Friday, July 24, 2009

When Art Imitates Life Too Closely . . .

National Geographic photo

By Shane Gericke

Fiction is never too dark for me.

Life, sometimes, is.

I mention this because a good friend just died for bad reasons, and it hurts.

His name is Mark. His wife--it's too difficult right now to say "widow"--is Bev. They were high-powered educators till a couple years ago, when they retired. They had life licked. Their pensions were strong. The assets were many. Their health insurance was covered. Their love was strong. Their disposition was like the sun coming up in the morning . . . so many things they were going to do with all their freedom from the brutal work schedule. So many travel plans, so much time to spend with loved ones.

Then, he got what all the doctors thought was Parkinson's Disease.

A crummy way to go, Parkinson's. It shuts down your body little by little till there's no "me" left. But it’s a slow mover compared to many, a turtle crossing the Plains, so it can take decades to get to the bitter end. Victims have time to adjust. Do the things they want without too much adjusting, particular in the early stages. Mark was doing well with the various therapies, and the doctors were optimistic. He worked his butt off and fully intended to live his--their--life. So they figured they had plenty of time.

Turns out they didn’t.

Several weeks ago, Mark fell apart. Violent shaking. Brutal loss of hearing. Blurred vision. Wild, deep hallucinations. Swallowing so completely shut down he had a feeding tube installed. He could hardly talk. He could barely walk. He couldn't do anything physical without close supervision.

Friday night, he began vomiting like a sewage pump.

Saturday morning, he died.

Now the doctors believe it wasn't Parkinson's after all. They think it was a variant of mad cow disease-- the kind that lurks within some people's genes, and when triggered, hits them like a Mack truck.

A Mack truck driven by a infected serial killer.

It's called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease. It twists the proteins in your brain into cruel little scythes that cut holes in adjoining cells. Every hole wreaks havoc somewhere in your body. Too much wreak-age and you die. There is no cure. There is no hope. Once you have it . . .


So Mark is dead and Bev is alive and she profoundly wishes she wasn't but she'll come back little by little with her remaining loved ones' help and it won't be easy but someday she'll just . . . be.

And so will we.

So no, dark doesn't matter to me in fiction. As long as it makes sense, bring it on, the darker the better.

But in life, dark stinks.

Every damn bit of it.

(For more on CJD: )


Jen Forbus said...

Yes, it does. You're absolutely right, Shane. I wish I could be as eloquent as you. You wrote about a horrible tragedy yet shared a beautiful sentiment for your friend. I hope the healing process for everyone left behind is as smooth as such a process can be. I have a striking feeling that there are many people (i.e. his students, family, friends, etc) who will carry a part of him around with them and pass that on to others, keeping those parts alive for a very long time. I'll have some special prayers for everyone touched by this tragedy. Thank you for sharing.

Shane Gericke said...

Thank you, Jen. You are every bit as eloquent as me, though! Fortunately, they have tons of friends around, and are smothered in love and good wishes. It's just a shame that Mark flew away before his time. He still had a lot to share with the world. Thanks too for your special prayers. They, and I, appreciate that very much.

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, I am so, so sorry. Thoughts and prayers with you and the family.

I guess the lesson to take home is that Mark lived a good life--too short, too brutally ended by disease--but he lived well and he was loved.

And no matter how much time we've got, that's the very best we can hope for.



CJ Lyons said...

Wow, Shane, so sorry for your and your friend's loss. Sometimes life truly does suck....makes you want to run and hide.

But maybe somewhere, somehow, someone will read one of your books and it might spark them to venture back out in the world again...a writer can only hope.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friends.

Shane Gericke said...

Thank you, CJ, for the most kind and thoughtful words. They're appreciated.

I can only hope that the stuff I writer is taken to heart by some reader somewhere. Somone besides mom, anyway :-)

Shane Gericke said...

Thanks, Kel. It's cool knowing that Mark fought right up until the end. The morning of the day he died, he was still doing his exercises because he fully intended to be whole and walking one day, and wished to be prepared.