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Winter, February 13, 2014

Winter, February 13, 2014

Lately I’ve found myself lost in grieving the unusual number of deaths that have touched me during the last month or so.  It started with Pete Seeger, who became a part of my life when I met my husband. Bill played the guitar, sang, and was deeply immersed in the folk music movement in the sixties and seventies. Pete was one of his heroes and his voice could be heard in our home every day through recordings or the words Bill sang. When Pete died, my daughter, Lisa, noted that she had grown up with him and indeed she had. Pete was an important part of the antiwar and peace movements in this country and we all know his role in politics during and after the McCarthy hearings. He was a great man and thankfully we have his music to keep us company as we travel down our own paths. To pay homage to him and other folk heroes of his time, we rushed out to see Arlo Guthrie, live here in Charlottesville last week. Arlo celebrated both his father and Pete through song and story telling. I was rolling  in the aisles with laughter and tearful, remembering those good ole days.

When Philip Seymour Hoffman died days later, I was in shock. I had seen him live on stage several times and appreciated his range and versatility in the roles he played both on stage and in film.  He was my favorite actor of all time. I last saw him in “Death of a Salesman,” as Willie Loman, on Broadway a few years ago and he was brilliant. When I first heard that he had died of a heroin overdose I was angry.  I thought, “What a waste. How could a man who could bring out the the deepest of humanity through the characters he portrayed so perfectly, be so stupid?”  But then I remembered my own time of learning about addiction when I discovered that several of my family members were addicted to alcohol and drugs. I spent time in rehab supporting one of them and religiously went to  ALANON, trying to wrap my head around the idea that some of people I loved were addicts. Those were life changing times for me that I’d forgotten about as I tried to make sense of Hoffman’s death.  But, he was just another human being with a disease and no better or worse than the rest of us.

On a more personal level, one of Bill’s high school classmates died a week or so ago. He like Bill, was in his seventies and akin to the rest of us entering old age, we expect to see old friends occasionally moving on to another world. It was not a pleasant piece of news, but it is the way life is and another reminder of our own mortality.  I felt comforted to see so many of Bill’s friends come together via phone to reconnect and celebrate an old friend’s life as well as their own.

During the snow storm last Thursday more sad news came as our neighbor across the street died at age 95.  It was expected.  He suffered from congestive heart failure. He was a beloved music professor at UVA, and is deeply mourned by his family and untold numbers of friends and students who studied with him over the years.  As a neighbor I will miss the occasional walks I took with him around the block and our wonderful conversations. Boots always made others feel as though they were the most important people in the world. He never forgot that I was working on a book and just a few weeks ago, when Bill went over to help lift him out of a car, he asked Bill how my book was coming along.

The hardest news of all came a few hours later from a friend telling me of the death of one of the members of the meditation group that I had once hosted at my home. I was stunned, especially because he died of an apparent suicide.  He was a lovely man in his forties, and though I didn’t know him all that well, he was for me a very special person, someone I enjoyed being with and deeply respected. He always had wise words to share at our meetings and I’ll always consider him an important teacher.

At the memorial service held for him on Valentine’s Day evening, I sat with two other members of our group. We sat in silence, sharing our tears, not one of us able to understand why he took his life.  As with Hoffman, using heroin to escape his demons, J. must have been a victim of some unbearable pain that he could no longer live with.  I can not judge him for what he did. He, too, was just another human being like you and me. I can only be grateful that I had the opportunity to know him and to share discussions about life with him.

Death is simply another stage of life. We all must face it and though it scares me, I, like everyone else, confront it over and over again every day of my life. We are born each morning into a new day, and die each evening as we fall asleep with the day coming to its own end. I’m still learning to take each day as it comes, cherishing each moment, grateful for having known all of those around me, sharing sad and happy moments in time.


  1. Many of my clients are in some stage of the grieving process. I share with them that birth is not a beginning, it’s a continuation. Death is not an ending, it’s a continuation. This is what comforts me.

  2. Joan, I’m so sorry for your many recent loses. It seems it’s been a season of loss on many levels. Your writing highlights yours so specifically, it deepens the emotional connection as a reader. You bless me, your reader, with your personal connections to these members of your “family” of characters.

    Earlier today I pondered taking a leap of faith that would take courage to do. My efforts faltered once, then twice, leaving me thinking I’d just give it up. Then while browsing Facebook as a form of delay, I stumbled on this: “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” Steve Jobs

    While it may not be 100% simpatico with your post, I believe in synchronicities that link this to that, and that to this, in a randomness that creates our way of being and getting through each day. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

  3. Debra, Thanks so much my friend for your words and the Steve Jobs quote. I believe it is completely simpatico with my post. And it’s one I’m going to print out and put on my bulletin board.

  4. I agree with you about grief being a continuation. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about a dear friend who killed himself almost 15 years ago and really wishing he hadn’t succumbed to what everyone then put down to a moment of madness. We shared a few of the same demons from our childhood and I’d have loved for him to get beyond them and into a happier chapter of his life.
    You’ve conveyed beautifully how much those five recent deaths have affected you. Special people all of them.

    • Thanks for your visit, Warm Ginger. I feel the same about my friend who killed himself. But I’m guessing that sometimes the pain is just too hard to carry.

  5. Joan, I am sorry that you had all these losses in such a short period of time. How tragic. My sympathies to you and Bill. I don’t have any wise words or deep thoughts. Maybe I’ll come up with some later …

  6. Joan, I too felt each of these public deaths (and Shirley Temple’s) as a great loss. And there have been tragedies in my own community, including suicide, to add to my own list. So I identified.

    What I love about this post is the way you describe the first reaction to loss and then look again at another perspective.

    You have learned the lesson of compassion. Thanks for you good example. I want to be as gracious.

    • Shirley, Thank you for your kind words. You are a very compassionate person and very gracious. When I heard that Shirley Temple had died I knew her passing would have an effect on you. She was an amazing woman and so much a part of your life. Loss is a teacher in itself, giving us insight into what we may have had and took for granted. With each loss I learn to appreciate each day I have more and more.