

We talked for a while after that. Fortunately none of us had much that was left unsaid with Kristen, we were always pretty honest with each other. She’d been a good kid and was a good woman, and we told her so. So we talked, and even laughed some more. But all too soon, the pain from the operation started hitting her. Pretty soon, I couldn’t take it any more, my heart wouldn’t bear it. In the afternoon, I left her with her mom and the others and went home.

But then in the early evening, my brother called. He said everyone had gone home but him. He said Virginia couldn’t stop weeping, she was beside herself, and another sister had taken her home. He said he had to leave, he needed to do some things and then go to work the next day.

Well, there was no way she was going to die alone. That was not on the list of options. So once again I drove the solitary miles and miles back to the hospital. When I got there she was sleeping. She woke once, but didn’t say anything. She saw me, and it seemed to comfort her, or perhaps that was just my wishful thinking. Death was in the room. I stayed well to the side. Time slowed. I held her hand, and moistened her lips with ice water with the little pink lollipop sponges they use for that, and told her that she’d been a good sister to me and a good friend, and she had been, too. Around two in the morning, her breathing slowed, and then she slipped away.

I found out then that there is an odd kind of peace in being alone in a room with someone who has just died. After all the anguish and the turbulent emotions, the succeeding absolutely inalterable finality of her death obviated the need for any further struggle on anyone’s part. There was nothing more she could do. There was nothing more I could do for her. She was beyond my reach. Death had left the room, and with it, the need for wariness. I sat in the room with her for a while, and wept, and turned off my mind. The silence was so deep it was almost subsonic. If that silence of death had a color, it would be the darkest ebon, the deepest Elvis velvet black. I wrapped the silence around me and listened to my own breath, the only sound in the room.

Then after a while, I pressed the call button, and the doctor came and pronounced her dead.

===========

The main thing that I have learned in all of my curious interactions with the dead and the dying has been to take Death as my advisor. I have learned that Death gives me better advice than anyone. When it comes to sage wisdom, I found that Death beats all the books and advice columnists and psychologists and grief counselors and what all the authorities say. Whenever I’m all in a fluster about how bad things are at the moment, how everything’s going pear-shaped and I just can’t take it, at that time (if I have my wits about me) I’ll I look over my left shoulder and ask Death what he thinks about it all.

By this point, I know what he’ll say. He’ll say no, Willis, don’t worry about this penny ante booshwa. That’s nothing, he tells me … I haven’t touched you yet …

All of us, myself assuredly included, tend to live as though we are immortal. We talk of wasting time as if we had it to waste, when it is our most precious possession and we have so little of it. Taking Death as my advisor cuts through that fatal illusion. He reminds me that my days are numbered, that I need to live every day to the fullest. He tells me to work and play and laugh and produce and treat each hour as though it were my last. He reminds me that I am at war, and I need to acknowledge that this might be my ultimate battle. And as such, it is imperative that I forth to that battle in a warrior’s spirit of true abandon, holding nothing back.

Which brings me back to where I started this roundabout tale, back to William Alfred Schneider, my dear friend Billy, fellow musician, and father-in-law. I finally got to know him after they moved out here. The man was a jazz legend. He got his first gig playing drums in a St. Louis strip joint when he was a teenager in the 1940’s, and never looked back. He was the drummer for Barbara Streisand at the Crystal Palace in St. Louis in the fifties, and was a fixture in the famed “Gaslight Square”. He played with Liberace. He said when “Lee”, as he called Liberace, went on a minimum no-frills tour, he took only  two people—Billy, and Liberace’s hairdresser … with Billy smiling his silly grin and slightly emphasizing the word “hairdresser”. Unusually for a man born in the 1920’s, he didn’t care in the slightest what someone did in bed, as long as they could play good music and put on an entertaining show. But he was always ahead of his time.

Billy played with Frank Sinatra, and with Dave Brubeck. He toured with Roger Williams. In the 1950’s Billy was the drummer for “The Nervous Set”, starring the recently-deceased Larry Hagman as the lead singer. It was the first Broadway musical with a jazz quartet instead of an orchestra, Kenny Burrell was the guitarist. Among other innovations of the musical, Billy played the tympani along with his normal jazz drum kit, to fill out the sound. You can hear Billy’s understated musical style on the drums here. The song is a masterpiece of late 1950’s angst, with lyrics that were hilarious in their own way then and now. The musical both celebrated and mocked the dawn of the “Beat Generation”.  Jack Kerouac came to a performance. He was drunk, and tried to force his way backstage, they wouldn’t let him in. Billy’s stories went on and on …

He went legally blind a couple of decades ago, macular degeneration. But he was doing OK, still playing music, until his wife had a stroke. She was half-paralyzed and bedridden after that, which was hard on him, and he stopped playing. About four years ago, my gorgeous ex-fiancee talked them into moving to California from St. Louis so we could take care of them. She found a nursing home for her mom, and we found him a mobile home to buy in a nearby mobile home park … he laughed about that. He said it proved he wasn’t trailer trash, he lived in a mobile home. He visited his wife in the nursing home almost every single day until her death a couple of years ago. She was the envy of the place to have a husband like that, all the poor souls in the nursing home who got one or two visits a year were jealous of her. I think he was atoning for previous misdeeds, the man was a jazz musician, and by all accounts a tom cat … but atone he assuredly did, and impeccably. When she needed him, really needed him, he was by her side every day. The only way we could keep him from going was to tell him we’d go ourselves, and we did, week after week, to give him some days off. He paid off all of his debts to his wife with true devotion.

Right up to the end his mind never weakened, and curiously, he was one of the few people with whom I could discuss my climate research. You have to understand that I’m a long ways out of the loop compared to many climate researchers. They typically have some circle of peers around them with whom they can discuss their ideas about the climate—other researchers, professors, graduate students, mentors, people from other departments and fields, they work and publish in teams and groups and can bounce ideas off each other.

I do all of my research alone. Around here, I have Billy and one other guy to talk to, neither one a climate scientist but both interested intelligent layman, and that’s it. So it was always a pleasure to read my work to him. He had me read each piece out loud, and then asked good questions. And we always had the music.

But his kidneys finally betrayed him. His last public appearance was in January, a couple of half-hour sets. He was as good as ever. Almost blind and nearly deaf even with his hearing aids, he never missed a beat. Then he was hospitalized, and they had to re-inflate him with a carload of IV fluids and such. His other daughter came out from Tennessee, she was a huge help during and after his hospitalization. But then, of course, she had to go back to work. She left with our profound thanks.

When Billy came out of the hospital, he told me he wasn’t going to play any more music. I said, you mean not play any more music in public? No, he said, he was done with music … my heart sank. He’d said the same thing when his wife had her stroke, and he didn’t play any music at all for a couple of years back then. But when he moved to California and still wasn’t playing, I knew that if I could get him to play again, he’d live much longer. So I just kept bugging him to play … and finally he gave in. We started to play a bit. I put my keyboard, amplifier, bass, microphone and guitar at his place so he could rock out anytime I or one of his friends was there. But he was kind of half-hearted about it, like he hadn’t made up his mind to get back into it.

And then he met some local musicians, and one of them told him that an old drum student of Billy’s from 50 years ago named George Marsh was now a music professor at the local university. Well, that put the cat among the pigeons. Just the rumor of George Marsh did what I couldn’t do. Billy immediately started seriously practicing, hours every day—Billy Schneider wasn’t going to have his student show up and find his old teacher unable to play the drums, oh, no, that wasn’t on. And so by the time George Marsh (who is now in his seventies and still teaching) made it over to his house, Billy was seriously playing his drums again and had his old chops back. And for the next four years, he played a lot, both with me and with various combinations of other musician friends in his house, as well as playing various gigs again in public as he’d done for so long. He played with a floating jazz group at a local restaurant, you’ve never seen a man so happy as when the band clicked.

Here’s a funny story. Billy met a friend of mine who’s up to his ears in Haitian drumming. So Billy started trading lessons with him, showing him jazz drumming in exchange for being taught something about Haitian drumming. Here’s the crazy part. My friend was taught Haitian drumming by a man named Kendrick. Kendrick was a very good drummer with sticks as well, in part because at the start of his drumming career he’d once spent six months on the waiting list to become for several years a student of George Marsh … who was, of course, taught drums by Billy himself, and so the circle was complete.

So when Billy announced he was hanging up his sticks, my heart grieved, I knew his time was short … not good news. Curiously, he told me that in some ways it was a great relief, because the music had always been a burden for him. I understood what he meant. I’m a musician, but not like him. I never practiced, even when I was making my living playing music. I just played and played and played, Oh, sometimes I’d play one song over and over for three hours, but I never called it practice. You’re doing the same thing, but from a very different point of view of music. I hate to practice, and I love to play, despite the fact that they’re the same. In my opinion, they call it “playing music” for a reason—because it’s not ever supposed to be work or practice. My aim is to play music like children play their games, for the simple joy of the sound and the passion of creating something stirring and moving and lovely.

But Billy was old-school. For him, there was practice, and there was performing. Billy had always driven himself to practice, a minimum of three hours a day until the day he quit. It was why he was so good. And now, he said, he was just tired to the bone. He didn’t want to practice like that any more … and if he couldn’t practice three hours a day, he wouldn’t play at all.

I told him that was OK by me. I told him he’d played music for people all his life, and all they’d had to do was sit back and listen. I said that now I could return the favor. I’d play, and all he had to do was listen. He laughed, he liked that plan. We joked about him being my captive audience. And so when I visited, I played for him the tunes that he and I had played together, over the following weeks, as he lay back in his easy chair. We talked about everything, including his impending death.

His health got worse and worse. The doctors said that he was a candidate for dialysis. But like my father, he refused treatment. His music was done, he said, and he’d had enough of being old and blind and deaf and most of all, he was just so tired. The only medical treatment he said he wanted was a morphine drip if things got bad.

For a while he could still take care of himself. We begged him to come live with us, but he was fiercely independent. His proud warrior’s spirit refused to let him to leave his mobile home even after he began to fail. So about two weeks ago, the gorgeous ex-fiancee and I moved in with him in shifts, with her there one night and me there the next. He was mostly sleeping. His voice grew less clear, with gaps in the words. I was reminded of times in the past when some friend and I were talking on our fishing boat radios, and my friend was in a boat going over the horizon. As the boat moved farther away, my friend’s words became indistinct, with static and gaps like Billy’s words, and both of us saying, Do you copy, do you read me, over? … I could see Billy was frustrated that his body wouldn’t obey him. It wasn’t that his mind couldn’t form the words. It was just that he was sailing over the horizon, and slowly getting too far away to send back final communications to those left behind on the shore …

When the pain got bad, his loving, ever-patient nurse, my dear wife, got him a prescription for morphine … and we dripped it into his mouth, just a bit from time to time, like he’d wanted. I think the fear of the pain was worse than the pain itself, and the morphine eased both his body and his mind.

On Friday night, he was nearing the end. I went down to his place, and my dear lady went home to feed the cat and get some sleep. It was proper. She had been at my father’s bedside when he died, and on that night long ago I had gone home. So it was right she should go home now. After she left, I put on some of Billy’s recordings from back in the day, the soundtrack from “The Nervous Set”, recordings he’d done with other musicians. I held his hand, and stroked his head. I sang to him. I told him he’d been a good husband and father, although neither were strictly true. But like my own mom and dad, he’d done his best with the poor interpersonal tools that were to hand in the 40’s and 50’s, and that’s all I could ask.

When I could feel his death approaching, I made myself small and turned sideways. I’m very careful when Death is in the room. First off, if you look at that joker’s eye-sockets, you can tell right away that his vision isn’t of the finest. Plus, his record isn’t that sterling either. It’s because he grew up outdoors, that’s my theory at least, where there’s plenty of room to swing a scythe. As a result, too often he’s been known to misunderestimate the distances involved inside a house, so his scythe bumps the refrigerator on the backswing or something, and as a result the blade hits the wrong man, and boom—Dick Nixon lives for another 117 years, and some good guy ends up dying young.

And although these days I’m mostly out of danger in that regard, being neither that young nor that good, I did not want to get mistaken for Billy right about then.

But Death found the right man, in my opinion at least, and probably in Billy’s opinion as well, and he died around nine o’clock. His breath went out, and it never came back. I leaned over and kissed his cooling forehead. His other daughter later said that for years, he’d had an evening gig, and the second set always started at 9:20 … that made sense. Much as he would have liked to stay and talk to me, he had to leave, the boys were headed back to the bandstand, Barbara Striesand was already on stage, the next set was about to start …

So I turned off his old recordings, and once again, I found myself sitting alone in a silent room with someone I’d just watched die. Again I wept. And again I took solace in the profundity of the silence, and in the soothing fact that there was nothing pressing any more, no urgency, nothing he needed to do, nothing I could do for him.

Then, when the time of silence was over, I went to do the necessary tasks. But of course, as I have learned in my life, death often brings both tragedy and farce, and this was no exception. Earlier in the day I’d called the mortuary, to see what the procedure was for them to pick up his body. The Mortuary Lady said they couldn’t pick him up without a Death Certificate. OK, I said, how do I get one of those? Oh, she said, you can’t do it, his doctor has to sign it.

Mmmm … but what if his doctor is out of town? Because, you know, he is out of town. Until Monday. And Billy will likely die before then.

Well, she said, after he dies you should call the County Coroner. They will send a doctor over to sign the certificate. They always handle that. It’s not a problem

So I did … but being a skeptical fellow, I did it right then, I didn’t wait until afterwords. I told the nice Coroner Lady the situation. She said oh, no, we don’t handle dead people at home in bed. You should call the Sheriff’s Department.  They always handle that. It’s not a problem.

So I did, right then. But the nice Sheriff Lady said they didn’t deal with dead people at home in bed. She said just call the emergency number 9-1-1. They always handle that. It’s not a problem … I guess not many people die at home with their family any more. Eventually my doctor said, just call the local police. They’ll know what to do. So after I’d sat in the silence in his bedroom for a while, I did that very thing.

However, the nice Police Lady said that unfortunately, his passing had to be classified as an “Unattended Death”, all capitalized and everything, because there was no doctor present. Again I was reminded of the difference between the first and the third world. What we call “an Unattended Death” they call “a death”—the presence of a doctor is a rarity, and absolutely not a necessity. In any case, the nice Police Lady said that she was sorry, but since his doctor was out of town, they’d have to send a detective out to investigate the Unattended Death for signs of foul play … plus of course the Emergency Medical Technician had to come out to to make sure he wasn’t still alive.

The mind works strangely at such times. I was tempted to say that it was clear that he wasn’t pining for the fjords, and that I took “didn’t breathe for the last fifteen minutes” as kind of a clue to his general state of animation, but I forbore … I could see that I was now just a pawn in the bureaucratic machinery. I had entered the zone where it didn’t matter what I said or did.

The detective turned out to be a pleasant young man. Clearly, however, he was hoping that this would turn out to be the crime of the century, that I’d just snuffed Howard Hughes or something. He came in, and first thing, we had to fill out some paperwork. I figured he’d want to see the body first, but no, it’s the government. Paperwork first, last, and in between, it’s the way we render modern death sterile and unthreatening.

While we were doing that, the EMT wagon arrived. I’d asked the nice Police Lady if they could leave the lights and sirens off to avoid disturbing the neighbors, and they did so. The EMT came in and went in the bedroom to see the body. He came out and told us that Billy was really most sincerely dead. He had a whole other set of paperwork, which I signed, and he gave his condolences and left. But of course he couldn’t sign the Death Certificate, so I’m not sure what his purpose was.

After the paperwork was done, the Detective said he wanted to see the “scene”. He did manage not to call it a “crime scene”. We went into the bedroom. He took out his camera and said he was sorry, but by law he had to take pictures for the record. I said I understood. He asked me to take the covers off of Billy’s body. I could see that he was disappointed to find out that it was just an ancient dead man weighing about 80 pounds, call it 35 kg, with pipe stem legs and sunken eyes, and not a crime victim of any kind. So the Detective took his pictures. And knowing that it made absolutely no sense, I put the covers back on Billy and tucked them in around him because it was night time, and I didn’t want him to be cold. We are truly bizarre creatures, we humans …

Then the Detective asked if I had a measuring tape. He said he had to measure the distance of the body from the walls of the room for his sketch of the scene, but he didn’t have a tape … I got the tape measure. Somewhere in there, it seems the gears in my mind had stripped entirely, and I found myself wandering around the bedroom,  numbly measuring how far it was from the walls to Billy’s body while the detective wrote down the numbers … life is endlessly strange. Somewhere in the bowels of the local Police Department there is an official “Unaccompanied Death” form with a sketch on it showing that William A. Schneider aged 86 died approximately nine feet from the south bedroom wall of his mobile home, and about seven feet from the east bedroom wall …

When all that was done, all the measurements and pictures taken, all the papers signed, I asked the Detective if now the mortuary folks could pick him up.

