Tag Archives: death

Monday Musings: My Mother and My Daughter

Mom and meMy mother would be 102 years old today, which speaks to a) how very old I am, and b) how uncommonly old she was when she and my father had me. I was born at the end of the Baby Boom, when most couples in their early-forties were done having children. Mom always worried that she would be too old to be a good mother to me, whatever that might have meant. She shouldn’t have worried. She was a wonderful mother — caring, involved, just intrusive enough to make me feel loved without being so intrusive that I felt smothered.

I’ve written about her before in this space, touching on her intellect, her curiosity, her love of the arts, her passion for travel, her warmth and humor and beauty and wisdom. We lost her far too early, to a cancer that today’s patients tolerate with relative ease. My father, who worshipped her and shared over fifty years of his life with her, couldn’t survive long without her. Within fifteen months of her death, he was gone, too.

I miss them both every day, and think about them constantly. I have thought for many years that I was too young to lose both parents.

Okay, this is about to get a little strange . . . .

I am not a religious person, and even if I were, my faith does not believe in heaven or an afterlife. Rather, my faith focuses on this life, on doing good deeds and living honorably in our time on this earth.

But since losing our older daughter, I have come to think about such things somewhat differently. I still don’t put stock in notions of heaven and hell. I do choose to believe, though, that even after the body dies, the spirit lives on. Alex was too brilliant a light for a simple illness, no matter how virulent and cruel, to extinguish. For that matter, so were my mother and father; so was my brother.

And so, I choose to believe that Alex is with her grandmother and grandfather now. That my mom and dad, and also my brother Bill, are taking care of her, helping a too-young soul cope with whatever place they are in. Alex never really knew her Gram. She only knew Grampsie as a toddler. She and Uncle Bubba were incredibly close. But they are all family, and they are together now, loving one another, comforting one another.

I choose to imagine my mother reveling in the company of this grandchild she only met as an infant, getting to know the intelligent, confident, funny, powerful, courageous young woman she became. I can hear them laughing together. I can imagine them speaking of books and art, travel and good food. They shared so many interests — they would have so much to discuss! I expect they would poke some fun at me. I know Alex would speak glowingly to her — to all of them — of her amazing younger sister, whom neither of my parents ever met.

This is how I choose to mark Mom’s birthday this year. The thought comforts me, even as it stings my eyes and blurs my vision.

Happy birthday, Mom. Take care of Alex for us. I love you.

Happy New Year and a Musings Post Celebrating Grief (Yep!)

For years now, I have written New Year’s posts, often more than one per holiday. In December, I have often taken stock of the year that’s ending, evaluating my accomplishments, examining my disappointments, trying to make sense of an entire trip around the sun in 800 to 1,000 words. And then, early in January, I usually write another post, establishing goals and expressing hopes for the year to come.

For reasons that will be apparent to those who know me, I am reluctant to attempt any of that this year. The year that has just passed was the worst of my life, a year of tragic loss and emotional devastation. And the year now beginning? Honestly, I don’t know what to hope for, or what to expect. The truth is no full year is entirely good or bad. There were moments of joy and laughter in 2023, just as even the “best” years of my life have included intervals of sadness and anger and dissatisfaction. New Year’s is a convenient time to take stock, but our lives don’t divide into neat units according to the calendar.

So, why am I writing anything at all right now?

In part, I suppose, because I believe it is time for me to start blogging again. I don’t really feel like it. But I don’t feel like doing much of anything, and that is no way to live. I also have no intention of making every week’s post about despair and mourning, and so I guess I think there will be value in having to look beyond my immediate emotions for reasons to write and for subjects for my essays.

Today, though, with your indulgence, I will take the opportunity to write about grief. It’s been only a bit over two months since we lost our older daughter to cancer. We are still deep in the grieving process (to the degree that this can even be termed “a process”), and we will be for some time. I find it hard to imagine an end to this grief. Which is not to say that I don’t believe I can be happy ever again, or that I can’t laugh or enjoy life or take pleasure in family and friendships, hobbies and travel, the work that I love and the colleagues I treasure. Grief isn’t linear. As I have said before, having dealt with grief a fair amount in my life, I don’t believe it lends itself to division into convenient stages. Yes, it changes and evolves as we confront our emotions. Yes, it is tempered and softened by the passage of time. But it is different for each of us. And it changes with each loss we suffer.

What I have learned most about grief is that it is good. Yep, you read that right. Grief is good.

