Today is a day of emotional tumult. Waves of emotion keep crashing, each time a little different from the last, waves without any sort of consistent rhythm or pattern. So it is with the passing of somebody we love.
Jane Duke died this morning at 12:43 A.M. She had been battling her third bout of breast cancer, but this time it had spread to her bones and to her liver. We have all hoped that she might manage to beat it this time while still preparing for the possibility that this day might come.
Jane and I have not been together for fifteen plus years, but we’ve always has Dashiell— her and my only child— in-common. He has been the binding force that kept us in contact, and while we have not always in agreement about the “right” ways of how our son should be raised, have never wavered from the love we both shared for him and our common desire to have him go out into the world, take charge of his life and find those things that will provide him with a sense of purpose as well as personal and professional gratification. This was one of the biggest things weighing on her mind when she called last week at 11:00 at night on a Saturday. We spoke for over an hour: It had felt like 10 minutes.
Jane talked about gaining strength and her eventual desire to be independent again so that she would no longer have to “burden” her loving sisters and family who have been there for her these last many months as she fought against the ravage that was insidiously taking her body away. I think she knew that her days were coming to an end. She made sure that we covered the entire checklist of things on her mind. She wanted to make sure I knew that she loved us, and wanted to make sure that Dash would be ok after she was gone.
I reassured her that Dashiell would be ok, that we would be there for him, and that I would do my best to encourage him towards a path that would give him happiness, success and solid ground.
That was the last time that Jane and I ever spoke. It was all surreal and sad, but was also much needed. There was a sense of finality in that talk, a sense of closure.
This morning when the phone rang, before I even said “hello,” I knew that this was going to be the call that indeed it was. It was Dashiell. He asked if I had read my email yet. A kick in the gut and that burn in my brain. He told me what I knew was going to be his next words: “Mom died last night.”
Each time one of us would start crying, one would trigger the other. We talked until we couldn’t. We exchanged “love you”’s, signed off and agreed to talk again later in the day.
* * *
I met Jane when I was 25 and she was 30. We were both attending Seattle Central Community College and were student liaisons for an annual student arts publication, she for the photography department and me for the offset lithography/printing program.
She had a sparkle and creative bent that caught my attention. She was focused and driven, serious and silly. Above all she had a caring heart and had an enduring love for the creative spirit and for those people who embraced a creative spirit in their lives. These were the people who invariably made up the core of her friends and her tribe, the same people who would come to visit her during the last few months of her life.
Jane and I started seeing each other a year later, and seven months into our dating, she informed me that she was pregnant. Three months later we moved in together. Three months after that we were fighting like an old married couple. Three months after that Dashiell was born at home. We had two midwives and five others who were there in celebration and to support her through a grueling 30 hour labor. When one of the midwives said that she thought that we’d have to move to the hospital because Jane no longer had the energy to keep pushing, Jane found what little reserve she had left to insure that Dashiell would be born at home (stubborn Taurus women). She was not about to get that far and have somebody else tell her what she would or would not do. She was determined and she could be tough.
Although she never moved professionally away from nursing, she was interested in the possibility of pursuing something more creative in her own life. She continued to photograph for years, and eventually shifted towards painting, a medium that gave her a better way to express her creative voice.
We lasted another 6 years together, and although it was clear that we were ill-suited to be in a relationship, we tried hard to make things work for the sake of our son. Eventually we both realized that we would both be happier apart, and that we could be better parents living in close proximity.
Several years later I got together with Patty, and when Dashiell was 14, Patty and I announced that we would be moving from Seattle to Los Angeles. Jane decided to move to Salem, OR where her sisters and nieces lived. She bought a cute little house. She kept on painting. She continued to raise Dashiell, and he would visit me here as often as was possible. She continued to work as a nurse and help others in the last stages of their lives.
* * *
Jane’s determination and strength of spirit carried her through her final fight. It’s hard to say goodbye, but I’m happy her suffering has finally come to an end.
I updated my Facebook status to read:
Sunday, January 30th 12:43am. Rest in peace Jane. I’m glad you no longer have to endure the pain. I am sad to say goodbye and will miss you.
My friend Leah posted the following in response:
Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.
— Dalai Lama
I will miss you Jane. Dash will be ok, I promise. In the meantime, I’m gonna be riding the waves.