The Detective said no, first I had to get the Death Certificate …

I wanted to pound my head against the wall, but I was afraid I wouldn’t feel a thing if I did. It was that kind of evening. So I told the Detective the whole story, about the Mortuary Lady, and the County Coroner Lady, and the Sheriff Lady, and the Police Lady, and my Doctor’s advice, and he took pity on me. He called his boss, and she called someone she knew at the Coroners Office. In about five minues she called him back and said OK, Billy could be moved, the doctor could sign off when he returned on Monday.

So the Detective told me the body could go, and he gave his condolences. He was sincere and kind and professional throughout, and I thanked him for that and said I knew he had to do what he had done, and I was glad it was him that had done it. When he left I went back inside and called the mortuary.

Soon, the folks from the mortuary arrived. They brought a gurney. The mobile home was tight quarters. They had to stand the gurney on end to get it around the corners to his bedroom. I couldn’t figure out how they would get him out, there was nowhere near enough room. They wrapped him in a white shroud and put him on the gurney. Then they started lashing him on, with three webbed belts. I left the bedroom and sat down in the living room to wait.

When they came out of the bedroom, I found out that the gurney folded down, and it had wheels on one end, so they could use it like a hand truck. They came breezing out of the bedroom, wheeling him on what looked just like a hand truck, wrapped in white in a standing position. Their sudden appearance was so bizarre, they were moving fairly fast, or perhaps I was moving fairly slow, but in any case they looked for all the world like museum curators on the Discovery Channel merrily rolling one of the mummies to a new display location …

I must confess, I broke out laughing at sudden appearance of Billy disguised as a mummy on wheels in some museum. The attendants looked at me strangely, but I suppose they’d seen all kinds of grief, so they just keep wheeling the mummy on out to the van. Yeah, I know, I’m likely going to hell for laughing right then, but I knew that Billy would have seen the humor in it. He was a rascal and a gentleman and a rogue, crabby and thoughtlessly hard on the women in his family who loved him nonetheless, a wonderful musician and a bad family man who somehow managed to successfully raise a couple great girls to productive adulthood, and always someone with a deep sense of humor and a profound enjoyment of the ridiculous, inane, bizarre things of this world. He’d have laughed at the mummy image. My old shipmate, the one I was fishing with when I heard of my father’s passing thirty years ago, remarked on Billy’s death, “We don’t grieve for him. We grieve for our own loss, that he’s no longer around to laugh with us.”

Anyhow, that’s why my mind has been revisiting the topic of death lately. I have no great insights gained from all of this, except to keep listening to Death’s excellent advice, and to keep the gas pedal firmly pressed to the floor. Oh, and what George Marsh told me. He said he’d been meaning to get over to see Billy again, he’d been invited, but this and that had gotten in the way, time went by, and now Billy was dead … he said he wasn’t ever going to let that happen again if he could help it.

After Billy’s death, I went for some long walks on the cliffs overlooking the ocean with my gorgeous ex-fiancee, and we let the immensity of the water and the insistent wind and the endless waves wash away the sorrow and the struggle of the last few months. We both fished commercially together, we both are children of the waves. We saw a whale spouting far out in the vasty deeps—there is no better balm for the heart than untamed wildness.

I give my good lady immense props for her role in all of this. She has been the captain of our good ship since the first day, I was just the crew. And having skippered my share of boats, I assure you that crewman is by far the easier job. Crewmen sleep well at night, while the skipper tosses and turns and considers tomorrow. Billy was not always nice or kind to her or her sister, but they both bore up under it without complaint to him, and simply kept supporting him and her mother in every way they wanted and needed, from before the time they moved out here until their deaths. I told that good woman that she was the perfect daughter, that she did everything they needed and more, and that she had done it with style and with a warm and open heart. She has my profound admiration and undying thanks for her unwavering support of both of our parents in their extremity.

My conclusion from all of this? Hold your family and friends close, remember to taste the strawberries, play your own music whatever that might mean to you, and do what you love … because the night is never far away.

Best regards, and thanks for coming on the journey. Everyone grieves differently. This time around, writing seems to be part of how I do it. Tonight, the midnight moon is nearly full, with a single band of altostratus on one side of the sky and a hint of summer in the air. The coyotes are mumbling to each other on the far ridge, the saw-whet owl is sharpening his lethal blade. The intoxicating smell of the lemon tree in the yard lies thick on the dark air. The moonlit forest around my house is alive with unseen eyes, predator and prey alike, hidden death on all sides for rabbits and mice … stay well, dear friends, life is far too short.

w.

William A. “Billy” Schneider

Jazz drummer extraordinaire 

1928-2014

He lived and died surrounded by his music

and loved by his family and friends.

Sleep well, my dear companion.

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bushbunny
April 18, 2014 9:34 pm

Seriously you should enter that in a short story competition. It was quite revealing. Having lost two sons, and my mother and father, All within 5 years of one another’ death is final and a loved one’s death remains a hole in your heart for ever.

April 18, 2014 10:08 pm

Hi Willis – that was a very moving story, your writing abilities and life experiences never cease to amaze me.
In regards to your sister, while I’m sure the doctors did everything they could as there was very little time left, I’d like to add that it’s little known in the medical profession that intestinal transplants are actually done nowadays. In my travels across the internet I came across the blog of fellow whose medical story is simply incredible. Nearly dead from a botched colonoscopy and seemingly inconceivable medical malpractice, he was saved only because his wife discovered intestinal transplants actually existed (his doctors were clueless). I hate to promote someone else’s blog on WUWT but the story is amazing. The things I’ve learned from his posts make me wonder if the medical profession isn’t very different from climatology.
http://roarofwolverine.com/wolverine

Hoser
April 18, 2014 10:25 pm

Thank you. My father was born in 1928, and I know we don’t have forever. I completely agree with and hope for the proper order. I guess you’re the Carlos Castaneda of the Sea. As the notes of Ripple are playing again in my mind, I’ll just say, fare ye well.

Admin
April 18, 2014 10:26 pm

A few months ago, I almost died.
One Friday I took my little girl swimming, I felt what I thought was mild indigestion. By the afternoon it had grown into a nasty pain in my stomach, so I saw a doctor. The quack sent me home, he diagnosed a strained muscle.
By the next morning, after a very bad night, my pain had grown unbearable. Worse, my waterworks had shut down – so I knew something was very wrong. My wife called an ambulance.
I had emergency surgery that evening, after a day fighting to control my temperature. I had been walking around for a week with a ruptured appendix and Peritonitis.
After I woke up from Surgery, the surgeon gave me the bad news – I was still probably going to die. He had washed litres of puss out of my stomach, from a very widespread infection – but he couldn’t get it all.
Yet somehow I found a reason to hope. For at least 5 days, I was walking around with my insides rotting away, driving thousands of miles, moving heavy boxes (we were moving house at the time) – yet my immune system was doing such a good job of containing the infection, I didn’t even know I was ill. It was only on the 6th day that my body started to lose the battle.
And I was blindly, utterly determined to live. My wife and daughter depended on me. This was not my time to die.
Somehow, whether it was the antibiotics which drenched my system, my abnormally strong immune system, by determination to do everything they told me to do, to help my recovery, no matter how painful, I pulled through, and have now made a complete recovery.
Death is the enemy Willis. There is no quarter with that which makes your loved ones cry. When the reaper finally catches up with me again, he will have another fight on his hands, I will hang on to the last gasp of my strength.

April 18, 2014 10:29 pm

Thanks Willis.

bushbunny
April 18, 2014 10:36 pm

That story on wolverine was horrific. I had a colonoscopy other than finding a vein to put me asleep, it was a painless procedure throughout and afterwards. But was given a paper with warnings if I bled or had problems to come right back. I didn’t like the diet I was given before hand and the stuff I had to drink beforehand although it was flavored. It was cleared and the surgeon told me not to come back for 10 years, I had a bit of diverculitcus. (Sorry spelling). I have never heard of intestinal transplants, but we learn everyday.

Dan Smith
April 18, 2014 10:46 pm

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing

Dennis Dunton
April 18, 2014 10:48 pm

Willis; Coming from the St. Louis area myself….Just curious if Billy lived in one of the many suburbs, or in St. Louis proper. Most “St. Louis” people don’t live in the city itself. My condolences to you and yours on losing Billy. Guys like him are getting hard to find.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 18, 2014 10:51 pm

Thanks, Willis, as always.
I nursed my father hand and foot for four long years. I was still a kid going in. Afterwards, not so much.
My cousin died less than a year ago. He was the brother I never had, and he had been bunking out in my livingroom for over six years. He was two years younger than me. He suffered a stroke and never fully regained consciousness. For the months he had left, I worked ten hours, then visited him every day after work, sometimes twice a day on weekends. But I was somehow certain he’d get better care if he was seen to be getting a lot of visiting. I would bring the nurses cookies and pies regularly because I figured that couldn’t hurt either. Lori didn’t visit him much. Instead, she served him (well) by keeping me from going to pieces.
I would talk to him and ruffle his hair, sometimes, because physical contact can reach a person, though I am definitely not a touchy-feelly type . One time I showed up and he opened his eyes and looked at me sternly and then put his hand up to his hair, so maybe I was getting through. I was reading Skylark to him, of all things, and we had just gotten to the point where the space pirates had been thwarted, the hostages rescued, the planet saved, but before the wedding scene and the escape of the evil Duquesne, he passed on within an hour of when I last saw him.
Sometimes people are lucky enough to have someone that they can call and say, like the song goes, “Andy, did you hear about this one?” It can be a lonely thing when that happens and there is no one to call.

Janice Moore
April 18, 2014 10:57 pm

Dear Mr. Eschenbach,
Thank you for honoring us with your words about your dearly loved Billy. No one can ever take his place. The ebb tide of grief will flow high and ebb many, many times before it finally rests. Just remember, though, every time grief floods up the beach, it is, overall, flooding a little less far up the beach each time. Eventually, there will be calm. You know this, I know, just a little encouragement from someone who cares (yeah, really).
“The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning,
but the heart of fools in the house of pleasure.”
Ecclesiastes 7:4.
You are wise, Mr. Eschenbach, to listen to Death…… to a point. Death can make a person live wisely, but, Death cannot give you joy. Death cannot give you love. And Death is sometimes a l1ar, gleefully whispering in your ear about the peace it can bring. Death, per se, will not bring peace, for the soul lives on…. somewhere. And Death will not be going along with it to comfort it. Death has no interest in a soul released from the body. At that point, Death washes its hands of the soul.
Most importantly, Death, while wise, cannot give you hope.
Do you realize how COOL it is to KNOW where your soul is going when you die? THAT is peace, man, powerful peace.
For hope, you must listen to Life.
How can one do this?
In case you might be interested in the answer I found to that question,
there is only one Life Who can change despair to hope (and I mean enduring, rock-solid, unshakeable hope), the one who said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life… .” John 14:6.
Of course, that takes faith.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen… .” Hebrews 11:1.
And if you don’t have it, you just don’t have it. No one can gin up faith. But, you CAN be open to receiving it (and you can choose to stubbornly resist it whenever it whispers to your heart).
I have been, though, and will be, praying that you and your family come to have that faith, that hope. So, HOPEFULLY (smile), one day, you WILL have faith and, thus, Hope.
What you DO have, right now,
and will always have,
is your love for Billy
and his love for you.
Memories will start to fade,
but the love will remain — always.
“… these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
I. Cor. 13:13.
With heartfelt sympathy…. and prayers,
Janice
P.S. A Christian song (just a heads up so you can skip it if you don’t want to hear that kind of music) that I love and that I HOPE will be an encouragement to your own faith.
“Where There Is Faith” — 4 Him
[ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kpJOUboKgV0 ]

April 18, 2014 11:03 pm

A grand farewell and meditation. On Good Friday the thought of death and the possibility of resurrection is not far from my mind.
A bit of luck and Billy will play on.
Thank you for this.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 18, 2014 11:11 pm

Do you realize how COOL it is to KNOW where your soul is going when you die? THAT is peace, man, powerful peace.
I dunno, Janice. Unlike with my beloved climate stations, I have no data on that. What is, is.

Janice Moore
April 18, 2014 11:18 pm

Dear Evan M. Jones,
If I may…
“… what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Ii. Corinthians 4:18.
Jesus walked the earth. And he left LOTS of data (in the form of words and actions) for you to analyze.
Your query to resolve: Was he Lord? Liar? or Lunatic? Those are the only 3 possibilities.
(from C. S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity)
Best wishes in YOUR faith journey!
Janice

Dave Wendt
April 18, 2014 11:23 pm

Thanks Willis for another story well and lovingly told and beautifully written. My wife and I went through a somewhat similar sequence with her mother about a year and a half ago. Similar may be a bit of a stretch as the only real commonalities were her adamant wish to die in her own home and the morphine soothed final days of her life, which in her case stretched to five days from the point she fell into a terminal coma. Your bit about the death certificate brought back a detail of our story which was both entirely infuriating and yet almost comical. Mom finally passed about a quarter to midnight on Halloween. In the small Iowa town where this occurred the local EMTs must come to pronounce an unattended death. Since the ambulance garage was only a couple of blocks away they arrived in very short order and after what was probably similar paperwork they pronounced her dead. During our discussion with the crew they had asked about the time of her death and my told them 11:45 PM. Although they didn’t officially pronounce her until well after midnight they put that time onto the paperwork. They then volunteered to deliver her body to the local mortuary.
The next day her last Social Security check was direct deposited into her account at the local bank.
As part of the friendly service of the local undertaker he sent copies of the DC to all pertinent authorities, including the SSA. They almost immediately informed the bank that they must return the deposit because the payment was for October and she hadn’t lived through the “entire month”.
I know the odds of something similar happening again are way against, but if you should get caught don’t say you weren’t warned.

John F. Hultquist
April 18, 2014 11:23 pm

Thanks.

stevefitzpatrick
April 18, 2014 11:37 pm

Willis,
Your writing is absolutely fearless.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 18, 2014 11:37 pm

Easy, Willis, easy now.
Please don’t get mad at her. We all have our own ways of dealing with these things, as you have poignantly demonstrated. If we believed what and in the way she does, we might react the same. That’s one of the reasons I tend to excuse the howls of the CAGW believers — if I actually believed what they actually believe, I might be howling, too. Noblesse oblige, you know.

April 18, 2014 11:50 pm

Man, that was beautiful writing. I can barely see the letters as I type.

Oatley
April 18, 2014 11:55 pm

Willis, from now on I am going to refer to you as “R” instead of your “W”…
“Renaissance”

Evan Jones
Editor
April 18, 2014 11:56 pm

A few months ago, I almost died.
Glad you made it through.

John Coleman
April 19, 2014 12:08 am

Willis, my very best to you and your ex-fiancé. I hope to meet you in person in Las Vegas in July.

April 19, 2014 12:10 am

A beautiful telling of a story of life, Willis.
…. but I am sorry you feel you had to reply to Janice in that manner. It somehow spoils it, for me at least, even though I am and always will be an atheist. (I say that with some certainty as any change in that regard will undoubtedly be a symptom of the losing of my mental faculties).
I am sure she meant it as a message of love and care.
We all spend our lives passing on thoughts, ideas, ‘how to’ instructions, solutions, facts about ‘climate change’, etc, etc to others. Sometimes the ideas, or the solutions we pass on are wrong, but not because we intend them to be. It is simply that we think they were meaningful, factual, or we believe that they worked for us at the time.
Peace and love to you, and to Janice. Such is life. And death.

Txomin
April 19, 2014 12:16 am

You write quite well. Thank you for sharing.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 12:17 am

Janice’s actions are just like the unscrupulous morticians trying to upsell some poor family on a much more expensive casket at the time they’re most vulnerable, after their loved one’s death … entire predictable.
But there is one important difference. The mortician goes *ka-ching*. Those like Janice believe that what they are doing is a Good Thing. It isn’t. But the motivations are not as venal.
So I likely should have been ready for her, but I wasn’t, and I tend to bite back … my bad. Hey, I’m a passionate guy, what can I say?
“It”, not “her”, I think. And you do yourself a disservice here. You don’t tend to bite back. You “tend” to be wise, understanding, broadminded, and compassionate. And that ain’t always easy.
I am so sorry for your loss.

