I’d like to talk about something that each of us will experience sooner or later — loss.
I’m not referring today to the kind of loss that takes with it a few photographs or even a few thousand for that matter.
No, I’m referring to the kind of loss that grips you by the throat and squeezes until you realize that you are just as vulnerable and might be taken, too. At any time.
Without being overly dramatic, allow me to lay out the facts of the past few days.
A few days ago, I checked my email and heard from a friend who I’ve been neglecting lately. Her email was brief and direct — “FYI: Very sad.” It contained a tribute to a mutual friend in the Dallas Argentine Tango dance community, Gary Wall.
Gary had had a heart attack while filming a video in Bogatá, Colombia and died ten days later while undergoing a surgical procedure. Per his wishes, he was cremated. A memorial is presently being put together in his honor in Fort Worth, Texas.
Gary Wall lived life fully and completely. He would wring every drop out of it and then asked for more. Gary was an inspiration to me because of this and to many others, as well.
He evidently had some respect for me, too, as he hired me to narrate several of his 300+ films. Afterward, we’d stand around his kitchen (he worked from home) and he’d hold forth on any number of topics, often his love of cooking the day’s kill for groups of hunters out in south or west Texas. Which, as something to do in one’s life, is kind of “out there.” It’s not exactly sitting under a dim light crunching numbers.
About the same time I heard about Gary’s death, I also saw a brief entry on Facebook by a classmate who has had more names than I have, Charli Atha. She said that another classmate, Robert Stritmatter — Bob — had finally succumbed to a longterm illness.
To say that I knew Bob is somewhat hyperbolic. I think we may have spoken briefly at our 40th high school reunion. Emphasis on briefly. Otherwise, I had not seen him or talked to him since we were graduated from R. L. Turner High School in Carrollton, Texas. And that was 45 years ago.
My memory of him from those days was that he was the only person skinnier than I was in high school. About the same height then, he experienced a growth spurt after graduation. I did not. And we both put on some weight over the years.
Other than that, I didn’t know him. And yet I am touched by his passing in a way that I am not by the death of my friend, Gary. I suppose that because of our tenuous connection as teenagers I am feeling my own mortality. One step closer to my own demise, as it were.
The third cigarette on a match came in a visit to the vet with my cat. Soongiddy Doongiddy Doo — or Soongees for short — has an annual allergy to mosquitoes that makes his nose a square inch replica of World War II carpet bombing.
But this visit involved a bit more. He’s been lethargic and distant. Usually sleeping in the bed with me, he’s taken to finding a soft spot on the floor and curling up for a long sleep.
The vet took him in the back while I waited and they did some blood work on him. He came back in a few minutes and the results were delivered fifteen minutes later. It was not good news.
The diminutive doctor was as gentle as possible, easing into into it by talking about the areas that were outside a normal range. And then it hit me. Soongees was in renal failure. The vet was not hopeful at all, offering only palliative measures to ease my little buddy’s discomfort. However, kidney failure in a cat is as fatal as it gets.
Taken one at a time, these events probably wouldn’t have done much to knock me off balance. But the three combined are having a tremendous impact on me. I am in grief and realize that in aggregate, I’m already in the 2nd stage — anger. I’ve felt it all day. The five stages, denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance seem to be coming quickly for me.
Death, as we all know, is an inevitable part of the cycle of life. Whether it’s the loss of a schoolmate one hasn’t seen in almost half a century; a good friend and inspiration myself and many others; or simply anticipating the loss of a loving p̶e̶t̶ buddy, it hurts. And though I won’t be going gently into that dark night, whenever it may be, I can only hope that there will be someone left behind to tidy up after me.
For now, we remember. And, in doing so, we keep them alive.
— Lawrence Standifer Stevens