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 great 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 the good ship Nagelfar 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

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.

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

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 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.

Thanks Willis.

bushbunny

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.

Willis Eschenbach

Hoser says:
April 18, 2014 at 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.

Ah, yes, Ripple

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow …

Thanks,
w.

Dan Smith

Beautifully written. Thank you for sharing

Dennis Dunton

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

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

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 ]

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

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

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

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

Thanks.

Willis Eschenbach

Janice Moore says:
April 18, 2014 at 10:57 pm

Dear Mr. Eschenbach,
… [bunch of pre-boiled religious pap blah blah blah] …

Janice, you using my father-in-law’s death as an excuse for proselytizing for your religion is disgusting. I have no problem with Christ’s message, but your actions here represent one of the most despicable parts of Christianity—the fact that you and your co-religionists all too often want to batten on to another person’s loss and pain in order to spread your beliefs.
Your attempt to take advantage of my grief is absolutely not welcome, and is totally inappropriate on this thread. Please take it elsewhere. That kind of aggressive preaching is not wanted here.
Me, I’d prefer it if you didn’t post again on this thread. However, people’s preferences obviously matter little to you, otherwise you wouldn’t try this kind of unpleasant witnessing. This can’t be the first time you’ve had your face slapped for exactly this behavior. And yet here you are again …
I hope that’s clear enough. If not, I’m happy to tell you how I really feel.
w.

stevefitzpatrick

Willis,
Your writing is absolutely fearless.

Evan Jones

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.

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

Oatley

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

Willis Eschenbach

evanmjones says:
April 18, 2014 at 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.

Yeah, I know, you’re right, Evan, thanks for that … looking back, it’s just so predictable that some jerk will always try to leverage someone else’s grief, I should have been ready for it. 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.
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?
Janice, please don’t take it personally. I don’t think you’re a bad person. I think your actions are despicable, insensitive, and insulting, which is very a different thing, because you can change your actions. Truly, you do more harm to your own cause than good by blundering around and witnessing and praying and being the freakin’ bluebird of happiness and cheer where it is totally inappropriate. That just angrifies people’s blood. You doing that kind of thing turns people away from your message.
Or as the man said himself,

“When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”

Janis, I’m not saying that prayer and witnessing are wrong or bad, absolutely not. They are wonderful things, and you should continue doing them … just not here.
This thread is not the place for prayer and witnessing. Blogs are a public place. Please consider this as a street corner, and take your prayers elsewhere, thanks …
w.

Evan Jones

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

Willis Eschenbach

luca turin (@lucaturin) says:
April 18, 2014 at 11:50 pm

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

I cannot think of a higher compliment. My thanks.
Oatley says:
April 18, 2014 at 11:55 pm

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

When I was a kid, my heroes were Leonardo da Vinci and George Washington Carver … the odd couple, I suppose.
w.

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

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.

Willis Eschenbach

John Coleman says:
April 19, 2014 at 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.

I look forward to it, John.
w.

Txomin

You write quite well. Thank you for sharing.

Evan Jones

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.

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.

Willis Eschenbach

markx says:
April 19, 2014 at 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.

Put it down to my lack of grief counseling. Look, Mark, I’m a complex guy. But you’re not seeing what’s happening. Here’s the deal.
I just got done expending a bunch of sweat and tears to tell a detailed, complex, moving true account of my own personal life.
Up jumps Janice, and she wants to hijack what I’ve written. She starts twisting my true account of my own life into an argument for her particular brand of religion. Bad religious person, no cookies.
I took a long time and a lot of effort to craft a powerful story, and she wants to jump in and use the drama and the strength and the pathos and passion of my story for her own personal, private, parochial religious ends. I’m sorry, Mark, but that’s plagiarism and worse. I will not let her ride on my work that way. I will not let her twist my words in that fashion.
So you’re right, I was likely too harsh on her. And I apologize to her for wherever it was over the top. Janice, you have my sincere apologies for my excesses of passion.
But I will not have her stealing my heart-felt song of life and death for her own religious purposes. Not gonna happen. I wrote that story as it was. I was there. I didn’t see Jesus anywhere. If she wants to tell a powerful story about death and Jesus, then I encourage her to do so.
But by God, (as they say), she’s not gonna be allowed to stuff Jesus into my story. No way.
w.

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

Well done, Willis. Thank you.