April 19, 2014 12:18 am

Eric Worrall says:
April 18, 2014 at 10:26 pm

and

evanmjones says:
April 18, 2014 at 10:51 pm
and this as well, with which I agree
evanmjones says:
April 18, 2014 at 11:11 pm

Thanks.
Willis, loved the “freakin’ bluebird of happiness and cheer” bit.

April 19, 2014 12:27 am

We know how to cure cancer now. All kinds. The secret is that cancer cells have a receptor that induces apoptosis. It is against Federal law to fill those receptors with any material you can grow yourself.
Biochemist Dennis Hill, who cured his stage 4 prostate cancer explains how it works
Look it up.

Matt Collins
April 19, 2014 12:28 am

Well done, Willis. Thank you.

George McFly......I'm your density
April 19, 2014 12:29 am

Lovely story Willis….very honest and refreshing. We all need a reminder from time to time of our humanity and frailty

Norman Woods
April 19, 2014 12:30 am

A mocking scoffer tells stories designed to pull at the heartstrings of anyone reading, then acting like some kind of baboon about a woman’s emotional outburst when she worries about you to her God in her heart.
I thought you were already low rent but I hope I never see another word about you that doesn’t start with the letters rip.
You cretin.

April 19, 2014 12:31 am

But by God, (as they say), she’s not gonna be allowed to stuff Jesus into my story. No way.

I agree.

Perry
April 19, 2014 12:35 am

Willis,
Thank you for writing such a beautiful essay. I am still choking back the tears.
Cordially,
Perry

April 19, 2014 12:39 am

Too bad Robert Cohon was not in your vicinity. He had a knack for opiates.

April 19, 2014 12:41 am

M Simon says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:27 am

As someone who used to be virulently anti-marijuana before May 2008–I removed you as a friend, and I would not allow relatives into my house who used drugs of any kind–I am happy to read accounts about Dennis Hill who killed cancer in his body with cannabis. Jesus, I was a s**t and ignorant. People need to wake up to the medical evidence. Check out Spain’s Dr. Manuel Guzman. And use google with these search terms: =>> marijuana alternet guzman ford NIH 1974

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 12:42 am

Norman Woods says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

Whoah, there. Ramp it back. Uncalled for, particularly under the circumstances.
policycritic says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:31 am
Ah, she isn’t, properly considered — because she can’t. It isn’t “part of the story”, it’s outside of the story, just a comment.
(Thanks for earlier.)

J. Fujita
April 19, 2014 12:44 am

Thanks Willis for the thoughtful anecdotes. I witnessed the quiet passings of both my parents and I’ll always cherish those opportunities as fitting since they were there for the beginning of my life. Your story reminded me of my favorite quote, one which I try to live by. It’s from Paul Bowles…
“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don’t know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It’s that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don’t know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that’s so deeply a part of your being that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

April 19, 2014 12:44 am

Norman Woods says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:30 am
Low rent is where all the interesting things happen. I wish you a long, dull, boring life.
And just to tweak you some further. I favor the old time religion. If it was good enough for Jesus it is good enough for me. Because we are all Sons of God. Or Sons of B******. I’ll take either. Or both. Depending on what is on offer.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 12:48 am

Thanks, Evan. Again you are correct … but isn’t there a religious saying about people believing they’re doing a good thing?
Oh, yes. And I, in essence, agree. Case in point, the more genuine of the CAGW believers. Like all good intentions. But the mortician dude doesn’t even have those.
The road to hell is indeed paved with good intentions, but let’s not leave out the bad intentions, either.
Getting paid off in converts is one thing. And I agree: Not a Good thing. But then, there’s the fake preacher who collects money, ostensibly to send to the starving kids and then keeps it. That’s more in like with what the mortician does, and I really believe there is a significant difference.
Another case in point: I think the number Norman Woods pulled was considerably worse than anything Janice attempted.
In climate science, what we’re discussing is called “Noble Cause Corruption”.
And in other venues as well. But — as bad as that is — it beats ignoble cause corruption.
Finally, the mortician isn’t trying to twist my work and my words into an argument to sell more of his caskets, as Janice is doing to my work and words in trying to sell more of her religion …
No. But he would if he could!

April 19, 2014 12:49 am

policycritic says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:41 am
Also look up Dr. Christina Sanchez who is a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Madrid Spain.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 1:12 am

Norman Woods says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

Pay him no mind, Willis. He’s just riffraff. We’ll deal with him ourselves, never fear.

April 19, 2014 1:16 am

Yes. Death does give the best advice. I haven’t played much music since the 80s. But these days Death has whispered in my ears and I’m a designing fool. My hope is one great last design before I get called. It doesn’t seem like soon. But one never knows.
http://spacetimepro.blogspot.com/

Charlie Flindt
April 19, 2014 1:52 am

Willis,
Fantastic writing. What a lovely bittersweet mix.
Sometimes, you know, Death sweeps in calmly and suddenly. I was blessed with my father’s departure.
http://www.fwi.co.uk/articles/19/11/2011/130182/charlie39s-father-leaves-farming-in-peace.htm
Best wishes,
Charlie

Truthseeker
April 19, 2014 1:58 am

Willis, you are absolutely right to be angry at what Janice has done. You do not need to calm down on this matter because even though you have taken us through a powerful and emotional journey. at the end of the day they are just words. It is not as if there are likely to be any physical consequences.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 1:58 am

Evan, I do appreciate your patience with me, and the peaceful tone of your posts.
You merit it. I find myself envisioning some of your writings as I drift off, like one will do with great masterpieces of literature. Every now and then some circumstance triggers the term “premium bride” in my head and I chuckle out loud. You’ll be needing to string all that end to end someday and get yourself a Library of Congress number, you know.
Let me say a bit more about it.
Yes. There we go. Good man.
Only bear in mind that, in the end, she can’t intrude on your story. She is below the fold, as are all the comments. Your story is what it is. It stands alone.
Maybe think about it this way: Your story caused me to tell one of my own. So have some of the others. In one sense that is not so very different than what Janice was trying to do (and, no, I do not approve of her post), but everybody does these things in his own way. And that’s when a writer succeeds best. When he connects, you know.

John R T
April 19, 2014 2:04 am

Thank you,…
for good advice,…
for better writing.
.
.
Janice, thank you. mere, Thanks
John Moore

Hasse
April 19, 2014 2:08 am

I have been in the situations, I know the feelings. Thank you for sharing.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
April 19, 2014 2:10 am

Deeply humbled by your eloquent candor, Willis. Peace. And Rspect.

Coldish
April 19, 2014 2:13 am

Thanks, Willis. A science blog is no place for religion.

Jimbo
April 19, 2014 2:16 am

Willis makes a good point about how distanced people in the West are from visual death. It didn’t used to be the case, but when you face it all the time the shock reduces. The other point I want to make is how people in Western cities are distanced from the killing of the animals they eat. Chicken drums, rump steak, fillet of fish etc are animals that have been killed and gutted.
The first dead person I saw was lying in the road after being hit by a van – he was a tramp who was suspected of suffering from mental problems. I saw a baby die of malaria in front of my eyes in hospital. The look and sound of grief from the mother was heart wrenching. I still see the scene as she was dragged away from the corpse by hospital workers. I see people everyday with either polio, leprosy, malaria, unknown illness or just disabled crawling on the ground without a wheelchair. Welcome to the poor, death and suffering.

weathep
April 19, 2014 2:45 am

The story of Joe (not his real name) 1991-2010 19 years, 6 months, 19 days, 20 hours…
Our beautiful son: Joe, was born in June 1991 by emergency ceasarian – he always was obdurate! He walked at 13 months, but could not stand himself up.. we had to teach him how at 19 months because his sister: Susan (name changed), was due to be born.. At two and a half he failed some developmental checks.. he could not climb stairs.. or run.. or clamber.. and was easily tired.. and if he fell, he went over like he had been pole-axed. The contrast to his 12 month old sister was obvious. We had been to the doctor’s a few times, but were dismissed as neurotic parents. After his failure of this developmental check the doctor referred us to a local paediatric clinic. I remember the day we went, we felt a bit fraudulent because Joe seemed stronger than he had been a couple of months before. The doctor took a blood sample and sent us on our way, saying it was unlikely to be much, but the blood sample would prove one way or another.. what we did not know was the doctor had grave suspicions and had a specific blood test taken. He said to make a follow up appointment for 6 weeks hence. The following Monday, we had a ‘phone call from the hospital “About your appointment this Thursday….” What appointment? Why did they want to see us? They would not say.. we went along that Thursday in trepidation.. the appointment was in the Doctors lunch hour… “The blood test has confirmed that Joe has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy (DMD).. a serious, genetic, muscle wasting condition…” What’s the prognosis? “He’ll get steadily weaker, will stop being able to walk sometime between 7years and 11years and will live maybe 15-18 years…..”
Well, as you can imagine: total devastation. Joe was a bright child – DMD does not affect their academic capabilities (other than the affect of being tired… and eventually not having the strength to hold a pen), he was in the top sets at school. Joe had a quick wit, was polite and was always (well.. mostly) smiling and most people remember him for that. Joe eventually stopped walking on November 13th 2000 he was just about nine and a half. One morning he just could not stand.. it had been coming, we were not surprised. He then got an electric wheelchair from the NHS – not having the strength to propel himself in a manual chair. We moved in 2002 prior to him starting High school at 11. The school he would’ve gone to where we were living was not good academically. The state high school he went to (well all three of them actually), is one of the best in Hampshire, if not the country. He did very well and was happy there.
When he was 14, as is common with boys with DMD, the muscles of his back could no longer support the growth boys go through at that age and he developed scoliosis. Just before his year 10 schooling (ages 14/15) he underwent a spinal fusion operation (that is a long story in it’s own right) where 2 titanium rods are screwed to his vertebrae in an 8 hour operation. He was always in pain due to the fusion, even after it had healed, though he bore it with great fortitude. The operation meant I could no longer just pick him up and put him in his wheelchair, we always had to use a hoist and sling from then on. It was also the end of him feeding himself – though the strength to lift his arm to his mouth was almost gone before the operation anyway. During the following year he was losing weight and no-one knew why. At Easter before his 16th birthday a large infection manifested itself at the base of his spine.. he had to have the spinal fusion removed in a 6 hour operation (or he would have died within weeks). He was in hospital for 7 weeks. We “escaped” from hospital in early May, but still had to administer intra-venous anti-biotics via a central line for a further 3-4 weeks.
So, in the 2 school years he had missed over 1 full term (12 weeks) including all the formal review/revision. He was still bed-ridden when the exams started. The school turned his bedroom into an exam room, and for each exam he had an invigilator and his scribe present – to whom he dictated his answers. He had only been well enough to start revising 3 weeks before the exams started, and was still very tired and weak. The results came out in late August.. he achieved 1 A*, 5 A’s and 2 B’s. As a result of that he was in the local, and some of the national newspapers, interviewed on the local radio and television news! Joe then went onto “Sixth form” college to do his “A” (Advanced) levels – the 2-year pre-university required level of education. Joe took A levels in Classics (Greek & Roman Literature, plays, architecture and society), History and Sociology. Joe wanted to go to university. He was offered a place at a University of London college to read History. Unlike during his GCSE’s he had no time off sick during his time at sixth-form college, even though his scoliosis had returned and he was in constant pain due to that and was, by this time, on medication to control his pain and because of deterioration of his heart – due to DMD. He attained grades A B B and his place was confirmed at university.
Going to university brought a whole host of new situations both for Joe and us. He now had to have 24hour carers employed to look after him at university (as we had always done his personal care), plus a string of other university students employed to take his notes in lectures with him and for them to scribe for him when doing his essays. Academically, he did very well, socially, life was a struggle for him and we spent more time with him (especially Saturdays). Fortunately it was only an hours drive away.. In the early November 2009 in his first year, he got a terrible cold, was unable to breath and was rushed to hospital via emergency ambulance.. – Boys with DMD find it very difficult to cough due to muscle weakness, and therefore chest-colds are very dangerous for them – We rushed up to the local hospital.. we were thinking.. “is this going to be it?”. Joe, fortunately, did not have a bacterial infection, so they let us bring him home.. Where we had to perform vigorous chest physiotherapy for about 3 hours each morning for about a week to loosen and shift the mucus in his lungs… He eventually went back to university after 2 weeks off.. but the illness had left its mark both on his confidence and it had affected his ability to chew, he had developed sever acid reflux and feeding became a problem…
Feeding problems aside, Joe continued and finished his first year at university.. we had a 5 week holiday in the US.. we travelled there and back by the Queen Mary 2 – Joe could not fly since his spinal fusion and then the return of this scoliosis. There were problems with feeding and him feeling nauseous regularly, but it was a good holiday nonetheless. He started his second year at university that September, but the nauseousness was causing him serious problems and various remedies were tried. In early November, he was so upset by it all that he came home, partly because he also had an upset stomach.. Due to the upset stomach he spent over a week in hospital and during this time (I could say a LOT LOT more here!!) he started to get angina pains. After he came out of hospital, we pestered to get him a proper cardiology appointment (another long story).. anyway, after getting Joe’s neuromuscular consultant involved, we managed to get a cardiology appointment with the top local cardiology consultant for roughly the end of November 2010.
The consultant inspected his heart via ecco-cardiagram for 45 minutes! then he had another ECG. Then.. “well.. Joe.. mm basically.. you shouldn’t be here.. your heart is in a very bad state.. I am sorry…” – Can he go back to university? (that may seem like a daft question, but he was feeling a lot better) “ehm no, best give up your university career” – Can we take him on holiday “ehm no, just take him home and make him comfortable…” total and utter devastation. We were not expecting that outcome, if we had thought it a possibility we could’ve prepared him in someway…
I could write a lot about the last 4-5 weeks, there were some ups and downs, some false hopes, but ultimately on Monday 20th December he woke in crisis and pain, the doctor was called and he was put on morphine – though not enough to put him “out of it” if you understand. Though, he knew and we knew, he would not get up again. We had to ask him painful things like: What did he want to do with his savings? What sort of funeral did he want “A nice one.. like grandmas” – does he want to be buried or cremated? Buried.. Various people came to visit over the next 3 days, like people do. Apart from a short period on the Tuesday evening when he asked the doctor, in frustration, if she could do anything to “end it” for him, she said: “no I can’t”, he faced it with great fortitude and stoicism, and typically was still cracking jokes on the Wednesday afternoon when his best friend John came to visit. I hope I have his strength when my time comes. Wednesday evening, crisis again, doctor came, he had a heart attack, struggled for a (long.. very long) few minutes.. and though he had been rambling a bit and not talking sense, he suddenly became focused and clear, looked at his mum (who was closest to him), and then uttered his last 2 sentences: “I am dying.. I love you” then he was gone….. Absolute and utter devastation…
His funeral was 2 weeks later at the local church, over 200 people were there to pay their respects, it was a good send off, the funeral lasted nearly 2 hours, because quite a few people wanted to read out their eulogy of their memories of Joe. His sunny, wise-cracking, up-beat nature, in the face of constant pain, had touched a lot of people over the years.. and although, due to DMD, in his later years he was practically a quadraplegic, he said, in the last few weeks, because he was now attached to his ventilator (which formerly he only used when asleep) a lot of the time to alleviate the angina pains – that he had never really felt disabled until then!!!!! Almost incomprehensible considering his level of disability, but a great testament to his character.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 2:47 am

By the way, I could delete that obnoxious post by Norman Woods. I have that power.
But I prefer to let it stand and let him twist slowly in the wind.

Brad
April 19, 2014 2:48 am

Well said Willis, will be forwarding this to everyone in my family…
Simply, WOW

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 2:49 am

Well said Willis, will be forwarding this to everyone in my family…
Simply, WOW

Like I say, Willis, it stands alone. Q.E.D.

stan stendera
April 19, 2014 2:53 am

Willis’ eagle soars ever higher. Thank you for this revelation.

stan stendera
April 19, 2014 2:57 am

And thank you , Anthony, for publishing this wonderful essay.

