The sad wave of famous deaths of late has me thinking about loss. While we may mourn with the world the famous, those who have played an important role in our own lives are missed in a more profound and personal way.
My ceramics professor and dear friend Sylvia was on my mind a few days ago and I was feeling a sad poignance. She was one of two important mentors who are no longer here. Both were witness to a time in my life that no one else knows as intimately. Both leave large gaps in my history that I can share with no one else. In Sylvia's case we stayed connected until her death, so I feel a completeness because of our ongoing communication. Tai Hayashi, my karate instructor, taught me much about myself and left me with a love and appreciation of what beautiful instruments our bodies are. When I attempted to reconnect with him and discovered he had died I felt a deep sadness about things left unsaid. I am grateful to have had these people in my life and value what I learned from each of them. They have contributed to who I am today and I am thankful.
My mother left my life physically when she was institutionalized. I was six. I didn't live with her again, but when she died in 1990 I was surprised by how much the finality of her death impacted me. Her schizophrenia meant that as adults we never had any meaningful conversation. However she did get to tell me she was sorry she "left" as she put it. She explained that life was just too hard. I in turn assured her that it was OK, I was OK, that I understood (even though how could I really) and was grateful to have her influence for as long as I did. I gave her specific examples and although she just smiled vaguely in response I like to think she heard me. I thanked her for the greatest gift of all - the gift of life! I do regret not ever being able to ask her about so many things, but when I tried she always careened off onto another subject. Was she avoiding me or did her mind just take her away to another place. I'll never know.
The death of my father felt huge. I suddenly felt like an orphan. We didn't live in the same country most of our lives and I saw him only sporadically over the years, but we "got" each other. I have a lifetime of memories with him. They got better and better as time went by and we shared many conversations about what's important in life. The last adventure I had with my dad remains a high point of my memories with him. At 93 he was still excited - and able - to make a challenging physical trek across rugged Philippine terrain to visit his remote mango farm. I was excited to share the trip with him and especially intrigued to meet the caretaker couple who lived there catching much of their food from the pristine sea at their backdoorstep. This spoke of his attitude toward life, of his adventurous spirit. I miss all of these people who've been a part of my life.
Friend Muggsie taught me much. She outlived husbands and many friends. While she was surrounded by a wealth of younger friends who loved her dearly, she no longer had anyone who shared her history. No one left who had experienced the same era to share memories. No one to allude to shared experiences from the "olden days" and laugh with. I have now lived long enough to understand how important this is. Muggsie was a brilliant storyteller, but her listeners had experienced a different time entirely.
I am about to visit another old friend who is a decade older than I. She and I have shared 39 years of friendship. We have traveled together, shared secrets and ideas, hiked and loved the same places on earth together. We have witnessed the end of each other's relationships with husbands through death and divorce and supported each other in the aftermath. We tell each other the truth and can hear it. She has macular degeneration and it's taken a turn for the worse so our visits of late have been sprinkled with her thoughts of how to address the future and the potential of turning her studio into a space for possible caregivers - just in case. We both realise she is likely to leave this life first. When we were together this summer in Montana I spoke of this aloud for the first time and immediately burst into tears.
While it's true that we are born alone and die alone it is nice to share an understanding of another's trials and successes. Having shared experiences is different than hearing about them no matter how brilliant a storyteller one is.
Loving and loss go hand in hand. We can't protect ourselves from it if we want to fully live can we? What I've learned from these mentors remains a vital part of who I am and my memories of them will bring smiles to my heart for the rest of my life. The positive always outweighs the negative even if at moments it may not feel that way. Living with cycles, saying goodbyes, it's all part of what makes us human. I'll always be grateful to have shared time with the people I've loved and learned from.