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.((Tom was also born with spina bifida, another painful condition that, at the time he was born, often was a death sentence in and of itself. And yet, Tom carried that with grace and invisibility; many of his friends did not know about that until the end of Tom’s life.)) 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.((Not surprisingly, many doctors aren’t willing to help with the forms required to complete Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, as there are pharmacists who will not fill the prescriptions for the drugs that will be used to end one’s life. I partially get it, but then again, I really don’t. I am eternally grateful, however, to the retired family physician who signed Lee’s papers with such kindness, compassion and care. He was a hero to us for the way he guided us through the strange process.))
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.