Admin
April 19, 2014 2:59 am

evanmjones I’m glad I pulled through too thanks Evan 🙂

April 19, 2014 3:01 am

M Simon says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:49 am

Thanks. Here’s a video:

April 19, 2014 3:02 am

“The other point I want to make is how people in Western cities are distanced from the killing of the animals they eat. Chicken drums, rump steak, fillet of fish etc are animals that have been killed and gutted.”
In my youth I worked near the killing floor. I used to help gut 2,000 hogs a day. I earned my meat. And I enjoy every last bite. And before that I used to slice and dice chickens for display in my Dad’s butcher case. And of course there was the day (I was 4 or 5) my Dad killed a chicken in the back yard. It got away. And ran around like a chicken with its head cut off. Because it was a chicken with its head cut off. Spurting blood all the way.

Jimbo
April 19, 2014 3:04 am

No onto a lighter note about death. Below is a comedy sketch from a UK TV programme back in the day. Here is a sample.

…………
C: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
O: No no! ‘E’s pining!
C: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker!
‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies!
‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig!
‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisibile!!
THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
……………..
http://www.davidpbrown.co.uk/jokes/monty-python-parrot.html

http://youtu.be/4vuW6tQ0218

Admin
April 19, 2014 3:07 am

Willis, I think you are being a bit harsh with Janice. Its your grief, but I don’t think Janice meant harm – from her perspective she was trying to help. The bible and her religious belief obviously brings her a lot of comfort, and I think she was looking to extend that comfort to you.
The Mortician in your example is acting from brutal self interest. I see why you drew that parallel, but I think there are some important differences between what Janice did, and what the Mortician did.
Perhaps I can explain best by sharing part of my life experience with religion.
I’ve been an atheist all my life, but about half my family are evangelical Christians – Jehova’s Witnesses. For a while I was confused about what they said, then I learned how to pick holes in what they said, taking malicious pleasure in quoting some of the darker passages from the bible. Then I finally chilled out and realised that what they were doing was an expression of love. They did love me, they showed it in so many ways – its just they wanted to make sure I joined them in a heaven I didn’t believe existed. We learned to agree to disagree – to love each other, but to understand and accept that there was a facet of our lives which would never be in harmony.

April 19, 2014 3:28 am

Thank you Sir,
For sharing this.
I have laugh’t and cried too.
We all have a loosing hand to play.

Editor
April 19, 2014 3:35 am

Beautiful, many thanks, Willis.

davideisenstadt
April 19, 2014 4:08 am

willis….you can really write.
thanks.

stevefitzpatrick
April 19, 2014 4:18 am

Eric Worrall,
Humm… Many who wish to force upon everyone their personal beliefs, whether those be religious or political (eg Malthusian Eco-loons), for certain honestly and completely believe they are doing good. They are not. What they are doing is insulting the intelligence of all those they purport to help; it is pure and simple arrogance. They should just make decisions for themselves and leave the rest of us to do the same. The parallel you attempt to draw with your immediate family is a false one; you and your family have a joint interest in working it out. Willis does not need to be lectured to by a stranger, and IMO, he is justified to tell her to pound sand… I would do the same.

April 19, 2014 4:25 am

I think this is a great piece. People need to read this if they are taking care of someone dying or are facing someone dying.

Admin
April 19, 2014 4:32 am

stevefitzpatrick
Eric Worrall,
Humm… Many who wish to force upon everyone their personal beliefs, whether those be religious or political (eg Malthusian Eco-loons), for certain honestly and completely believe they are doing good. … Willis does not need to be lectured to by a stranger, and IMO, he is justified to tell her to pound sand… I would do the same.

A legitimate viewpoint – Willis is well within his rights to say what he did. I just wanted to point out that there was a difference between Willis’ Mortician example, a person who knowingly acts out of brutal self interest, and someone who sincerely believes they are trying to help. The outcome might be just as annoying, but the motivation is most likely different.

Thijs
April 19, 2014 4:45 am

Hold your family and friends close, remember to taste the strawberries, …
You drove the point home, thank you so much for sharing.

Richdo
April 19, 2014 5:03 am

Peace.

Will
April 19, 2014 5:12 am

That was wonderfully and beautifully written. I’ve shared some of your experiences, the death of close loved ones before their golden years, and you very eloquently described the bizzare mixture of humor, pain, sorrow, and serenity.

Bob Weber
April 19, 2014 5:22 am

Willis you are a gifted communicator. I have a 73 year old piano tuner and player friend who loves his whiskey so much it’s brought him to death’s door in a few short years. it is very difficult to see a man once vibrant and active now unable to get up out of his wheelchair without help. He told me last week at the local elder care center, “I don’t want to give up…” and as always, “I love you man” His name is Bill also. Bill buried his beloved Elaine a decade ago, and he is the only person besides my lady who has continually encouraged me to keep at my electric weather project. I will miss him when he inevitably moves on to the great beyond.
I appreciate your presence here, in spite of often disagreeing with you Willis. And like Janice, I believe our essence carries on beyond this existence.

Alan the Brit
April 19, 2014 5:24 am

What a beautiful yet very sad tale! You write Willis, very well indeed. Having just interred my Mother’s ashes this morning, & soon the attend an family Aunt’s funeral in the next few days, Death is no stranger to any of us! Happy Easter to all my WUWT friends, & critics alike.

1 L Loyd
April 19, 2014 5:37 am

Thank you Willis. It was very real.
My father died suddenly while I was living a thousand miles away. I moved home to care for my mother. She died in her bed about eighteen months later. It was not the normal experience, but I am glad I had it.

Lawrence13
April 19, 2014 5:38 am

Cheered me up no end., thanks Willis.
Seriously your experience in finding the dead body reminded me of a most recent thread on a weather forum
UK Sci weather where a weather contributor shared his experience of an elderly woman collapsing on a bus in the UK and not a single person helped her except him and then he (Joe) went on to say just how shocked he was at peoples attitude towards her. Off course this is slightly different as the person in your case was already dead , however you some how rationalised the reaction of ignorance and avoidance of those ignoring the dead body as be caused by poverty, I would and used to when a left winger , always look for excuses for peoples behaviour but I now think that a standard of living and indifference to cruelty to others situations are not mutually exclusive, in fact I think our vastly improved western standard of living which has given us the ability to abort young babies at 22 weeks has taken its toll on our human spirit and morals.
Here in the UK abortion run at 200,000 per year and although we all agree many children are thoroughly spoiled in the west there is also a growing callousness and cheapness of a child’s life on the opposite side of the coin with those that were wanted and not aborted living a totally different life to those that if not aborted were not really wanted and grow up with a single mother and many step fathers , are surrounded by porn , drugs , alcohol, vicious dogs , violence and no real discipline and love. It really is a nightmare that has no bearing on affluence.
Anyway I digress and I have a bunch of weeding to do but suffice to say there are I feel, moral issues that are now manifesting themselves and they are not purely based on poverty. I will say I’m an atheist so my anti wholesale abortion stance has nothing to do with God. I would also point out that the same AGW people that want to save the Polar bear are generally the same people that support abortion i.e. left liberals. I could say more but the sun is poking its head out here in SE London and I’m off.

Tom in Florida
April 19, 2014 5:39 am

While sad when it happens to those we love, death is the inevitable result of life. Nobody gets out alive. Perhaps that sounds a bit callous but as with many others who have served in the military and who have been influenced by too much death, you just have to desensitize yourself. My Wlfe used to ask me why I do not have any close male friends, she finally was able to understand I had lost too many and it just wasn’t worth the pain. But that was long ago and maybe it’s time for a change.

DJ
April 19, 2014 5:41 am

My wife died of complications from her cancer and treatment last month. I was her caregiver 24/7 for the last 2 years.
I’ll keep my eloquence to myself for the time being, but am happy to see your’s here.
Yes, Willis, we do all grieve in our own way. Thank you for sharing with us.

April 19, 2014 5:44 am

Thanks W – ‘a lot of effort to craft a powerful story’. Great writing from such experience.
W. Re Janice – There is so much wrong, hypocritical and offensive with your criticism of janice, I wouldn’t know where to begin the show. I’m sure you will see most of it when you calm down some more.
To Janice – and W – I would second the ‘Life’ theme as opposed to the death theme in regard to having an ear for wisdom.
Thank you too Janice – clearly a heartfelt compassion for another human being in reflective moments. That W. posted and you replied on Easter w/e is interesting and topical for free thinking and open minds. Notwithstanding the charged foul reaction from Willis, you have every right to post as you did on a forum that claims to be and usually is one of the best of its type. Forgive Willis as he knows not… He would claim he sees…
Get over yourself Willis, it wasn’t about you – or was it? As I read it I felt your experiences, felt I got to know you somehow, WUWT has become somehwat famillial. Then your reaction to Janice just filled me with horror, killed my empathy with/for you. You certainly are a complex fellow.
Please please make it right.
Neil

Bruce Cobb
April 19, 2014 5:54 am

As usual, beautiful writing, Willis. There are two kinds of death; the expected, sometimes lengthy and often painful type you experienced with your friend and father-in-law, and the sudden and unexpected type of death. I lost my brother to brain cancer in ’97, a glioblastoma, after a nearly 20-month battle. At the time of the diagnosis, the tumor was already the size of a grapefruit, and surgery was scheduled immediately. Aside from that, though, he opted for alternative therapies thereafter, though he did seriously consider the doctors’ reccomendation afterwards of radiation and chemo therapies, since not all of the strands of the tumor could be removed. There were no guarrantees that it would extend his life, much less cure the cancer, and would itself be a travail, and uncomfortable. Despite our wishes, he opted out.
He did quite well for a while, even with a chunk of his brain missing. Eventually, though, the tumor came back, and this time, surgery wasn’t an option. He died in hospice care, on Thanksgiving Day. My brother loved music, and although not trained, had a sort of innate ability with it. I and a musician friend of his played some music for him in his room at hospice. I had brought my fiddle, thinking I’d play alone, but the friend also happened to be there, with a guitar, so we had an impromptu jam session of sorts.
My dad died unexpectedly a little over two months ago, just a couple days before he would have turned 93. He caught pneumonia, and went to the hospital, and appeared to be recovering. But, a little less than two days after being admitted, he died in his sleep, some time around 3AM.
Thank you for your story, Willis, and the reminder that we don’t know when our time will be up, nor indeed, our loved ones’ lives, and that we should treasure what we have.

Steve from Rockwood
April 19, 2014 6:06 am

Well worth the read Willis.

Andy McNABB
April 19, 2014 6:07 am

“I put the covers back on Billy and tucked them in around him because it was night time, and I didn’t want him to be cold. We are truly bizarre creatures, we humans . . .”
This reminds me of the time I spent in a remote Papua New Guinea village. An old man had died. The villagers asked if I could help with some clothes to dress him in before being placed in his coffin. I agreed and gave them some money to buy them. We dutifully dressed him in a white shirt and blue tie and smart trousers – truly fit to be buried !
They then asked for some blankets. I questioned the need to blankets, but they responded that it was “cold down there”.
I gently explained that the deceased have no sense of hot or cold, and no feeling at all. But they were worried that he would be cold, so we purchased some blankets to “keep him warm”.
Some truly great feelings expressed above and my condolences to you.

Snowsnake
April 19, 2014 6:10 am

Thanks, Willis. My wife died just before Christmas after a two year battle with cancer and it was a truly terrible death. There were surgeries, radiation and chemo treatments, nursing homes and loss of control of bodily functions. There were short recoveries and endless pain. I almost never left her side and was always watching, waiting, and praying. When the end came and she wanted home hospice with just me and the kids sent home to their own lives, I agreed. I spent the last two weeks changing her and giving her oral morphine and listening to her moan and and watching her writhe in agony. And after I kissed her forehead and told her I loved her the last of thousands of times she sank into a non responsive state and after four days more days during which I didn’t sleep she died in our bed of 48 years beside me.
Well, food still tastes good, the birds still sing, children laugh and dance and the world is a beautiful place. But not for me. I think most of me died too. Perhaps, my faith will be enough (it is strong),
and like an old wolf, I will shake the snow from my pelt and move on, but it no longer matters where I go.

Harry Passfield
April 19, 2014 6:19 am

No dry eyes here, Willis. Wonderful writing.
May I offer a quotation I used as an epitaph when my dear brother died:

“Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning;
for I still live –
as I pass to-and-fro through the mouths of men.” 
Quintus Ennius

Douglas Taft
April 19, 2014 6:24 am

moved! Thank You

Dire Wolf
April 19, 2014 6:33 am

Willis, your heart is as profound as your prose are eloquent. As a religious professional I have buried my share, including some good friends. You are very right that many, many… too many people are unprepared to experience death. Your narration of your journey with death would be a fine place for anyone to begin to prepare. Thank you.

SadButMadLad
April 19, 2014 6:37 am

Having just lost my father a couple of months back after a long illness I found it very difficult to read your story without tears welling up. I mean that in a good way, it was very emotional.
I think we sanitise death too much in our western way of life and your story highlights that. I missed out saying goodbye to my grandparents due to this, but made a purposeful decision to see my father in the mortuary because I was at home when he passed away (the rest of the family was with him though). Those 15 minutes I had alone with him were very very helpful to me. As you say, we mourn the passing of those who die because we can no longer involve them in our continued life.
As for the bureaucracy of death. Tell me about it. One of the most complex parts of living in a modern society is death. And because we don’t like to talk about death, it’s not optimised and fine tuned and de-cluttered of all it’s baggage.

meltemian
April 19, 2014 6:40 am

Willis: Your writing had me spellbound, thank you.
Weathep: ….and I had only just recovered from reading Willis,

meltemian
April 19, 2014 6:48 am

…….and Snowsnake: a day at a time, that’s all you can do.

Ron C.
April 19, 2014 6:53 am

Willis, thanks for the post.
It reminded me of a greek myth, which you also must know.
When the goddess Eos asked Zeus to make Tithonus (her lover) immortal, she forgot to ask for eternal youth. Tithonus indeed lived forever:
“but when loathsome old age pressed full upon him, and he could not move nor lift his limbs, this seemed to her in her heart the best counsel: she laid him in a room and put to the shining doors. There he babbles endlessly, and no more has strength at all, such as once he had in his supple limbs.” (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite)

Editor
April 19, 2014 6:58 am

My condolences to you and yours on your losses, Willis.
Wonderfully written, as always.
Thanks for sharing.
Regards
Bob

Kirk c
April 19, 2014 7:01 am

Willis,
Thanks for that.
It was an enjoyably morning with hot coffee, a beautiful sunrise and some tears on my face . An above average start to Saturday.
As an atheist, I particularly enjoyed your tale of life and death being told without the usual religious overtones. I think there was only one “hell” buried in there somewhere.
I’m a proponent of end of life “assisted suicide” and a death with dignity. Your unenviable task of trying to collect enough illegal street drugs to euthanize a dying loved one is a duty i’m sure is secretly assigned to many others as well. I’m continually amazed at sciences ability to improve life and extend it yet, how slow society is to accept and dispense “a humane demise”.
Hopefully, as the population ages these attitudes will change and will eventually be accepted and written into law…but this is probably best discussed in a different thread.
Thanks again for a great story.
I think I’ll go phone My Dad while I still can. Maybe we’ll chat about the weather…or climate..
“Life’s short….Call now”

Raymond
April 19, 2014 7:08 am

Willis,
I’ve been fortunate enough in my life to have friends who would die or kill for me. You are that kind of person, a blessing for your family and friends.
We will never meet, but you are an Honor to the Community of Man and I am pleased to have discovered your work.
Ray

sleeper
April 19, 2014 7:10 am

I wish I had stopped reading at the end of the piece.

April 19, 2014 7:14 am

Thanks Willis. That’s all I can say at the moment.

starzmom
April 19, 2014 7:25 am

Thank you Willis. I too sat with my father when he died, counting out his heartbeats and breaths until they came no more.
Please, please consider publishing your essays. They are truly a treasure, and I am honored and blessed to be able to read them.

H.R.
April 19, 2014 7:35 am

I was busy fishing last night and didn’t catch your post until this morning, Willis. Thank you very much.
One particular power of your story is the memories and emotions it evoked in those of us, similar in age and similar in experience, recalling the deaths of our loved ones. Some have shared their memories in comments above, while many more of us will keep and hold our recollections.
All the memories you have caused to be summoned are unique, but the emotions are universal.
Thanks again, Willis.

Steve Keohane
April 19, 2014 7:52 am

Thanks Willis for sharing life and its loss with us. Ignore the naysayers, the depths of your humanity need no apology.

