Saying Goodbye to Those We Love

Daniel House

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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 in 2008

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.

Jane and Dashiell 1989

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.

21 thoughts on “Saying Goodbye to Those We Love”

  1. Thanks for sharing this Daniel. I have never been presented a gift as meaningful as the one you and Jane gave me, and I will always be grateful. –Michael

  2. Daniel, dear friend, just came home from seeing the film Biutiful to find this post of yours. Synchronicity at work. You do sweet justice to the fullness of who Jane was. I never met her, but sensed that she must have been amazing to have given birth to such a bright, creative, and sensitive soul as Dash. I am holding both of you in my heart as you ride those powerful waves.

  3. To Daniel and Dashiell — from Tia.

    Thank you for sharing this story of some of your life with Jane and the birth of Dashiell. It is comforting to read and remember your love for each other and the beautiful gift of life that you two created. It would bring Jane comfort to know that you shared this with us. Dashiell is a remarkable young man with special talents to share with the world. Jane’s a remarkable woman, transcendent as she was strong. My heart breaks for us all and especially for Dashiell, her baby and now grown boy, Take care of each other at this fragile time. I have imagined Dash and Jane, hitched at the hip these fleeting years. We love you Dash. I imagine that you two will bring quite a creative stir to LA one of these days.

    During the course of Jane’s illness her friend, Kandis, shared this poem and I have found it very supportive during this difficult time.

    Wabi Sabi
    “Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering,
    There’s a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in.”
    -Leonard Cohen

  4. Thank you Daniel. I am deeply moved by your memories, love and admiration for Jane. My Baby daddy and I live apart with all the usual disagreements, etc. The love for our son is a bond like no other, in the begining I constantly reminded myself that Frank chose Jim to be his dad and Heather to be his mom. So be it. It is a gift to hear the survivng parent speak so intimately and highly of the other. Thank you. My love and compassion to Dash, Jane’s family & friends, you and yours.

  5. Daniel, I’ve know you for a very long time. I remember meeting you and Jane at your duplex up on the hill. I remember Dash when he was born…you were so dang proud and still are to this day. Rightfully so. Your words bring me to tears as they are a humble reminder of how fleeting life is and of how a deep sense of love, compassion, and respect can exist between two people even if they don’t share the same bed or live under the same roof. I admire you and know that you and Dashiell will be okay…you both have that spirit and that will. My thoughts are with you guys. Much love, Mimi

  6. Thanks Daniel. Such an amazing and unique woman. Although we lived very far from each other she still made it a point to know what was happening in my life. I am happy to be able to call her my Aunt and very sad that I will never see her again.

  7. I am so sorry to hear the news, even tho it was anticipated, it is sad and I feel for Dash. He and Jane have been such constants in each others life and she was his mother.

    I was very touched to read about your call right before she died. I know she trusts you and loves you and that all is forgiven between you and that she is not worried, but assured, that Dash has his father and that he will always know his parent’s fierce and constant love, given differently, felt just as deeply.

    Thank you for sending me your post, it is an amazing compression of all the years together and apart and of the struggle to make it all work for your son. It is his inherited love story and he can be proud of it.

    Let the days roll out however they do and be gentle with self and son and memories of Jane.

  8. Dear Daniel…thank you for giving us a glimpse into a very intimate part of yours and Jane’s lives. It was so healing and at the same time inspiring to me. The most important thing a Dad can do for his children is to love their Mother…and you have given us a beautiful picture of that. As you and Dash live on and love Jane together, healing will come. Life is never the same…but you’ll always have her memories to share. Thanks again for bringing such “pure heart” honor to Jane…..Deb Berggren, former Minnesota classmate of Jane’s

  9. Thanks Daniel for all those memories of Jane. I remember walking with you both several hours before Dash was born. Please tell Dash our thoughts are with him. Jane will always be in our hearts.

  10. Dear Daniel, thank you so much for your post. I came across it the other day rather unexpectedly and was saddened and shocked by the news. My thoughts are with you and especially with Dashiell. Please say hello to him from me. Seems like only yesterday he was 5 and we were all hanging out together on Capitol Hill. Wishing you both lots of strength.

  11. Hi Daniel,
    I just found out about Jane today. The news was shocking and awful to learn. Both nurses, we first met at work in 1984. But our friendship soon blossomed from there. Jane always brought out my creative side, of course, and we’d play and play…In an odd coincidence, on December 14, 2010 I posted one of the “waitress series” photographs we did together a number of years ago on my facebook page. I had been thinking of and missing her.
    We hadn’t been in contact for several years.
    The internet is a vagarious entity. But it allowed me to read your post, and let me see now, a bit late, that Jane had a facebook page…
    Thank you for posting this. All my best to you and Dashiell.
    Carol Sparer

  12. Daniel
    I’m driving to Salerm and I thought I’d look Jane up and ran across this memorial to her. Ian so sad TY for posting this.
    Best Wishes to Dash and you,
    With Love,
    David Feinberg

  13. Daniel – I just saw your facebook post and I’m very sorry to hear of Jane’ s passing. I have fond memories of Jane and her warm, friendly spirit while at SCCC. Thanks for sharing your story and best wishes to you and your son. I had regrets for not approaching you at Heather’s memorial and surely would have heard then as I have wondered about her.

  14. Hi Mark –
    This is an old post, but I wanted to re-share it as today was three years since it happened., and I still think of her and am glad that she’s in a better place without pain.

  15. Thanks for resharing because I did not know this has happened. A great description of your relationship and journey with Jane. I didn’t know her very well, but I was always impressed by her strength and yours and your mutual dedication to Dashiell.

  16. Darn it, darn it , darn it Daniel. I miss that woman. She was, Jane was…so Very, Very special. Both she & you found your way into my heart. I had no idea she was bravely fighting that ugly beast. I miss her. I am so saddened by her passing. And I am missing you for the loss you have in Jane, & that Dashiell. You captured much of her spirit Daniel. You dearly loved her, love her…she is father to your son. Each of you has such an empowered spirit you have passed on to Dash. He is an example of her spirit, her enthusiasm, her compassion & dedication. Jane was a wonderful, richly spirited woman. I cannont begin to tell you how much influence she had on me, as you have. Both so very wonderful. God Bless her. I miss her. Miss you too~

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