essays grief and death

    Choosing time (for Tom and Dori)

    March 27, 2017

    My friend Tom passed away recently. He was a professional friend more than a personal one, but he was a friend nonetheless. We knew each other for more than 25 years, and he was an important part of my working world at the time when I was getting my bearings in publishing. We spoke occasionally at the yearly Macworld Expo conferences in the ’90s and beyond, but most of our exchanges were over email (often about a product review he wrote for us). Every time I met Tom or his wife Dori, however, there was a warmth among us that I can only describe as camaraderie and friendship.

    I can’t eulogize him to the degree that my friends Andy, Jason and Jeff did, but I can say that he was one of the best writers who ever wrote for me: his prose was clear and clean, and he knew about deadlines better than most (being a well-regarded book author helped with that). Beyond that, I can only say that he was a good man as I knew him, and I’ve always been grateful for the work he did for me, as well as the books he wrote, many of which helped me learn new things long after we stopped working together.

    Much like Lee, Tom dealt with a long and painful terminal illness.1 And, as was the case with Lee, Tom died as he wished, using California’s fledgling End of Life Option Act to die on his own terms and at home. Unlike Lee and I, Tom and Dori were much more public about their decision: they spoke at length with a reporter from their local newspaper about Tom’s choice, how it came about, and how it affected Dori. I cheered their willingness to deal publicly with deeply personal—and important—issues at such a terrible time in their lives. I know all about the absurdity of choosing a day to die, and counting them down (as Dori did so heartbreakingly on Twitter), and the horrible beauty of the last day you will be with the one you have loved so dearly.

    Lee and I chose to be quiet about her decision to end her life—mostly because Lee did not want to spend the end of days talking about her plans—but she was extremely grateful that she had the option, was passionate about it being her choice, and was thankful for the doctors who were willing to help her.2

    Death is never easy, it is rarely peaceful, and most of us will never know how it will finally come to us—or how we will react when it does. Yet, for some, death can come at the correct time, something I realized as I watched Lee deal with her illness in a clear-eyed and courageous manner. I similarly watched from a distance as Tom and Dori struggled with these same issues and determined the path that they had to take.

    I have written, but not yet published, a number of thoughts about the way that Lee came to die the way she did; I may still publish them, but I am glad and grateful that Tom chose to be as open and honest about the end as he was. We need to tell these stories to help others cope with terminal illness, death, and how we want to end our lives on our terms (as best we can).

    And, while I feel the strength and the grace in Tom’s death, my heart aches for Dori. As is the case with so many friends who have passed, I feel a kinship with the one who is left behind. A house that is suddenly half is a lonely place, one that magnifies grief over the loss of the other, no matter how many happy memories live within its walls.

    Peace, Tom, and to you as well, Dori. I am honored to have known you both.

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    What I did on my summer vacation

    February 24, 2017

    Last September, I had the good fortune to have the best office in the world: the Alvord Desert.1 Each morning, I got up, made a cup of coffee, and set out my desk and chair with a…

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    The Columbia, at night

    November 6, 2016

    Shot on a beautiful–and surprisingly calm–evening along the Columbia River in Woodland, Washington. The glow is from the Tacoma/Seattle area, the next great metropolis, after Portland, to the north. (I posted this on Instagram, but the small…

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    morning on waldo lake

    October 20, 2016

    Part of our travels this past September included our annual trip to Waldo Lake. East of Eugene and south of Bend, Waldo is one of our special places, and it is remote enough that there is no…

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    sunset, hart mountain

    October 18, 2016

    Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge is a rather unbelievable place, 422 square miles of wilderness tucked deep in the southernmost part of Oregon, at 4,000 feet. It is primitive and magnificent, and we were fortunate to spend…

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    susan, at the hot springs

    October 4, 2016

    On our recent travels, Susan and I visited hot springs both at Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge and the Alvord Desert. The springs at Hart were pretty crappy  — they looked like they hadn’t been cleaned…

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    yet another larch mountain sunset (panorama)

    September 28, 2016

    One of my favorite places in the Portland area is Larch Mountain. I’ve been photographing there for years at all hours of the day, and one of the things I love is spending a sunset atop…

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    along the trail

    July 20, 2016

    I have been going through photos from the first trip this past spring, and happened upon this one, from a lovely afternoon in Boulder City, Nevada. The National Park Service has built a gorgeous hiking trail that follows…

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    cathedral in the forest

    July 5, 2016

    Spent a beautiful afternoon hiking along the Salmon River (outside of Welches, Oregon) last week. The trail, part of the Mt. Hood Wilderness, meanders along the river through a forest full of old-growth trees, something you…

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    sunset, with approaching storm, elephant rock

    April 13, 2016

    This shot was taken in the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, which is about 60 miles southeast of Moab, Utah. Susan found this location while out on an all day hike, and suggested that it…


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