John Slayton
April 19, 2014 7:56 am

A number of commenters have identified themselves as atheists, so I will venture to identify myself as a Christian. Like many others, of whatever religious belief, I read your writing with interest, finding information, entertainment, and occasional wisdom. This current post is certainly worth reading, as it is both thought provoking and compelling.
Now it seems to me that publishing an essay on death the day between Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, and then expecting Christian readers to stand by in mute silence is a bit unrealistic, if not unreasonable. So I’d give Janice a pass. But of course I share her hope…

Go Home
April 19, 2014 7:56 am

“and she wants to hijack what I’ve written”. It appears to me, you were the one who allowed this thread to be hijacked, not Janice’s innocent message. Other than the message section, great writing as always.

Stevie B.
April 19, 2014 7:59 am

Your story brought back memories of my own parents deaths. There are always regrets, but cherish the good memories and hold them close. I sincerely wish you peace and grace as you overcome your loss.

Doug S
April 19, 2014 8:03 am

God bless you and your family Willis. Thanks for sharing this story, it brought tears and smiles for me.

Jim Clarke
April 19, 2014 8:10 am

As usual, great writing, Willis. It was an honor to read your words.
Death has also been a part of my life. Within the last 6 weeks, I have lost an aunt, a fellow choir member and a dear friend to death. Two were of the age where death is no surprise. One simply went out for a ride on his bicycle, fell and hit his head so hard he never woke up.
During this time, I have also read two books that were given to me shortly before these loses occurred. The first was titled: ‘Soul Survivor’, the true story of a toddler who kept reliving the death of a WWII fighter pilot in his nightmares. The book is not particularly well written, but is perhaps the most compelling story of reincarnation that I have ever come across.
The second book I began reading the day my friend fell off his bike. I finished it 24 hours later, as my friends body gave up the fight his brain had surrendered too the day before. It is called ‘Proof of Heaven’, the story of a surgeon who came down with bacterial meningitis and lay in a coma for nearly 7 days, brain dead for all practical purposes, before a miraculous recovery. His experience of the ‘after-life’ is compelling, to say the least.
By definition, the word ‘proof’ implies some physical measurement or observation. Consequentially, it is oxymoronic to look for ‘proof’ of spirituality, which by definition, is completely non-physical. The surgeons story is not actual ‘proof’ of heaven, but it is completely in line with the countless non-physical experiences that so may have shared, from people that I know to the great mystics of the ages. It is completely in line with my own, non-physical experiences. Consequently, I have complete faith that life is eternal.
I have shed many tears recently, but I am not crying for those who have died. I am crying for me, and all the others who live on without them. I believe the dead are on a different journey now, and I do not think they cry for us. From there perspective, there is nothing to cry about.
Perhaps it would be better to “seize the day” for the joy of living rather than for the fear of death, yet that fear is a powerful motivator. Either way, seizing the day is the right idea.
Bless you, Willis, and your gorgeous ex-fiance and family.

April 19, 2014 8:10 am

Dear Willis, I was having a “bad day” this morning. I just cried and laughed through your post and am now trying to figure out why I was so mad at the world. I have been through some of what you experienced with family deaths but never have seen them described so beautifully. Thank you so much for your love and understanding and for making my life better.

Grant
April 19, 2014 8:19 am

From the little bird that fell from the tree before my 5 year old eyes that struggled for its last breath, to all those whom I’ve loved that smiled and talked and laughed with that were gone the next day. Or the stranger that I perchance met with one day who held my hand and looked into my eyes with complete terror as she breathed her last. Or a dear young friend who would die the following day of a brain tumor who said as the credits from ‘The Wizzard of Oz’, “This can’t be the end, I know there’s more!”
The only thing I know is that I have know idea how any of us got here or why we exist. Yet here we are.
So, as Willis advises, live it up and love.
You too, Janice. Willis was an ass about it but just because it comforts you doesn’t mean it comforts others. Keep your condolences honest and simple and without the pretense of knowledge, because you don’t know. That’s why they call it faith.
As for you Snowsnake, your story is gut wrenching because your pain is in store for many of us. I think the best way to honor those we’ve loved and lost is to up our life game and not give in to our sorrow. It sounds like she loved you more than any man on Earth and you certainly were the best man on Earth for her when she needed it. Have courage, friend, don’t stop being that best man.
If there is an after life, she’ll be very disappointed that you tapped out.

Coach Springer
April 19, 2014 8:21 am

Not at all unusual for one person’s sincere poignancy to easily clash with another’s.
At risk of doing just that, here are some lyrics (Where is love now / Sam Phillips) that I have recently had cause to find poignant. (Not on Youtube yet, but Nickel Creek has a “poignant” version – but still distinct, which always assures that some will honestly not like it.) I’ve watched a few lights fade away right in front of me and this feels accurate:
If I could wait here for you,
Without hope or knowing what to do…
Watch the light fade away,
Without fear or knowing what to say…
Cry the tears from my eyes.
Leave me here long enough to realize.
Where is love now?
Where is love now,
Out here in the dark?
If I should hold all my dreams,
Through the night of the way life sometimes seems…
And if I can’t see which way to go,
I’ll stay lost in silence ’til I know.
Cry the tears from my eyes.
And leave me here long enough to realize.
Where is love now?

Harry Passfield
April 19, 2014 8:40 am

Mods: Please feel free to snip this if it risks turning this wonderful post into a poetry blog:
This is by an unknown author. I found it in a national newspaper (fresh then) in 1996. It helped me through a loss.

It’s Her Voice That Haunts me Now
It’s her voice that haunts me now.
Through all the years
I feel her whisper take me by the ears;
Speaking words of – almost – love (but just
Denying me that final, blessed, trust).
I hear her echo, clearly in my head.
Even when forgetting
What she said.
It’s her voice that haunts me now.
Her touch is gone
Forever from my sense; but, ringing on,
Her laughter thrills my heart again and, keen
To dream of how else fortune might have been,
I wish away the pain, once more beguiled,
Even when forgetting
How she smiled.
It’s her voice that haunts me now.
As passion palls
Her portrait fades, neglected, on the walls
Of memory. And when she breathes a sigh
So sharp, so real, so near again, that I
Can feel her presence, just as long before.
Even when forgetting
What she wore.
It’s her voice that taunts me now. I cannot tell
How good she tasted when we kissed; her smell
Was sweet, but drifted from me on the breeze
Of time. Yet her ‘Goodbye’ returns to freeze
My soul anew. And still I feel – bereft,
Even when forgetting
Why she left.

David Merillat
April 19, 2014 8:42 am

Had to remove my glasses reading that, couldn’t keep my eyes dry.
For what it’s worth, I agree with what Janice said. I agree with you too: this was the wrong place and time to say it.
Death and grieving seem to me to be a unifying human experience. Whether it’s your stories, my own experiences with friends and family, the family of MH370 victims, or other tragedies where the news agencies have felt they had license to invade people’s grief to share it with the world, I think there is a commonality. Despite widely different religious beliefs about where we go and what it takes to get there, we all feel the same grief.

rogerknights
April 19, 2014 8:43 am

Ernest Becker’s Denial of Death has this book description on Amazon:
Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life’s work, The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker’s brilliant and impassioned answer to the “why” of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie — man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.
http://www.amazon.com/Denial-Death-Ernest-Becker-ebook/dp/B002C7Z57C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1397922004&sr=8-1&keywords=denial+of+death

April 19, 2014 8:46 am

Thank you Willis, for a moving and beautifully wrought piece of writing. We all have our stories, but very few have the skill to render them as you do.

Walter
April 19, 2014 8:58 am

Willis,
What a great story about death. I was holding a tissue while reading.
I agree with you, and like sleeper, wish I had not gone on to comments. This was the worst time to evangelize, proselytize, witness or whatever Christians call it. Your reaction was justified.
My dear Roman Catholic, nurse practitioner wife has never asked me to join her church in the 35 years I have known her. And I even sing, as the token skeptic, in her church choir.
Billy and your family would have loved having my wife as a nurse, with Jesus nowhere to be found.

Admin
April 19, 2014 9:01 am

Norman Woods says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:30 am

A mocking scoffer tells stories designed to pull at the heartstrings of anyone reading
then acting like some kind of baboon about a woman’s emotional outburst she worries about you to her God in her heart.
I thought you were already low rent but I hope I never see another word about you that doesn’t start with the letters rip.
You cretin.

========================================
Norman Woods comment to Willis happened after I went to bed last night. Had I seen it, I probably would have deleted it with an admonishment.
Mr. Woods, there were TWO caveat ahead of this story, and yet you chose to read it anyway, and then proceed to tell us how how is was “designed” and then proceeds to call Willis a “cretin” for pouring out his soul in a way that benefits everyone while being a way to reconcile his own grief.
In my policy page, I say that I treat WUWT as an extension of my own home:

Welcome to my home on the Internet. Everyone who visits here is welcome to post, but please treat your visit like you would a visit to a private home or office. Most people wouldn’t be rude, loud, or insulting in somebody’s home or office, I ask for the same level of civility and courtesy here.

If you had said what you had written in polite conversation in my actual home, I would have shown you the door immediately, and very likely kicked you in the butt on the way out with an utterance of “…and don’t come back!”.
Consider that same action to apply here in cyberspace.
As for Janice and Willis. Death conjures up strong emotions, some of the emotions aren’t even valid, but are just the subconscious raging at what it can’t reconcile in its war with consciousness, and emotions. Emotions over death, be it from grieving or from attempts at consolation are often flawed in their execution, because of that war going on in your head. I speak from experience on both sides.
Janice has done some very caring things that many at WUWT don’t know about. Willis has does the same but in different ways. I count you among my friends and hope you can make peace without lasting damage.

Born2Sail
April 19, 2014 9:02 am

Will, I enjoy your writing. This piece was wonderful. As a former cowboy, now a blue water sailor and the father of a fusion jazz drummer, and now the oldest member of my extended family, only you can imagine how this story touched me. Thank you…

April 19, 2014 9:20 am

{All bold emphasis mine – JW}

In the Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach, he said,
“My conclusion from all of this? Hold your family and friends close, remember to taste the strawberries, play your own music whatever that might mean to you, and do what you love … because the night is never far away.”

>>99% of my dearest friends and the vast Whitman family clan have profoundly diametrical world views (aka philosophies) that are incompatible with mine. They are expected to continue to remain my dearest friends and my cherished family. Intellectually we dual endlessly and with great enthusiasm, but benevolently (mostly).
: )
So I do not see the boarder issue some have with Janice’s first comment, given the context of Willis’ guest post.
John

Adrian Ashfield
April 19, 2014 9:25 am

Willis,
Your heartfelt story was truly a masterpiece.
Thank you.

highflight56433
April 19, 2014 9:32 am

The first time I died I had no idea I had died. Many years later I died again. A pleasant relief, but it was so surprising. I wondered why I was still here. Really wondered. What is it I was supposed to do? Still not sure. I stood and cared for others as their days came to a close. Watched, helped with things that really made that did not really matter, made their toast, endured the emotional drama, as others did the same in their own way. I new their day would be so pleasant for them, but for them it came so slow, agonizingly slow and definite. Time passes by. So don’t waste it on acquiring junk. Be available.
And….”My conclusion from all of this? Hold your family and friends close, remember to taste the strawberries, play your own music whatever that might mean to you, and do what you love … because the night is never far away.”

Steve Lohr
April 19, 2014 9:32 am

Willis, thank you for sharing your grief. My uncle passed away on my birthday this week. I had just read his obituary when I looked on WUWT. Your writing was one of those cosmic moments when everything seems to intersect for a sub atomic instant and make sense. Before it slips away, and before I go back to the common plane, thanks for sharing so openly your life experience. It is a precious gift.

Steve C
April 19, 2014 9:36 am

What a lovely, saddening, moving, uplifting article, Willis. So many emotions now playing in my heart. Thank you.

anna v
April 19, 2014 9:41 am

Good writing Willis , death is what we have to get used to, all of us. Like birth, hospitals in western society have made death antiseptic.
Your encounters were with people leaving this world after some decades having lived with their faculties intact most of the time.
” weathep says:
April 19, 2014 at 2:45 am
The story of Joe (not his real name) 1991-2010 19 years, 6 months, 19 days, 20 hours…”
This moved me too, for a parent nothing can be worse than a sick child with a date by.
May they rest in peace.

davideisenstadt
April 19, 2014 9:57 am

Anthony you’re a mensch.
[I originally took this as an insult, but confused the word with another, my apologies – Anthony
the definition: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mensch ]

John G.
April 19, 2014 10:07 am

Best damn eulogy I’ve ever read, moving even heart rending but you left me grinning . . . a piece about death very full of life. That was a skillful blending of grief, humor and love. Thanks.

April 19, 2014 10:11 am

evanmjones says: I dunno, Janice. Unlike with my beloved climate stations, I have no data on that. What is, is.
willis, evanmjones: I have data on that!
As a captain of a ship you know that lookouts very often tell you what you already know. It is the captains job to be one step ahead of events. When a lookout tells you about the same bouy for the third time, do you tell him off? No! Because, discouraged, the next time he might see something and not tell you, and murphy knows that will be the one unlit marker you didn’t see before him.
As an engineer by training, if I have a problem, then whoever comes up with a solution is the man/woman of the moment. Since Janice knows of a solution, then she is right to tell you. IN any other situation you would scold her for staying silent. Whether you know or not, use your look outs, don’t abuse them. They are collecting data in the places you are not even looking.
Ok, my data: I help victims of PTSD. Currently new methods are in trial which can resolve PTSD for a room full of survivors simultaneously. The process being used is repeatable. I have personally repeated this process in one on one settings between 1 and 20 times a week for more than 10 years, collecting a lot of data, written and recorded. In each instance, after a lot of investigation into the cause and effect behind the PTSD, the curative moment occurs about 20 seconds after praying a specific prayer asking Jesus to speak. He speaks to the victim and they are healed of that issue within 20 seconds. A scientifically repeatable scenario, which is open to analysis. I say this here because if you would like access to this data, you can have it.
If you write a piece on Death in all its agonies, you have to expect people to mention the only hope known to man. The only man ever known to have cheated Death, witnesses record that he left the two pieces of his grave clothes still wrapped as if around his body which was no longer present. We are also told that since one man overcame death, we all can. This is good news, not just good news, it is the best news.

ossqss
April 19, 2014 10:37 am

Thanks for sharing Willis. May your ability to do so bring peace and comfort to you and yours during these times.
This should be a reminder to many to take advantage of the precious time you have with your loved ones. Say those things and do those things you always wanted to with them before your opportunity escapes forever.
Sing the songs of life while the band is still playing folks!
Kindest regards, Ed

Gary Hladik
April 19, 2014 11:00 am

Norman Woods says (April 19, 2014 at 12:30 am): “…then acting like some kind of baboon about a woman’s emotional outburst she worries about you to her God in her heart.”
Not to worry, Norman. Janice has already forgiven Willis. I mean, she has to, right? 🙂
Speaking of which, aren’t you supposed to do the same (nudge nudge)?

jdgalt
April 19, 2014 11:10 am

If there is any hope known to man, it is that medicine will improve fast enough to catch up with our maladies physically and cure us before they can kill us. (Or after, if cryonics turns out to work.)
I’m sure religions are very reassuring to those who already believe. But to someone like me, they are just “counterfeit cryonics” — promises of immortality by people who have neither any possible means, nor any intention, of delivering.
There are laws against scams praying on the elderly. I wish someone would enforce them against religions.

highflight56433
April 19, 2014 11:32 am

My view of WUWT is a soap box of sorts; partially regulated by its owner. Open to those mostly with a better heart and good character rather than the lesser. I see Janice as a sweet well intended lady whose remarks are often funny, comical, sincere, lonely, dancing, joyful…laughable, sometimes sarcastic, spirited and sticks to her conviction(s). Never mean. Am I wrong? (no response necessary)
If one is to share such openness as is this post, then there is going to be, and should be expected, such from Janice. Its a great post. It assume reached many who have not posted a remark. Maybe just let it evolve without the gnashing of teeth.

