Quiet Desperation

Life is a conveyor belt toward final checkout

Column by Craig Marshall Smith
Posted

Pat Bowlen has Alzheimer's. There is no known cure.

It is very difficult to watch a life in descent. By now, most of us have probably been through it - or we are going through it right now.

My dear friend Ruth, 96, thought we were married.

My aunt thought I was my cousin Linn.

I left Michigan on a Tuesday, I was in Highlands Ranch on Wednesday, and I was back in Michigan on Thursday. My mother didn't know I had left, and I was staying with her.

My father couldn't eat, drink, walk or talk. It was nearly impossible for my sister and me to watch. He was in the hospital for the final eight months of his life.

It was unfair.

Our mother was in her kitchen one day, in a hospice the next, and gone a few days after that, but our father took his time.

I guess it has been known for some time that Bowlen was experiencing short-term memory loss and other signs of Alzheimer's, but most of us didn't find out until July 23. The story dominated the Post, to the extent that there was no editorial page.

Amy Van Dyken was told to say her good-byes. After her recent ATV accident in Show Low, Ariz., she was told to say good-bye to her husband. She said good-bye, but she wasn't going anywhere. It is one of the best stories of 2014.

There have been a lot of lousy stories this year, but when I get down on them, I check in on Amy.

She is going to compete in a 26.2-mile marathon in her purple wheelchair with her brother by her side.

I am certain that Amy will be more active than I am, even though she is paralyzed from the waist down, and I am fully ambulatory. It's likely that years of athletic discipline prevented the accident's outcome from being worse than it was.

Respecting life means something to me. And respecting death does too. They don't seem to care in some parts of the world. In my least favorite part of the world, the Middle East, you get a number, not a name. It doesn't seem to matter if you are a mother or a father or a child.

It doesn't seem to matter if you are praying at the time, reading a good book or learning how to play the violin.

There will be a bomb. And the total that day will be on the news. The number of innocents who were killed. There are never any names.

But here we name every single one.

I read the obituaries. I don't know any of them, but I want to find out whatever I can.

I wrote my father's obituary, knowing that nobody knew him. I thought maybe there was someone like me who would read it with an oblique interest, and realize that he was a good man.

I am 66 and some of my friends have died, and some of their mothers and fathers have died. That's what happens when you get older. Death is no longer somewhere way out there. It's in the next email. It's in the next phone call.

My mother and father died within three months of each other. There is an almost unexplainable emptiness that goes along with the deaths of both a mother and a father. Now what?

My sister and I carry the family history. I carry most of it in my memory. I have a few photographs and a few videos, and that's all. There is no presence.

Death starts knocking when we are young. It may be a pet. I saw a dried-up lizard when I was 5 or 6, and didn't understand what I was looking at. I do now.

Leonardo da Vinci said, "While I thought that I was learning how to live, I have been learning how to die."

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.