The past two weeks have brought three deaths of people close to me, one unexpected, one violent, and one not unexpected, but still a loss I feel keenly. And a wedding on summer solstice that was sweet, funny and moving.
Four profound events in a very short time.
The first death was that of a longtime friend, Paul Ilecki, a talented musician (he could make an oboe sing), a monk, college administrator, co-owner of a local coffee shop that served as the heart of this community, and a spiritual teacher and retreat leader who touched many lives.
Paul went to the hospital with serious breathing problems on May 27th, fell into a coma that night and died in hospice on June 9th without ever recovering consciousness.
He was 63, the same age my Richard would be, a coincidence I had forgotten until just now, when a memory surfaced of them teasing each other the year they turned 60: “Old man,” Paul said to Richard. “How are you feeling today?” Richard grinned. “You got there ahead of me, Paulus. How are you feeling?” Paul threw back his head and laughed.
Losing Paul reminds me of losing Richard, a shock that re-shaped my life from the inside out. My heart goes out to Paul’s longtime partner, Doug, and to their families.
The second death was a neighbor two houses away. Eric had just bought a local moving company last fall when I needed get out of Terraphilia, my old house, and into my new one.
He gave me an almost-too-reasonable estimate to move my heavy stuff, was flexible when I needed to push the moving date back until the building department would let me move in, did a good job, and admitted later it had been more work than he expected.
A week ago yesterday, Eric was stabbed to death. Part of my block was cordoned off for three days while the Colorado Bureau of Investigation collected evidence, a process complicated immensely, I would guess, by the fact that the stabbing happened during FIBArk, Salida’s annual whitewater festival/carnival/music extravaganza, when five to ten thousand revelers descend on our small town.
The rumor mill says drugs were involved, or perhaps a woman. All I can think is no one deserves to die like that. Ever. I feel for Eric’s family.
The third death, last week, was one of my mentors, a man whose gentle manner, deep curiosity about the shape of the earth and how it got that way, and warm sense of humor helped me through some very hard times. William Hall was a geology prof (emeritus) at the University of Idaho and a steady friend through the years. He never hesitated to remind me that I was loved.
Bill was 88 years old, and had recently had a series of small strokes that sent him to the hospital and then to a rehab center. I heard about the strokes from his son, and promptly wrote Bill a card thanking him for inspiring me to become a writer.
As I sealed the envelope, I had the sense the card would arrive too late. It did, but Bill’s daughter told me that my words were appreciated nonetheless. Would that I could do more….
And that wedding—I am exhausted, so I’ll just say this: celebrating and witnessing the commitment of two intelligent, funny and passionate people was a joy. Thanks to Lauryn and Pascal for inviting me to officiate, and lifting my spirits with your joie de vivre (I mean that in the sense of “exultation of spirit,” which seems fitting for you, both individually and together.)
Three deaths and a wedding are a vivid reminder to cherish life, and to celebrate love wherever I find it. Which I reckon is a good plan, in any circumstance.