Zek203
April 19, 2014 11:57 am

Dear w
I sat up with a patient one night who was dying of heart failure who had no family when I was a resident doctor, this was before the hospice movement, the nurses could not care for her as they were too busy. I felt she should not be alone, she was conscious and aware right up till her heart stopped. She was in no pain or air hunger.

climatereason
Editor
April 19, 2014 12:00 pm

Willis
A very nice piece. You do have a talent for this type of writing as I found your UK travelogue equally interesting.
As is often the case, I read the article then started reading the comments from the bottom up so was increasingly bemused as to what Janice must have done to have earned your annoyance.
When I finally got to her comment I was surprised that you took her loving message in the way you did. Hijack the thread? I didn’t see that at all. Janice appears to be a very caring person. Grief takes different forms and in your case it came out in a rather unfortunate way. Her great support for WUWT in general and the various key people involved in it in particular-including you- surely means she deserved better.
A beautiful piece Willis, and some reconciliation between the two of you would provide a suitable bookend to it and leave a number of us feeling rather more comfortable.
tonyb

Sam Prather
April 19, 2014 12:03 pm

This was one of the most moving pieces I have ever read. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I will always remember your story, and take inspiration from it.

José Tomás
April 19, 2014 12:21 pm

If there is someone here who really sounds frightened, this is you…
You could have posted the percentage of Christians in Western Society (your society), and I am confident that you can understand that calling the God of the overwhelming majority of your neighbours an “invisible friend” and other such infantile atheistic snippets IS most offensive for them.

Gunga Din
April 19, 2014 12:33 pm

Willis, condolences.
(If you don’t want to be poked with the “life-preserver” then don’t follow this link.
http://sunriseswansong.wordpress.com/2013/07/11/attention-surplus-disorder-part-two/comment-page-1/#comment-686)

davideisenstadt
April 19, 2014 12:47 pm

I never thought to insult our host in his own home. i appreciate your work; thanks for doing it, and for not deleting my post.
david

Tom J
April 19, 2014 12:56 pm

Typically wonderful story, Mr. Willis Eschenbach. Thank you very much for sharing it with us.
I think Death is like the rest of us. With an easy, quick task it gets it done right away. However, I think there’s a certain kind of ornery individual that presents an unappealing task for the specter. So, like the rest of us Death procrastinates and puts it off with these people.
That’s maybe one explanation I can come up with for myself. In 2004 (from the results of a test performed in Sept. 2003) the doctor gave me 5 years. In June 2006 a Thoracic Surgeon asked me if I was willing to undergo the risks (oh, something about a 5 year 50-65% survival rate) of really major operation (I think it’s called a lung transplant) that, at that time, the guidelines stated to only perform on someone with a life expectancy of 2 years or less. Being possessed of a spine of jelly, and unable to look when I get a shot, I told the surgeon, “Fat chance.” Then, in 2011 another doctor told me I had 6 months to a year. Maybe I’m still around because I decided not to pay him.
Or, maybe I’m still around because I’ve made myself a new friend. Last summer I’d determined I’d had enough with these estimates from the doctor so I took the issue in my own hands – literally. I’m left handed, so on the index finger of my lesser used right hand I asked a manicurist to paint a little art on the fingernail. And, that fingernail friend has evolved over the many months since I made its acquaintance. Right now, in jet glossy black, that nail juts out a proud 3/8″ beyond the other ones, and with a sharp, rounded, talon shape to it. Most important is the character painted on and portrayed on the black background: a silver death’s head – a skull. And each of it’s two black eye sockets have a glistening, ruby red garnet affixed and looking at you. A very dear friend of mine hates it and calls it creepy. Maybe Death thinks it’s creepy too and so maybe it keeps Death at bay. Or, perhaps, as Abraham Lincoln once said; keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. One can’t get any closer than wearing it.

John R T
April 19, 2014 1:20 pm

Your good friend and colleague ‘saved’ [what an awe-full word] a message for the most important day on my calendar. Could G-d’s Providence have been clearer? An earlier comment mis-read the date. Other persons of faith [not necessarily bound to any personal particular religion] have refrained from stating the obvious, invisible only to those who will not see: Good Friday’s message.

Decades ago, my daughter corrected me on ‘criminal.’ Mr/Ms Death will not attend his judicial hearing, and no one will sit on that jury – who is her peer? Mr. Death is no criminal.
Your composition, compelling and heart-rending, is now more than a private grief: you put your Self before us. Again, you deliver. Thank you for the memoirs. For the investigations. For diligently digging and unearthing. This blog draws thoughtful readers because of the owner’s openness to surprise: thank you, A W
You claim to be neither saint nor sinner. Invisible, a miserable word for I AM. Vindictive? He promises light and warmth to all his creatures, however unworthy. Faith and religion: two terms often confused. I know that your attention to detail in matters great and small will lead you to a fuller understanding. Today’s comprehension test: Writers lay bare themselves, their heart, history, children and parents. They cast their ware before swine, sycophants, and serious lectors. We choose to give you our ear – knowing tears may flow. weeping as we are reminded of our failures, our losses.
Thank you, again John Moore

Man Tran
April 19, 2014 1:40 pm

Willis,
I imagine a couple degrees of separation from Billy. I had the privilage of sitting in on a drum clinic by his successor, Joe Morello of Time Out fame when I was a teen. That gave me a whole new appreciation of great drummers. I would have loved to hear Billy give such wisdom to a bunch of garage band wannabes.

highflight56433
April 19, 2014 1:43 pm

Number of words in Janice’s original post: 484
Number of words in Willis’ continuous response to Janice’s original post: 4700

April 19, 2014 1:53 pm

“…I figured he’d want to see the body first, but no, it’s the government. Paperwork first, last, and in between…”
Excellent line.
When Death walks into a bureaucrat’s bedroom, the bureaucrat likely asks to see his papers.

A. Scott
April 19, 2014 2:13 pm

Another of your heartfelt stories Willis – masterfully written. You help make the reader part of your experience.
Please don’t take Janice’s words as an affront – I think most of us understand her efforts were intended to comfort, in her own way and as her beliefs and life experience provide, not to proselytize.

April 19, 2014 2:21 pm

Thank you very much Willis.

April 19, 2014 2:23 pm

There are many ironies here.
Today is for Billy.
Listen to some west coast jazz today.
It’s a good day on this side of the dirt.
Thank you for this post Willis.

page488
April 19, 2014 2:24 pm

Haven’t read all the comments, so this may have been mentioned before; the lyrics quoted from “tropical song” were written by Jimmy Buffett

Gunga Din
April 19, 2014 2:25 pm

PS—a point of order. You said my infantile words were offensive. Something can be infantile, or it can be offensive. It can’t really be both, infants are just infants, they can’t offend.

===================================================================
That depends on what’s in the diaper.8-)
(Sorry. Infantile remark.)

Susan's Grandfather
April 19, 2014 2:36 pm

[snip – shape shifter – using more than one handle here -mod]

Chad Levi Bergen
April 19, 2014 3:25 pm

[SNIP – insults delivered by proxy server using fake names while touting “magic gas” theory are prime candidates for immediate bit bucketing. Right “Norman”? Congratulations you’re a winner – Anthony]

April 19, 2014 3:29 pm

@highflight big number
Very, very, very well put!

Michael Larkin
April 19, 2014 3:36 pm

Willis, I’ve long been fond of Alan Watts’ piece “what to tell children about God” (it can be googled). According to that story, each of us is a manifestation of a source consciousness that is playing hide-and-seek with itself. While incarnate, it forgets who it really is. You, me, and Billy are actually instantiations of the one incomprehensibly magnificent being, and it’s good that we aren’t around in the one “physical form” forever and thus forever forgetful.
I tend to think there’s something to it, based on occasional spontaneous personal experiences I’ve had where everyone is perceived as an aspect of the one being, just as fingers are part of the one hand: and why would one finger ever not love another? Maybe that lady who expressed her particular understanding of Christianity, like you, is just another aspect of the one source consciousness, and if you had perceived her that way in the moment, you wouldn’t have become a little annoyed. When having the experience it’s impossible not to love everyone, even climate alarmists–heck, even terrorists.
If Jesus existed, maybe he was permanently in this state of perception, and at a much more profound level. Maybe he didn’t “die” on the cross; maybe none of us actually die, and the resurrection motif is an allegorical pointer to that: maybe we’re here for a while in the flesh to learn something more about how to rediscover who we really are, and maybe we have repeated attempts at doing that. Maybe we’re all in a sense sons and daughters of God, all chips off the old block, and nothing happens to us that doesn’t also happen to source consciousness, which puts good and evil in a new perspective.
In the absence of such permanent perception, maybe we make up stories. Maybe we invent the bearded guy in the sky who, like our forgetful egos, is wont to use and respond to carrots and sticks. Maybe we don’t like the sound of him and decide not to believe in him. I know I don’t, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a source consciousness that is very different from that doesn’t exist.
Maybe, just maybe.
Namaste, and have a happy Easter.

Crispin in Waterloo
April 19, 2014 3:47 pm

Willis I appreciate the emphasis on the differences between attitudes to death in the West (where it is seen as unnatural and to be avoided at all costs) and those “developing countries” (for lack of a better description) where people very frequently take care of their own, or their neighbours.
After a funeral in Africa you come away feeling like you really buried them, because you literally did. Everyone shovels and some jump down to stomp the dirt property. But first everyone exhausts themselves through an all night vigil. As one gets older it is a privilege to start taking responsibility to deal with the details from the documents, the box, the place, the digging, guarding the hole, the procession, the family, the friends, the food, the memorializing, and dealing with the reality of the hole in everyone’s heart. The more it is hands-on, the more therapeutic and healthier we are.
I loved the story about the detective and the papers. My, my, we are so comprehensive. One of the hardest we dealt with was a young couple who died in a light plane crash leaving a 4 year old and one of the most rewarding at overcoming bureaucracy was a young teen. He had been killed by a passing flatbed with a protruding box. The family was very concerned about avoiding the legally compulsory post mortem. My wife was a star, and successfully argued there was no need because the cause of death was patently obvious. Very…rare. It doesn’t sound like much but sometimes it does seem to be “everything” in the moment.
You have done your elders proud. Thanks for sharing.

April 19, 2014 3:56 pm

I’m sorry willlis, but your (continued) deep felt problems with Janice comment show exactly that – your own deep problems, closed mind and a twisting of words and meaning that cast doubt on the real feeling, depth etc of your writing above – that you spent a lot of energy ‘creating’
From the top, (…If you want a perspective on life, read on – Anthony)
For me you have wiped all the good from the connection/sharing of your piece. I’m now more inclined to the Norman Woods view, and suspect a huge ego dependent on praise for emotive writing, incredibly intolerant of the mere mention of a Christ.
twisted, hijacked, pushed, etc etc ‘your’ piece – what on earth are you goin gon about?
My other comment stands too.
Sorry for your loss last January, but come on…

Joshua Richardson
April 19, 2014 4:04 pm

Atheists: keeping Soviet values of intolerance for anyone and everyone alive and well!

Evan Jones
Editor
April 19, 2014 4:08 pm

“You claim to be neither saint nor sinner. ”
Here’s the everlasting rub: neither am I good or bad.
I’d give up my halo for a horn and the horn for the hat I once had.
I’m only breathing. There’s life on my ceiling.
The flies there are sleeping quietly.
Twist my right arm in the dark.
I would give two or three for
one of those days that never made
impressions on the old score.
I would gladly be a dog barking up the wrong tree.
Everyone’s saved we’re in the grave.
See you there for afternoon tea.

Harry Passfield
April 19, 2014 4:13 pm

Willis: “[of any of your Gods]…I’m an equal opportunity offender.” Just f*ckin’ A!!! (an American friend (to this naive Brit) taught me that).

Leon Brozyna
April 19, 2014 4:27 pm

You speak on a highly spiritual plane without offending the reader with talk of any particular system of belief (or god). It’s a pity some insist on invoking their own particular belief systems, seemingly missing the spiritual joy you convey.

Darren
April 19, 2014 4:40 pm

Those that spit out the testimony of the Lord
The testimony of the Lord shall also spit them out
Revealing them fooled; and being fooled,
Busying themselves deceiving others
In much false testimony.
Not sure where that comes from; sure seems appropriate though.

April 19, 2014 4:58 pm

lots of interesting topics.
veridical perception.
http://www.near-death.com/evidence.html
A good skeptic keeps an open mind.
http://www.near-death.com/evidence.html#a2
In short, it’s not settled science that the spiritual and scientific are incommensurate. In fact, Godel showed how they were not.
Not that I believe, of course. Unless it works to believe.

April 19, 2014 4:59 pm

Willis.
Another wonderfully crafted and pasionate story. I just this morning read something so different and yet hautingly similar, Siddhartha by Hernman Hesse. Tomorrow as facilitator for a “Living the Questions” group at our Unitarian Universalist church, I’ll be leading a discusion of it and its differences and similarities to the Christian and other religious mythologies. The two stories, Siddhartha and yours put my own confusion in relief. How do I reconcile my agnosticism and my pain with the Budhist and the Christian myths and with science and contemporary events? Like you and most here, I ” consider, for example, the billions of dollars wasted and the millions of people negatively affected, impoverished, or even killed by good people who are all trying to help the climate with the best of motives … ” which include my Unitarian Universalist friends and acquaitances who mostltly, knowing nothing about climate science, consider me a d-enier. Like your heartfelt feelings about Janice’s post (but not her person) I feel so upset by the liberal climate change meme (which pigeonholes me) that I no longer feel comfortable in the UU setting. I feel so estranged.
After reading Siddhartha (again!), I wondered if I should not just move on, no longer read or angiish over, or teach (as I do in a autumn OLLI course at Furman U.) about global warming/climate change, try to free myself from the attachments to my own cleverness, my own vanity, my own arrogance which, of course, accompany my beliefs based on years of climate study and devotion to scientific method . I am old, and death can not be far away from my present state of fitness and health. How might I become the ferryman (as in Siddhartha) and both help a hurting world and feel some sense of tranquility?
Your novella pulls me in the opposite direction where I want to fight, despite the sleepless nights and feeling those so familiar pangs of abandonment (my mother died when I was two in 1942 after visiting my father who 2 weeks later went to the Pacific Theater) now from my UU friends. Willis, I remember an outrburst you had on Climate Etc. (I think it was) regarding religion and atheism. I can tell that you too feel hurt by what passes for religion and conventional wisdom. Willis, I thank Anthony for his mensch-ness (I too had to look up the definition) for featuring so many of your thoughtful essays and scientific studies.

highflgiht56433
April 19, 2014 5:23 pm

Willis Eschenbach says:
April 19, 2014 at 3:19 pm
highflight56433 says:
April 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm
Number of words in Janice’s original post: 484
Number of words in Willis’ continuous response to Janice’s original post: 4700
“Inadvertently, she raised important issues. Also, I was over the top, so I needed to both explain some things and apologize for others … so sue me.”
We all got something special from your post young man. And no one is suing anyone, so no need for throwing in baiting comments.

Jim Clarke
April 19, 2014 5:23 pm

“You could have posted the percentage of Christians in Western Society (your society), and I am confident that you can understand that calling the God of the overwhelming majority of your neighbours an “invisible friend” and other such infantile atheistic snippets IS most offensive for them.”
I include the word ‘Christian’ in the description of who I am, and I do not find Willis’s words the least bit offensive. On the contrary, if I heed the teachings of my invisible friend, there is simply no room in my heart to be offended. If I am honest, I must admit that Willis’s position is far more rational than mine. Still, on this point, I have been motivated by my own experiences to be ‘irrational’ when it comes to spirituality.
I have known many who call themselves Christian, yet behave as if they have never heard a word that Jesus spoke. And there are others who denounce spirituality for very rational reasons, yet live as if they were trained at the feet of the Master. I would rather be in the company of the latter.
When most Christians throw out the “way, truth and light” scripture verse, they are not being loving. What they are actually saying in no uncertain terms is “You must believe as I do are you are going to hell!” (For you Christians who will protest that you do not mean it that way, think again. There is really no other way for a non-Christian to take it.) Not only is this offensive to the receiver and a misinterpretation of the scripture, it is also an insult to Jesus. How dare we limit the power of Christ to the machinations of us seriously flawed followers. If Christ needed us to bring people to heaven, the place would be empty.
As one who includes the word ‘Christian’ in the description of who I am, it is not my place to judge either Willis or Janice, but to love them both and appreciate them as fellow travelers.
The two great mysterious of my life: 1) that professed Christians so completely misunderstand the message of love spoken by Jesus that they end up killing people over it, and 2) the failure of professed climate scientists to so completely misunderstand how climate works that they end up killing people over it (through restrictive policies that reduce the life expectancy of the poorest among us).