Loss sucks. I would not wish on anyone the emotional pain I have experienced over the past few months — hell, the past three years (almost), since Alex’s cancer diagnosis. The crater in my life left by her death can never, ever be filled. But my grief speaks to the depth of my feelings for her. That crater is commensurate in size with the joy she brought me, the joy she brought all of us. We grieve because we have loved; we grieve because we remember. And while the ache of our grief dulls and lessens with time, we never stop grieving. Nor would we want to. Because we never want to let go of that love and we never want to forget.

Grief is catharsis. Grief reminds us that while our beloved is gone, we are still alive, which is what she would want. Alex would not want us to be crippled by our grief, but I can tell you with utmost confidence that if we didn’t grieve at all, she would be thoroughly pissed off. Grief helps us place in perspective the importance of the one we’ve lost, and it also allows us to shape the way our memories of her, our love for her, will influence the rest of our lives.

There was a great deal of talk after the pandemic about what our society’s “new normal” would look like. I am having similar conversations these days with my family and friends, as well as my therapist, trying to figure out what my new normal and that of my family will look like. Our lives will never be the same. How could they be? But we can decide what life without Alex will be like, and our grief can help us create that new reality.

What did I admire most about my daughter? Her courage. Her resilience. Her spirit and her determination, even before she got sick, to live her life with zeal and joy and curiosity. And already I know that I want to be more like her in the years I have left. What a gift! A legacy, born of love, honed by loss, given voice within my heart and mind by the memory of my darling girl.

Already, Nancy, Erin, and I have spent time together sharing our recollections, laughing at things she said and did, imagining what she might say in response to some new situation, or how she might respond to something in the news or on TV or in a song. She continues to be a presence for all of us, as she should. Someday, perhaps, Nancy and I will be grandparents, and if/when we are, Alex will be the stuff of legend for Erin’s kids. Tales of her exploits — her bravery, her wit, her intelligence, her beauty, and, yes, even her foibles — will be an essential element of their upbringing. And so she will live on.

No one wants to grieve. As I said, loss sucks. But our grief is something to be embraced, something that gives back even more than it takes.

I wish you a wonderful 2024, filled with love and laughter.

Checking In and Saying Thanks

It’s been a little over three weeks since Alex, our older daughter, lost her two and a half year battle with cancer. It feels like more. It feels like less.

We have had celebrations of her life in New York City and in our little home town in Tennessee. Both were crowded and loud and fun. Both were filled with laughter and tears, music and good food, and lots and lots of remembrances of our brilliant, funny, beautiful child. (Yes, she was 28. Still, she will always be our child, our first baby, our darling little girl.) We have been overwhelmed by the love shown us by friends and family near and distant. By the generosity — spiritual, emotional, material — of so many. Cards, gifts, flowers, food, phone calls, and texts. And yes, comments by the hundreds on social media posts. We are humbled and grateful beyond words for every expression of support and sympathy. Thank you a thousand times.

At this point, the celebrations of her life are over. Guests from out of town have left. Erin has gone back home. Nancy is starting to work again, and I am gearing up to do the same. We are, I suppose, stepping back into “normal” life. Except there is nothing normal about it, and in ways that truly matter, in ways that will remain with us for the rest of our lives, it will never really be normal at all, ever again.

How do we navigate this path? I honestly don’t know. It’s a terrible cliché, but I guess we do so one day at a time, one moment at a time, one breath at a time. In and out. Take a step. And breathe again. Rinse, repeat.

It’s a good thought, I suppose. It feels inadequate to the task. Already, in just these few weeks, I have reached for my phone more times than I can count, intending to text Alex, or check for a text from her. I want desperately to hear her voice, to know once again the music of her laughter, to ask her questions about her work, or the new restaurant she’s tried out most recently, or the music she currently has on looped-play. And each time, reality kicks me in the gut.

I watch TV and am shocked by the number of times some character, on-screen or off, is said to have cancer. There is no escaping it. We hear news of a celebrity passing away — cancer again. News of lost children assaults us from all corners of the globe, wars claiming their collateral toll, gun violence here in the States stealing more innocent young lives. These tidings were always awful to hear, but they were abstract in some way. Anonymous. Not anymore. Children are lost. Parents grieve. We are members of a club no parent wants to join.

Alex’s death hit so many people so hard, and in one sense that was a product of her amazing personality, her magnetism. But I am wise enough to understand that there is far more to it than that. The outpouring of love and grief from her friends comes in part from the simple truth that, for many of them, she is the first of their contemporaries to die. Tragedy has breached their generational line far too soon, and they are shell-shocked. The outpouring of love and grief from our friends comes in part from the recognition that this is every parent’s nightmare. Losing one’s child is unthinkable, unimaginable, unendurable. It happens, of course. Too often, actually. That club has more members than we ever knew. Several have reached out to me to say so, and to offer support and guidance. But for so many, our loss is a terrifying echo of their deepest unspoken fear.

