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Death, Nearby

posted at 12:07 am
on Jan. 24, 2011

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Death was in the news today.

It’s always in the news, actually. Every day. Death is news, except when it isn’t.

About 2,000,000 people die each year of malaria. We expect that. It’s sad, but it’s not news.

Jack LaLanne died today. He was a fitness guru, 96 years old. A lot of people knew him, or knew of him.  He was old, but he’s still news.

And my friend, Solveig, died. That’s news to me.  But also, not.  You see, Solveig had cystic fibrosis. She lived into her 30s, a long time for a disease that used to kill most people in childhood, She lived long enough to have a delightful daughter, and she packed a lot of living into her life.

So in a way, it’s not news—it’s something I knew was going to happen, just like malaria, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy to learn about.

* * *

Solveig was my friend because, growing up, I spent summers in Montana, and her family and mine had cabins neighbouring each other.  Her sister, Signe, was my age, and Solveig was a little younger than my twin sisters.

We all hung out together, and my strongest memories of Solveig are of her smile—always, always, always a smile on her face—and of her laugh.  I almost wrote “cough” there, actually, by accident, because her laugh was almost one; explosive, loud, whooping, hacking and full.  She laughed at the most ridiculous jokes, and made them herself.

She and my sister Staci were very good friends; and we often played a board game called “Taboo” where you had to guess a word, based on clues, but you couldn’t say a set of other words; they were taboo.  Staci and Solveig were almost surreally good at this.  The word would be pickles, and Staci would say “Remember when we ate that sandwich” and Solveig would say “with the pickles!” and we’d all lose another round, and they would LAUGH!

Well, I remember once we were playing in the living room of the cabin, gathered around a bright yellow coffee table box, and it was Solveig’s turn. I was about 17, she must have been 10 or so.  We handed Staci the clue cards and I held the buzzer and Solveig went through a few clues just bam bam bam, as fast as Staci could say a short and improbable hint, like “We were on the boat…” “eagle!” or “Late for school…” “flashlight!”—it went like that.

The next word was “woods” and you couldn’t say “forest” or “trees” or a few other words.  Staci’s first clue was, “Lumberjacks go here,” and Solveig IMMEDIATELY bursts out: “Gay bar!” And there’s a sudden quiet and then she starts to LAUGH and LAUGH and LAUGH, and in moments we were all rolling around on the floor, literally, the way you mean when you say ROTFL, and the game was OVER. I’ll always remember that moment and her glee.

I kept in touch with Signe for the first few years after I stopped going down to the cabin in the summer. But over the years, it turned out it was Solveig that I stayed in touch with.  It went back to a time that I stayed with her parents at their cabin for a week, a time when I was feeling cut off, and she was there, laughing.

I saw how she loved her daughter, and took good care of her, and I saw how her mom and dad took care of Solveig, beating, actually beating, the mucus out of her lungs as it built up hour by hour, for her whole life. I saw how simply she lived, and how life threw not just that but lots of other hurdles in her way.  And she laughed at them all, and made us laugh, too.

We wrote each other a litle.  Not much, but I knew what was happening in her life, and she in mine.

But when I went back to Montana this year, for the first time in years… I didn’t go see her. I called and planned to, but I got caught up in catching up with my Dad and the lake and I just didn’t make time.

Twice.

I was there in the first part of the summer, and in the last.  And that removes even the last bit of the excuse I have for not having made enough effort.

I know that most of the time, most people aren’t given the chance to say goodbye to someone they care about before they die. So people almost always have this feeling like, oh, it would have been so nice to get closure, to wrap things up, to prepare and to say things properly. And they think, they could have tried harder, they could have said something meaningful and they could have made the effort, and mostly, we’re all human and we do our best.

But in this case, really, truly, I should have visited with Solveig. Just so I could have heard her laugh one more time.

Goodbye, Solveig. I think you got to stay so long, because so many people loved you so hard.



 
 

 

Previous entry:
They Didn’t Touch My Junk

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Court Case Update

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