Speed
April 19, 2014 5:29 pm

Bloomberg View has an interesting piece titled, “How Americans Die.” All numbers.
http://www.bloomberg.com/dataview/2014-04-17/how-americans-die.html

April 19, 2014 5:35 pm

Wonderful, Willis.

April 19, 2014 6:02 pm

Dear Willis,
I am very very puzzled by your remarks. You appear to be professing atheism, in which case applying logic, matter exists, and nothing immaterial is real, love, joy, peace, sadness, or sentimentalism, none of these things have substance, none of these things are real, in a real sense. I can understand that if you feel sad or sentimental then this must be a trick played on you by the chemicals in the brain for some reason, but they are not real. They exist as a pure illusion.
Again positing atheism as true, can we place an actual value on life? Let us take two fixed points and calibrate a value equation for life, then we can decide objectively if life or death has any value… At the beginning of the universe, fixed point one, life has no value or existence, call it a zero point on our calibration. At the end of the universe which dies, life has no value either, call it another zero. Join the dots, at all intervening points, logically life has no value. So objectively speaking, assuming atheism, life has no objective value at any point. Any perceived value is merely a relative opinion, the actual data speaks the truth.
Whether a person live or dies, thrives prospers or suffers makes no difference, in the end everyone dies. Nothing you do or say makes any objective difference to the outcome. The universe tends to heat death.
So… you spend much time writing about many interesting subjects, including death… for what objective purpose? Since it makes no measurable difference in the end why bother?
You write on emotive topics, you growl like a bear and mourn like a dove when you think someone else is being insensitive. BUT in your world view neither your sadness, your sentimentalism over the departed, nor your emotions of offense have any actual objective reality or value, in your world view.
Finally as an atheist you have no objective basis for defining what is good or what is bad, so what gives you the right to tell someone off for being insensitive?
So I find it offensive that you act so hypocritically.

u.k.(us)
April 19, 2014 6:27 pm

Wow,
Has Janice Moore’s heartfelt comment been denigrated enough, or should we start a whole new post.
Sympathy ain’t what it used to be.
Shameful.

Josh Richardson
April 19, 2014 6:36 pm

This loop-de-loop to try to conduct a private funeral eulogy in a public place is the kind of situation inappropriate activity I already know of and laugh at, atheists for attempting.
You’re on a site where two million people a month visit. You’re as wrong, as you’d be for thinking you’d get a parade application approved and not see any signs remarking on others’ beliefs on the street.
You brought Billy’s Eulogy to a public place then pretended it was a private reserve and have spent the past thirty hours posturing over your right to be free from theists.
Go find a country where atheists provide you all the theist ones do, and live there.
Willis Eschenbach says:
April 19, 2014 at 5:12 pm
Joshua Richardson says:
April 19, 2014 at 4:04 pm
Atheists: keeping Soviet values of intolerance for anyone and everyone alive and well!
Let’s review the bidding here, Joshua. Some Christians came to a funeral oration for an atheist. They decided it would be a great time to witness for Christ.
I objected to this crass, insensitive action … and I’m the intolerant one???
Christians: keeping intrusive, unpleasantly aggressive proselytizing alive for two millennia … you want Christ at your funeral oration for your father-in-law, Joshua? Fine. I promise I won’t come and proclaim the beauties of atheism. How about you extend me and mine the same courtesy? You want to bitch about intolerance? Get a grip.
Billy didn’t want Jesus at his oration. I followed his wishes, and they coincided with my own. As such, picking this time as an occasion for witnessing for Christ is incredibly insensitive, intolerant, and offensive. That’s just the facts.
w.

scf
April 19, 2014 6:39 pm

Good story.
“I went for some long walks on the cliffs overlooking the ocean with my gorgeous ex-fiancee, and we let the immensity of the water and the insistent wind and the endless waves wash away the sorrow and the struggle of the last few months. We both fished commercially together, we both are children of the waves. We saw a whale spouting far out in the vasty deeps—there is no better balm for the heart than untamed wildness.”
I liked that part. I’ve taken some walks like that, and I agree that there is nothing more serene for the mind than untamed wilderness, especially the oceans.

Art
April 19, 2014 6:42 pm

Thanks Willis for writting your accounts with death they hit very close to home for me.
This year I had my own close call with the grim reaper resulting in new coronary plumbing, and then experienced the loss of three close family members in a matter of months.
You are so right death brings both tragedy and comedy together. As I read your account of dealing with the mortician, sheriff, coroner, and the police investigation it reminded me of Arlo Gutherie’s Alice’s Resturant..
Keep writing I always enjoy the stories.. and keep playing the songs you shared with Billy..
All the best to you..

April 19, 2014 6:43 pm

Hmmm, so atheists can’t have value in life?
Awfully two dimensional caricature you’ve made there.

Darren
April 19, 2014 6:47 pm

[snip fake name – proxy server -mod]

Latitude
April 19, 2014 6:52 pm

Josh Richardson says:
April 19, 2014 at 6:36 pm
=====
Amen 😉
but the real questions are:
Is Janice going to wish Willis a happy Easter?
…and if she does, will we have to medicate Willis?
Stay tuned…..

April 19, 2014 6:56 pm

Great writing Willis. Its obvious that you are not only objectively in touch with your feeings but willing to put them out there for others to see and share. I also admire your sense of justice by not letting Janice and others here to walk into your grieving with their very false “moral superiorty”. Your response was spot on and in my opinion does not warrent apologies. BTW – what exactly is a nontheist and how does that differ from atheist?
Ken

wayne Job
April 19, 2014 7:04 pm

Thank you Willis, a truly well written piece about mortality and care for our loved ones.
This bastion WUWT in search of truth in science is a far cry from alarmist sites, that tend
to preach a dislike for mankind. That WUWT publishes pieces like this , and the amount of comments, gives us all an insight into the hearts and minds of those searching for truth.

April 19, 2014 7:32 pm

Superbly told, Willis.

April 19, 2014 7:57 pm

Coldish says:
Thanks, Willis. A science blog is no place for religion.
I feel the same way about CAGW Believers. They belong on a religion blog.

Aaron Luke
April 19, 2014 8:19 pm

In CAGW blogging such as here, you’re definitely on a religion blog. There’s no more science to that worthless crap than there is to claiming atheism has some right to make us all shut up, in a theist generated civilization, because their ears are burning.

April 19, 2014 8:23 pm

Finally as an atheist you have no objective basis for defining what is good or what is bad, so what gives you the right to tell someone off for being insensitive?
So if I’m an avid follower of Zeus I now have an objective basis?

Gerry
April 19, 2014 8:45 pm

Actually, this comment thread should have been rated “I” for immature.

April 19, 2014 8:46 pm

To paraphrase Anthony’s comment above, ‘anger and grief often go hand in hand’. I’ve been to a few funerals where there was plenty of both so I would say, “Willis you have apologized to Janice and that should end it”. From: ‘too old to die young’
“If life is like a candle bright
Then death must be the wind
You can close your window tight
And it still comes blowing in”

April 19, 2014 9:26 pm

safeprayer says: April 19, 2014 at 10:11 am
“……. I help victims of PTSD. Currently new methods are in trial which can resolve PTSD for a room full of survivors simultaneously. The process being used is repeatable. …… 1 and 20 times a week for more than 10 years, collecting a lot of data, written and recorded. In each instance, after a lot of investigation into the cause and effect behind the PTSD, the curative moment occurs about 20 seconds after praying a specific prayer asking Jesus to speak. He speaks to the victim and they are healed of that issue within 20 seconds. A scientifically repeatable scenario, which is open to analysis….. access to this data, you can have it….”
This is interesting:
I would theorize the answer is reasonably scientific. If you note that PTSD is effectively ‘rewiring/reprogramming/short circuiting’ of neural connections in the brain by concussions, violent events and the resulting circulating stress hormones and other created signalling metabolites associated with those events. (These neuronal connections are originally created by the body as we grow and learn and train throughout our lives, and ‘program’ our memories, thought processes, movements, skills and all bodily functions).
Religious belief too has always relied upon (a more subtle) reprogramming of the brain: The churches, cathedrals, chants, hymns, prayers, ceremonies, prayer leaders, preachers, repeated statements of loyalty/submission to a higher being, ceremonies, etc. (Note as a more extreme example of reprogramming: military training with stress, ritual, physical exhaustion used to effectively ‘program’ command following troops).
In this case with PTSD treatment, the religious ‘reprogramming’ would appear to have been very effective and beneficial.
By the way, this is not a criticism; I admire you for your wonderful work, and respect the time and effort and devotion to this you have undoubtedly applied.

NRG22
April 19, 2014 9:52 pm

Wow. Just…wow.
I read this story of Billy and cried so much I had to spread it out over 3 sessions, couldn’t do it in one shot.
Then, as someone else said, I wish I’d stopped after the story and skipped the comments. Not because I find religious talk offensive, but because I find the author’s replies to the comments offensive. I feel like the customer in the funeral home being sold something and it isn’t a more expensive casket. To write a story that tugs at the heart strings and then be so abrasive in your comments shows a side of the Willis I’d rather not have seen. And since I was unaware that reader comments are by invitation only, I would like clarification on whether that goes for all of WUWT or only for articles by Willis. If it’s the latter, fine, I’ll skip his articles but if it’s the former ill skip the whole site.
Personally, I don’t think this was the place for Willis to air his grief. If he doesn’t want certain comments made then he should have kept it private and only sent it through emails to those he wished to share it with. I understand grief can be a bitch, but it doesn’t give anyone the right to be a prick. Willis, you owe Janice a real apology. And no, you didn’t give her a real apology, all you kept doing was rationalizing your own bad behavior. Re-read your posts. If you can’t see the problems a little therapy may help.
My condolences to Billy’s daughter, I feel for her. You, not so much.

bushbunny
April 19, 2014 10:47 pm

On my son’s eulogy it said ‘To mourn too long is self indulgent. Continue to live you life in a manner the deceased would have approved.’ I donated a soccer trophy for over 21 years in my late son’s name, that was the age he was killed. He was a superb soccer player and in other sports, he went on an American exchange because of his sporting achievement and was even offered junior and senior soccer scholarships by two American universities. But his father didn’t want him to leave Australia. If he had gone, I often wonder how he would have turned out.

April 19, 2014 11:05 pm

markx says:
April 19, 2014 at 9:26 pm
You do know that long term PTSD is genetic do you not? Everyone (nearly true – as far as I can tell) gets it short term. Long term is > 1 year. Which is also the general consensus on how long intense grief lasts. For most people. For about 20% of the population it can go on much longer to practically indefinitely. Depending on circumstances, the severity of the shock to the individual, etc.

April 19, 2014 11:14 pm

Willis,
Dang … ten times as many atheists as Jews … wouldn’t have guessed that.
Jewishness is a condition of birth. There is no REQUIREMENT to believe anything. I had a Jewish friend tell me once in a discussion of religion that he would be a Buddhist if he couldn’t be a Jew. I agreed with him. And for the record. I’m Jewish.

bushbunny
April 19, 2014 11:20 pm

And how they died too M.Simon. I can’t imagine how it would be if a young person is abducted and never seen again, not knowing what fate that befell them. But as we get older we have witnessed friends and family passing over. Much regret of course if they were close to one. When one of my sons committed suicide, he left four notes. That was bad enough, but on the very date he died, and two years later, my former mother in law and husband committed suicide too. It put me in another tail spin for sure and for years I had a phobia about death not only for myself, but my dogs died and the emotional toll was terrible. But it was my friend of 40 years who retired and moved up near where I lived, and being a psych sister she told me to buy another show dog and come showing dogs with her again. (We had many years before) This meant traveling away for the weekend and we had fun too. This started me back on the path of living again. Life is short folks. And it gets shorter the older one becomes.
But religious folks, they do have the right to comment Willis, it’s called tolerance. Something I have felt that you are a little short on this sometimes.

bushbunny
April 20, 2014 12:21 am

I think it would be wrong and not prudent under the circumstances and somewhat very rude. Giving a eulogy if the person was a Muslim and a friend would be OK, but to respect that it is not a place to preach Christianity.
In fact women generally take a back seat and are not allowed to attend funerals, but at a private function afterwards if you are invited, we should respect their customs etc. But you meet bible punchers who don’t take any notice. I remember an Anglican priest, staring at me just after I had a major operation, and waking me up by clearing his throat. I told him right now, I was not in the mood to hear his version of the gospels, only my own. I was in a lot of pain. He still carried on, so I rang the nurse to remove him. Think of that a priest. Mentally ill I thought.

Bertram Felden
April 20, 2014 12:42 am

As always so elegantly and warmly written. The most moving thing for me is that in what is a supposedly civilised country the choice is between penury and a painful unattended death. As a European this seems just barbaric, and one is put in mind of this : http://www.buzzfeed.com/lukelewis/if-breaking-bad-had-been-set-in-the-uk
My daughter in Michigan is fortunately married to a retired USAF NCO, so she has her basic needs covered.

Richard G
April 20, 2014 12:49 am

My condolences on your loss. It is part of what makes life so sweet.
Live and love like you mean it.
Stay safe.
And don’t even think about petting porcupines.

Jadwal pertandingan timnas
April 20, 2014 12:54 am

Thank you. My father was born in 1928, and I know we don’t have forever. I completely agree with and hope for the proper order. I guess you’re the Carlos Castaneda of the Sea. As the notes of Ripple are playing again in my mind, I’ll just say, fare ye well…

A. Scott
April 20, 2014 2:52 am

Willis – I did re-read Janice’s comments as you suggested. I can agree with you they were a bit over the top – a bit pretentiously “preachy.” That said, just my 2 cents, but I still don’t believe it was intentionally proselytizing, although I can understand why it might seem that way.
What is interesting, in addition to telling the great story about Billy, is that you’ve also fomented a discussion on religion – on this Easter, of all, weekends. Perhaps the Lord does work in strange ways … 🙂
For what its worth, while I don’t always agree with you, I greatly admire your ability to tell a wonderful story, and your no-nonsense, non-PC, straight-forward responses.
In respect of Billy’s (and your) musical interests – here is a song I’ve come to find comfort in in these times … Glenn Campbell’s “Better Place.” I was able to see Glenn in one of his last public concerts two summers ago – he was well into the world of Alzheimer’s already and the concert was a mix of exhilaration and tears – as he crossed at times between worlds.
But he smiled the entire time, made jokes when he got “lost,” relied on his family, including his wonderful, talented and lovely daughter, who would gently guide him back to the present when necessary … and was still the incredible talent on guitar and vocals he has always been on most songs. Those in attendance experienced a wonderful journey – musical and otherwise – that evening and are better for it.
“Better Place” speaks of his journey and fears and the strong help along the way from his family and friends. Which remind me of the loyalty you show to your family and friends. It does speak of the Lord, but more a simple conversation than a prayer … hope you find some comfort from it.

Admin
April 20, 2014 3:40 am

Willis
But while I regret using a sledgehammer, I don’t regret swatting the fly.
Absolutely – an imposition is an imposition, however well meaning.
As I said upstream, the Australian rabbits can testify that about half the real, permanent damage on this planet is done by good people who are trying to bring help and comfort.
My grandpa fed his family during the war, when rations were short, by hunting rabbits. Every cloud and all that.
Personally I’m more worried about the scientists who work to contain the rabbits than any damage done by the rabbits. The people who work in a laboratory near Melbourne, scientists who have decades of hands on experience with genetic engineering and biological warfare, with modelling the spread of their artificial contagions, and optimising their kill rate. I hope they’re all getting all whatever marriage guidance, and any other help they need, to travel a happy route through life.

April 20, 2014 4:02 am

Willis, your position re Janice is just so wrong imo – I could demolish your argument in many different ways, comprehensively.
The overview I have is similar to a spoilt brat who is claiming that someone just stamped all over his beloved sandcastle, LYING about what they did and how they did it. Yes, your exaggeration, twisting and misrepresentation of Janice’s comment, on this stage, Jeeze…
Janice wrote: …’in case you might be interested…’ and went on to share a way she found to more productively live life, the living kind, where she found joy and love and what not by focussing on life rather than emotional connectedness to and supposed wisdom gained from death that speaks to you, that you listen to, is somehow a comfort….
your reaction to Janice and Christ reveals ego, agenda and your own type of preaching against the joy found by others. You’ve argued your limits and they are yours. A kind soul showed you no limits, but you shored up the barriers in your closed mind and fired lies to drive the wicked idea of Christ away – what are you so afraid of?
If you saw someone crying in the wilderness by the side of a dead loved one, palms to the sky, claiming they have death as a mentor, so wrapped up in death emotions… … janice was moved by your words to share her take on life so you might find hope, joy, positive stuff, in life and the living. You falsely claim she hijacked, twisted, stole your powerful story and a host of other twisted rhetoric, to God knows what, and much more
Very revealing.
A good study on the psychology of mind and reaction to belief.

