An Artist's Quest

Posts tagged “death

Thinking of Mark

272. thinking of Mark

“The Space between Heaven and Earth” currently showing at the Mendocino Art Center

My cousin Mark died today and I feel compelled to write about him and how I feel. He was just a few years older than me, 57- I think, and he died of cancer that had spread within his body. Mercifully he only knew for a couple of weeks and, I’m told wasn’t in much pain even at the last. That’s comforting, I think, at least comforting to me. He was an extraordinary man, full of wit and wisdom, sarcasm and sweetness. He was one of the strongest, most persistent people I’m sure I’ll ever meet. You see when he was in his teens he began showing the signs of muscular dystrophy, and while the disease weakened his muscles he carried on his life – he lived and learned and loved and though he was in a wheel chair for decades he was fiercely independent and spent most of his adult life advocating for people with disabilities. This paragraph is not enough, no words will be enough, but I wanted you to know, I want you to know he was here on this earth, he was important.

As a sometimes confused and always questioning Christian, I don’t really know what happens when we die. My dad shared his thoughts a few days before his death: at birth we are in one place warm and familiar and then there is a great commotion and we are in another place distinctly different and death seems to be like that, we are in one familiar place and then a great commotion and now to another place. This is a comforting way for me to think of death, as a rationalist I know we are made of cells, and molecules and atoms, particles of dancing protons and electrons. When we die those things still exist in the universe but their purpose is changed, they break apart and reconfigure but are still here. The molecules of Mark’s last breath still float in the air repurposed, reclaimed but here among us just the same.

I watched a documentary awhile back about the Tibetan Book of the Dead. It was fascinating and illuminating. One scene I remember is at the bedside of a man who had just died. The tradition calls for prayers and chants to be sustained around the body for many hours (perhaps days?) to encourage the floating spirit to not be afraid and to not jump into the first living thing to pass in front of the suspended soul – in essence cheering the departed one to reach for a higher level existence in the cycle of reincarnation. Oddly today as I thought of Mark I thought why not try out the strong body of the grasshopper. Wouldn’t it be lovely for him to bound and leap with such strong legs? Besides a grasshopper lifespan is short – within the year he could leap his way into a flitting, flying sparrow and try that body for a while, there is much to learn from the little sparrows strong wings, I’m sure. Three years from then perhaps a wise old owl will suit Mark’s fancy, soaring above us all in the long cool night air. Or maybe a dolphins body would fit well, how playful and lithe he would be let loose from that heavy damn wheel chair.

So just incase, I put the cricket I found in my kitchen this afternoon gently outside and whispered in my cupped hands before I let it go – you’re free now JUMP!


This is the Bed


This is the bed- painted 38 hours after my father death

This is the bed my parents put into the dream house they built together when they were in their fifties – like I am now. And this is the bed they slept in, she on the right and he on the left for twenty-eight of their sixty-one years of marriage. This is the bed my dad rose from early every morning to walk the rural road beyond their driveway. He rose from this bed for his walk every day, rain or shine, in sickness and in health to, with few excepts, walk his goal. While that goal got closer and closer to home over the years, he rose from this bed just the same even deep into his journey with the cancer. This is the bed my father lay down on each night to sleep, and dream and hold my mother close. This is the bed I joined my father in during his last week to snuggle and keep him warm while he dozed. This is the bed, on Sunday night, that my husband and I lifted him into for his last earthly sleep. This is the bed my mother curled up beside him and held his hand and stroked his cheek and hummed and sang and sang and sang. This is the bed I sat my chair beside and joined my mother’s song to comfort his journey, to settle his body, to release his soul. This is the bed my husband sat beside to join the vigil, while I spooned my mother’s tired body, as we sang until finally we just hummed. We hummed a like a mother to a restless baby, an ancient tone of comfort, in this bed we hummed my father through the threshold of this life to the next. This is the bed my mother laid beside by fathers body, his spirit released, one last time till they came to take that ravaged, tired body away. This is the bed I wept in, sliding my body into the divot my father, my daddy, left behind still warm from his last corporeal moments on this earth.

My sweet, loving, obstinate, loyal, opinionated, talented, strong, generous, complicated father – Dodd Thorpe – died in the arms of his wife, at 3:23 am, Monday September 26, 2016. May his spirit live on in us!


195.gingkoI was visiting my folks this week my dad has had some health issues lately and is in a tippy spot of limbo waiting to get an appointment at the UC Davis Cancer Center. The not knowing is hard and knowing is hard and limbo is hard. I went up to add a bit of cheer and to change the flow of their days a bit (I only fell into a baby of the family rant once when the back seat driving was getting overwhelming). My cousin was visiting too so there was some good distraction and lots of chitchat. I of course could offer my dear dad no wisdom. I did offer a stale “one day at a time” mantra which is all well and good in theory but when one is standing on a tightrope in the wind holding a big umbrella.. well it’s not so easy to do. So on my long drive home I had a while to ponder what could I do? Truth be told there’s not much to do but be present, to listen, to be real, to be true. And so I thought perhaps the “one day at a time” mantra isn’t so trite but I think it needs to be fleshed out a bit to be useful. About a month ago a friend of mine took a facebook challenge to list 3 good things each day for 5 days and to tag five people to do the same. She tagged me. I thought it was a fine idea but I didn’t have time.   What no time to notice 3 good things!? I put the idea in my notebook to use someday but didn’t actually list 3 things when I wrote the idea down… I know what you’re thinking, “what does this have to do with her dad?” and “what about the one day at a time thing?”.  Well on that car ride home I started thinking again about the 3 things and about today is today and tomorrow is tomorrow. I think when we are young we don’t think about mortality at all it doesn’t factor into our thoughts. As we grow older we push it aside and figure we’ll think about it later but the truth is there are not guarantees….we don’t get an expiration date stamped on our wrists when we’re born, I’ve had lot’s of friends die before their time. But that’s just it we don’t have a time – it just is, for all of us. So taking today- today, marking the wonders of today now does seem like a wise way to live, and not just when we are standing on a tight rope in the wind with an umbrella in our hands but also when our feet are planted firmly on the ground the sun on our faces the breeze at our backs. So here I go with my expanded version of 3 fine things about today:

  1. What I learned today: I learned that my Daddy’s hug as I left him today was as strong and comforting today as when I was a child and as strong and comforting as the day I left for college 30 years ago, the same as on my wedding day 20 years ago, and the same as at the funeral of a close friend 11 years ago, I learned today is today and today is good.
  2. What did I see that surprised me today: I saw a bright butterfly shaped kite with it’s string tangled in a tree but flying gaily just the same waving brightly at the traffic rushing by. That kite wasn’t worrying about tomorrow because today it was flying and today is good.
  3. What made me smile today: My little dog Lucky made me smile today as I returned home- her tail wagging fiercely to greet me as she leaned strategically off the edge of the couch to give me a kiss. Lucky is always in today –tomorrow has no meaning, today is today and today is goood.

So here it is – today is today, today is good – tomorrow is tomorrow – that’s all it’s ever been and that’s all it will ever be.