George McFly......I'm your density

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

Norman Woods

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.

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

I agree.

Perry

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

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

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

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.)

Willis Eschenbach

evanmjones says:
April 19, 2014 at 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.

Thanks, Evan. Again you are correct … but isn’t there a religious saying about people believing they’re doing a good thing?
Oh, yeah, I remember it now:

The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.

So while you are right about her thinking she’s doing a Good Thing, I fear that her good intentions don’t mean much.
In climate science, what we’re discussing is called “Noble Cause Corruption”. It’s where you truly and completely believe that you are Saving The Planet from the Evils of CO2. In that world it’s OK e.g. for Peter Gleick to engage in Mail Fraud, because he’s on the side of the angels, and if only we were smart enough to realize it, yes he’s committing a felony, but it’s for our own good.
The similarity of this belief structure to religion has been noted by a number of commentators …
The mortician gets paid in money. Janice gets paid in converts. I fear I see little difference.
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 …
w.

J. Fujita

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.”

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

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!

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.

Willis Eschenbach

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 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.

And yet, here you are, reading what I wrote, complaining about what I wrote, reading my response to your complaints … go figure.
My friend, there are a million stories out there on the internet. Some you’ll like, some you won’t. Since you obviously don’t like mine, my advice would be, go find one you do like.
I say that because going around and abusing everyone on the internet that you disagree with is a really boring way to go through life … and more than that, life’s too short to take on such an immense task. The number of people out there who you strongly disagree with is endless, and that’s true for me and everyone else, not just you.
So give them all a pass, everyone you disagree with, including me, and find something that speaks to you, that you enjoy reading.
As to what I said to Janice, she’s a grown woman. She’s perfectly capable of defending herself, and is totally free to say whatever she wants in her defense.
Your assumption, that she needs some big strong man like yourself to defend her, and your description of her as an emotional woman, is both a stereotype and an insult to her.
All the best, and truly, I hope you find things on the web to enjoy rather than bitch about.
w.
PS—Here’s a tip for future discussions. Wishing for my death, as you did in your message above, automatically means you lose. Nobody respects someone who wishes for their opponents to die.

Evan Jones

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.

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/

Willis Eschenbach

evanmjones says:
April 19, 2014 at 12:48 am

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.

Evan, I do appreciate your patience with me, and the peaceful tone of your posts. Let me say a bit more about it.
Is Janice morally equivalent to the mortician, or the bogus preacher taking the donations? No, absolutely not. I agree with you there.
However, is Janice morally equivalent to the mortician in that they both are taking advantage of someone else’s grief and strong emotions to convince people they should do something that Janice or the mortician want them to do?
Absolutely.
The issue is what they do, not the reason for doing it. It’s the same way the law works. If you shoplift a picture of Jesus from a store, the Judge doesn’t care whether you were going to sell it or worship it. The issue is the theft.
In this case, it’s the same use of the same grief, and I don’t care why they are doing it. It’s the same transgression.
I freely admit I’m not 100% tranquil about this. This piece was hard for me to write. It brought up a lot of stuff. And my friend Billy just died.
So yes, I was harder on her than I would have been on another day. It was a shock. I dig down to write about what is really important to me, and she tries to turn it into some self-serving Jesus morality play.
Perhaps in her eagerness she didn’t consider that it’s not just some story to me. That’s my loss and mygrief and mylife she’s trying to get a free ride on to further her own personal aims … so yes, I take it personally, and I simply won’t have it.
I agree she has good intentions. I don’t think she’s a bad person. She just made a mistake. She poked a grieving grizzly bear with her Jesus stick, and got it bitten off.
Because having good intentions and being a good person is not enough. As the Australian rabbits can testify, about half the damage in the world is done by good people with good intentions.
So when someone turns up uninvited, and tells me that they are here to help me, they want to assist me in dealing with my grief, I reach for my wallet and watch their hands very carefully.
Janice wanted to give me good advice. She didn’t believe me when I said I have the adviser I want, Death. I was perfectly serious. Compared to the advice Death gives me, her advice pales to insignificance.
My thanks to you for calming me down. It’s not been an easy time. And yes, I flew off the handle at Janice. And I’ve apologized to her. Still not gonna let her take her Jesus story for a free ride on my grief, though … she’ll have to tell that story on her own, with no help from me.
w

Charlie Flindt

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