April 20, 2014 4:15 am

Willis, your talk of Christian at a Moslem funeral is utter balderdash.
No faith was revealed in your eulogy, as u call it. Who knew waht Billy really believed when he was alive, how he changed, etc. Who knew what you believed or how shakey is that belief that you verbally attack a kind potential messenger or the message.
Who knows what Billy KNOWS NOW, he’s up there reflecting on the life he lived and the life he now has.
If you’re interested, look into NDE – after a bit of reading with an open mind, you might find some incredible insight into the wonder of this life…. and the next…

Philip Mulholland
April 20, 2014 4:28 am

Willis,
I am sorry for your family’s loss.
To date a search for Janice on this thread records 115 hits while a search for Billy results in 79 hits.
I am not sure that the focus of this thread is now on the correct person.

April 20, 2014 5:40 am

M Simon says: April 19, 2014 at 11:05 pm
You do know that long term PTSD is genetic do you not?
I am not surprised that there is believed to be a genetic susceptibility …. ie, some people are more likely to suffer the problem than others … and epigenetics apparently plays a part too: Traumatic events can turn on/off certain ‘stress genes’ increasing susceptibility later in life or even in subsequent generations. But, having a genetic susceptibility is not the cause in itself.

Admin
April 20, 2014 5:43 am

neillusion
Willis, your position re Janice is just so wrong imo – I could demolish your argument in many different ways, comprehensively. … Janice wrote: …’in case you might be interested…’ and went on to share a way she found to more productively live life, the living kind, where she found joy and love and what not by focussing on life rather than emotional connectedness to and supposed wisdom gained from death that speaks to you, that you listen to, is somehow a comfort….
your reaction to Janice and Christ reveals ego, agenda and your own type of preaching against the joy found by others.

I am an atheist, but one thing I appreciate about most of the Muslims I have met is they aren’t arrogant about their faith. They don’t try to proselytise, unless invited to do so, and even when invited they are sensitive to any sign of distress they might be causing. They believe everyone should find their own path to spiritual fulfilment. They most certainly don’t try to make someone feel guilty for having a different point of view.

April 20, 2014 5:49 am

There is great value in this post of Willis’, and in some of the very moving stories related in the comments.
And that is to remind us that the people whose articles we read, and those that we debate and agree with and disagree with and sometimes praise and sometimes abuse; are all people living out their own lives somewhere.
And unknown to us, at any moment some are immersed in the problems and turmoils and joys of life, and some are dealing with that most certain and final component of our and any existence; the approach and arrival of death.
Perhaps it will in the end make us all a little kinder to each other.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 20, 2014 6:08 am

However, I’m neither Janice nor a Christian, so I can’t even guess how she looks at all of this.
But I can. She feels hurt and chagrined. And I am personally sure she would never have made that unfortunate post if she had really understood how you feel about these things.
I deeply agree with what Anthony said earlier.
I am not the one who lost a dear friend a week ago, so, yeah, all this is easy for me to say.
What she did touches a nerve with you. It also does with me a bit, too, and perhaps worse when I was younger. So it’s not like I don’t know how you feel, either, because I have felt it myself. My parents were staunch free thinkers, but until age 12, I was sent to a deeply religious school (run by nuns) for various, entirely practical reasons. So you can imagine the inner conflicts I had with all this as a kid growing up.
As for the people who are beating up on Willis over this, I so wish you would grant him the same understanding that you are granting Janice. Noblesse oblige is a sword that cuts both ways. As I made that appeal to Willis, I now make it to you.
And now I see the commenters lining up on either side, and that is very distressing to me.

Snowsnake
April 20, 2014 6:53 am

Willis, I have read your different essays with great enjoyment and respect and I have come to love the written products of what is obviously one of the most rational minds anywhere. But, faith is not very rational. People kill others over faith and willingly die for their faith and history is replete with these examples. There is nothing very rational about it. I am infected with that kind of faith and I suspect Janice is too. When somebody who is aware of my personal physical pain and my recent emotional and spiritual pain asks, “Why are you still here when bullets are so cheap?” I have but one answer, “Jesus.” It is ironic, I suppose, that rather than die for my belief, I must live for mine.”
Your response to these comments are as expected in that you are consistent with your way of seeing reality. It is just that your reality is not congruent with the reality of those making these comments. It is like watching two persons blind from birth arguing over the qualities of the color blue. Of course you are correct. A comment to your essay of this nature was absolutely wrong.
And Janice probably feels a compulsion to make those comments as strong as the compulsion felt by a person who straps on a suicide vest and goes out to die for Allah.
I wish that these things were not so.

April 20, 2014 6:58 am

@ eric, not sure of point or person or faith in this thread you are sharing.
If it is that Willis tried to make Janice feel guilty for contributing as she did then I get your point.
To simplify my take on Willis, he was a guest speaker here and wrote what he wrote as the thread essay, his piece to share. the comments are for all to share their views/intuition/beliefs/criticisms/support, etc.
His twisted interpretation of Janice’s post and continued admonishment and criticism – was seriously contrived and totally unfair. Notwithstanding his apology for the ‘sledgehammer’ reaction to crack a nut, he continued with his funamental claim that she hijacked, stole, etc his creative powerpiece to try to convert, jam her religion at and so on. She did nothing of the kind in my opinion. That she poked a grizzly bear into rage has surprised me rather. And his tactic and context twisting creative misrepresentation of the issue he raged about has, for me, undermined felt empathy and ‘appreciation’ of the piece – to the point I think, I suspect, this is all about ego, his piece, his creative show, as a guest on this WUWT stage, using death as a vehicle for moving his audience, rather than really about billy. I know this sounds harsh, but I’ve read a lot here and between the lines and sort of get the feeling I’m on the right track – or I wouldn’t be so bold in someone’s time of grief. He still wants an apology from Janice.
the basic thrust of Janice’s comment seemed to me, consistent with my own, to be about Life, letting life’s wisdom, life’s light, life’s love whisper in your ear and be your mentor – NOT death, as Willis wove into his piece on Billy
Whatever the story, I’m sure Willis has suffered a significant loss, and is hurting – what to say, I’d like to help, but short of praising him on his piece, there’s not much I can say – I believe in a soul, that it goes on, reincarnates, that gives me a wonderful angle on life (and death) and in some way I can’t describe, comfort – a sort of timeless comfort against what many consider the suffering in the human mind, well, many of the things that cause suffering.
I’d like to help willis and about the only thing I’m getting here is that there is an ego that needs taming, with all due respect – we all had to do it, I think. The mind can be as confined and confining as it can liberating and free. Particularly in our suffering. Ego – friend or foe? Depends, all the time.

Tom in Florida
April 20, 2014 7:14 am

Opposing religions, the cause of wars since the dawn of mankind.
I suspect that Anthony may (notice I said MAY) put religious comments in the sin bin from now on.

Robert in Calgary
April 20, 2014 8:07 am

Once again Willis makes himself 100% crystal clear – repeatedly, and some folks just don’t get it. And have to mouth off about it.
On his base point, Willis is right. The part where he was wrong, he has acknowledged he was wrong.
Again folks, what is hard to grasp about this?
To Willis’ critics – take today and reflect on why -your- minds are so closed that you can’t grab the crystal clear points here.

starzmom
April 20, 2014 8:20 am

To Markx and safeprayer–
I have a horse with PTSD. I won’t go into the long and sad details as to how exactly this happened, suffice it to say that the cure is not religious acceptance of any kind. Instead, it has been the very long and very patient process of teaching her that the bad things that happened in her past will not happen again, even if the thing that happened before the bad thing does happen again.
I have appreciated Willis’s story for what it is, a well written poignant and heartfelt narrative about something of utmost importance to him, that he has chosen to share with me and everyone who chooses to read it. I am sorry that others have felt the need to expand it in ways Willis never intended.
Thank you again Willis. It made my day yesterday when I read it for the first time.
PS RE: the horse–it was not abuse, just in case anyone was worried.

Reply to  starzmom
April 20, 2014 8:32 am

starzmom:
you are entirely correct, PTSD is caused by experiences, stored in memories, therefore it is not possible to cure it by words. Only actual real counter experiences which show the truth will genuinely correct the damage done.

April 20, 2014 8:20 am

@robert
Willis was not right. At all. In any way. In respect of Janice.
Those that can read the printed word and have half a moment to process the true factual stuff, will find that Willis has LIED (repeatedly) about what Janice ‘did’. (also me – I most definitely have not tried to jam religion at anyone). Total creative willful contrived misrepresentation of anothers comment. Isn’t that lying? Crystal clear lying? Perhaps you need to read up again Robert, to grasp this?

Pamela Gray
April 20, 2014 8:43 am

Loved every letter and even every time you hit the spacebar in that piece. Willis, your words have such teeth! They chomp and gnaw at life, and now death, in such a rascally memorable way. Hell, you chomp on my words let alone yours (not to worry…I am none the worse for wear)!
As to the ensuing issue with the other issue, the phrase “freakin blue bird of happiness” made me laugh out loud!

April 20, 2014 8:44 am

neillusion: I agree, Willis’ reaction was out of proportion. He has been, what we call “triggered”. This is where a present experience triggers the reaction that comes form many past experiences. If someone rejects you you feel rejected but also your mind cross references all past rejections and these contribute to the overall reaction, in particular your first ever experience of rejection.
markx: religion doesn’t provide any help whatsoever. Would you like to see an actual data point, rather than theorizing?

April 20, 2014 8:59 am

@safeprayer
I’m not sure I understand your point, seems centred on rejection. I don’t thin anyone has rejected Willis’s creative writing. It is good imo.

Pamela Gray
April 20, 2014 9:03 am

Uh…would you know who take your ill mannered “safeprayer” back to his playpen? You should have known he was going to follow you into an adult conversation, bless your heart.

April 20, 2014 9:14 am

willis: question. If love is real, what is it?

Ursa Felidae
April 20, 2014 9:20 am

Willis
Great article, however, massively disappointed in your reaction to Janice, who seems like a nice person.
The article, I think, set into motion for most readers, deeply personal thoughts about their own lives. I myself am agnostic, because as a logical thinking person I don’t know if there is a god. Perhaps I’m confused as to how an atheist can know for sure in a scientific way that there is no god…

April 20, 2014 9:26 am

WIllis’ ‘Billy’ post is not about science. To me It is about the very personal anecdotal portrayal of emotions experienced by an individual involved in the human condition. I do not see an issue with Janice’s first comment on this thread because she is doing what Willis’ did; that is sharing her emotional portrayal which happens to be religious.
But, having said that, there is more. On science threads I virtually never read Janice’s numerous comments which often contain religious references when she frequently participates in science dialogs in many WUWT articles. I first scan her comments in science dialogs superficially for religious verbiage then I usually do not read her comments when religious references are present in science dialogs. Also, I do not actively discourage her religious interjections on science posts where religion is simply irrelevant to a dialog on science, but I often think that it should be more openly questioned as to the appropriateness of her religion in a science dialogs.
John

April 20, 2014 9:30 am

neillusion: I used rejection as an EXAMPLE of triggering that most of us are familiar with. Where the response is often out of proportion to the offence. I did not guess as to the particular emotion triggered in Willis’ case, simply to say that Willis has reacted out of proportion to the original email.
Pamela: ill mannered? Again, what does this mean? You see I find lots of people making a great deal of effort to prove that we are just a fortuitous collection of atoms without purpose. Yet on the other hand making a whole lot of effort to further the cause, to uphold rights and the value of life, and may I say it the value of manners. I did not use the word hypocritical to be ill mannered, I used it in a factual sense.
The problem I am highlighting is that Willis is using concepts and definitions that come form a judeo-christian world view, and the slamming down the very first person who speaks to him from that world view.
Willis: You write a piece that implies life has a value, by mourning the loss of those who once lived. You talk as if love and friendship are valuable things. You speak of death as if it is a bad thing, even though it is regrettably inevitable. All of this implies a denial of atheism, since you are partially borrowing a value system, and axiomatic definitions from the judaeo-christian world view.
By your writing, you apparently believe in the objective value of life, you believe in the reality of emotions, and you believe in the objective value of friendship, and you believe in some definition of “bad” being the antithesis to some objective and real definition of good.
The only axiomatic definitions that you are not borrowing from a theistic world view which needs eternity for these definitions to have objective persistent actual meaning, is the Christian belief that it is ONLY premature death that is bad or sad, a life cut short. Generally we understand that death is a GOOD thing, that you have run your race, completed the challenge and will be rewarded for your good service (if you have any).
I have witnessed 7 of my elderly friends die within the last year or so, and for me each one was a celebration, not a sentimental, what if, what could have been would have been should have been, but a genuine celebration of success, and triumph.

Latitude
April 20, 2014 10:24 am

I’m just glad Janice is not Islamic….
…those fatwas can get nasty

David A
April 20, 2014 10:48 am

evanmjones says:
April 20, 2014 at 6:08 am
=============================================
I agree entirely.
Willis, thanks for sharing.
Janice, please understand, the implied threat of eternal damnation that your sincere writing presents, is offensive to present at this time, when not asked for. Willis apologized for over reacting, your apology here would be healing.
I have my own religious views In a philosophical conversation I will share them. When asked about them, I will share them. When another acquaintance, of unknown religious persuasion expressed sorrow, I know then is not an appropriate time to share what I have found to be valuable This would be doubly so if a part of that expression conveyed the idea of eternal suffering for those who do not accept.
Thanks for sharing Willis, and happy Easter to all.

Sal Minella
April 20, 2014 10:52 am

Enjoyed your piece, at least most of it (a short attention span caused me to bail early). I was utterly shocked by your response to Janice. The resulting discussion held my focus. It is heart warming to see so many open-minded folks willing to grant her the possibility of being well-intentioned.

Gary Hladik
April 20, 2014 10:54 am

Philip Mulholland says (April 20, 2014 at 4:28 am): “To date a search for Janice on this thread records 115 hits while a search for Billy results in 79 hits.
I am not sure that the focus of this thread is now on the correct person.”
So the thread has wandered. Big deal. Most do. In the process it has become a study in human nature above and beyond Willis’s initial (and very moving) article. Great thread!

David Ball
April 20, 2014 10:59 am

I am with Willis on this. Religion is a “hot button” topic, no matter what your views are. In fact, I am quite certain there are approximately 7 billion differing views on the existence or non-existance of god. I had a bit of an epiphany when I realized the belief in a god and the non-belief in a god are both “faith based”. There is really no proof god does or does not exist. Both are a matter of faith, if one is honest with oneself.
In our house, we have had a devastating year of loss and illness. My wife lost both her parents (a month apart), and 2 days after we buried her father, she was diagnosed with cancer. Money was short as we had to cover both funerals and loss of income due to my wife’s illness. It has been a difficult struggle. We have persevered and now we are looking forward to living our lives to the fullest, as my wife has been declared cancer-free, and this is what her parents would have wanted for us. To be happy.
It cannot be sunny everyday, and we live our lives honestly and compassionately. I am not certain there is an afterlife, but we adhere to the credo that “virtue is it’s own reward”. No matter what happens on the other side (afterlife or finality), I am prepared for either contingency.
Whether god judges our actions or not at the end, be certain that history will.

Evan Jones
Editor
April 20, 2014 11:46 am

If love is real, what is it?
Well, as Oliver Wendell Holmes remarked when asked much the same question regarding pornography:
“I can’t define it. But I know it when I see it.”

Evan Jones
Editor
April 20, 2014 12:00 pm

However, her motives seem immaterial to me.
You said that earlier, Willis. I can’t agree that motive is immaterial. It certainly makes a monumental difference in law, both criminal and civil: it is the difference between negligent homicide (or even accidental death) and first degree murder. Motive is certainly not the only thing; the consequences are the same, regardless of motive. But I don’t see how one can dismiss motive, either.

April 20, 2014 12:07 pm

Willis, perhaps you should read again what Janice wrote – it bears no resemblance to what you are antipreaching on about, at great length and pseudointellectually. You are deliberately creatively misrepresenting the comment, the facts and the context of this forum. Shame on you. Go on apologise to Janice.
What you are doing is disgraceful

Evan Jones