Another truth: After Alex’s diagnosis in March of 2021, I found myself imagining the worst all the time. I couldn’t stop myself. Therapy helped some, but not completely. I lived with the constant dread of this ending, with the unrelenting awareness of the odds against her, of the near inevitability of her decline. Unimaginable? Hardly.

These days, I’m often asked, “How are you doing?” I don’t know how to answer. My emotions are in constant flux. At times I feel okay, and I can see a way forward. Other times I feel numb. And still others I am as fragile as spring ice. One wrong step and I’ll shatter. This is normal, I know. Grief is not linear. It can’t be prescribed, and while breaking it down into stages might appear to clarify the maelstrom of feelings raging around me, the construct strikes me as artificial and less than helpful. I know better than to be seduced by those moments when I feel as though I have a handle on my loss. I sense that I will get there eventually, but I’m not there yet, and won’t be for a long time. I also know better than to panic when I feel out of control. That will pass as well.

The numbness, though — that bothers me. I want to feel. I want to weep for my child or laugh at a golden memory. I want to feel pain and love and loss and connection, because those keep my vision of Alex fresh and present. Numbness threatens oblivion. Numbness makes the loss seem complete, irretrievable — and that I don’t want. Not ever. Better to cry every day for the rest of my life than lose my hold on these emotions.

And so I stumble onward, trying to figure it all out, hurting and remembering and loving most of all. I don’t know when I will post again. Soon, I hope. I believe writing this has helped, and I am certain I will have more to write in the days, weeks, and months to come. Thank you for reading. Thank you for your sympathy and friendship, and also for your continued patience and respect of our privacy as we attempt to find our way.

Hug those you love.

Alexis Jordan Berner-Coe, 1995-2023

Alexis J. Berner-CoeThis is the post I never wanted to write. The one I dreaded, the one that was, not so long ago, unthinkable, and, more recently, heartrendingly inevitable.

Our darling older daughter, Alexis Jordan Berner-Coe, has died, after a two and a half year battle with cancer. She was 28 years old.

How do I begin to tell you about her without seeming to be just a grieving father lionizing his lost child? She was extraordinary, but you would expect me to say as much. She was brilliant, but you’d expect me to say that, too. She was kind and generous, articulate and wise, courageous beyond belief and beautiful beyond words. What else could I possibly say? And yet it’s all so true.

She was charismatic. To know her was to want to be her friend, and this was true from the time she was little. She would meet a kid her age, say, on an airplane, or at a park, and within minutes they would be fast friends. Yeah, I know — proud dad. Well, consider this: When Alex was ten, we moved to Australia for a year while Nancy was on sabbatical. We moved there in August and a couple of weeks later she and her younger sister started attending a public elementary school in Wollongong. In December, Alex was elected student president of the school.

She was accomplished and driven and smart as a whip. Of course I would say so. But consider this: She attended NYU and graduated with honors. Not long after she graduated, she found a job with a sound production studio in New York, a company called One Thousand Birds. They hired her as an office assistant. Within six months, she had worked her way into a position as a producer. Three years later she was an Executive Producer and Director of Business Partnerships.

Strong, brave, resolute. Just words. But after Alex’s sophomore year in high school, she did an outdoor program that culminated in a summiting of Mount Rainier. Prior to the trip she had gotten new hiking boots, and we tried to warn her about the importance of breaking them in. But she was 16 and, well that’s really all I need to say, right? Her group leader later told us that in over decade of leading outdoor adventures like this one, he had never seen a worse case of blisters. Her feet were a bloody, ragged mess. But she never complained, never begged out of any activity, and never thought twice about completing the trek to the top of Rainier, some 14,000+ feet above sea level.

She wasn’t perfect. Far from it. She could be stubborn and prickly, self-centered and opinionated, sometimes aggressively so. But her imperfections were, to those of us who knew and loved her, part of her charm, part of what made her Alex, or ABC, as so many people called her.

She was passionate about music and books, movies and art. And she was an eager and adventuresome traveler. She spent half of her junior year in high school in Costa Rica at the Cloud Forest School. She traveled to Berlin for half of her sophomore year in college, and enjoyed being abroad so much that she spent all of her junior year in Madrid. In July of this year, while battling cancer and recovering from her latest treatments, she went to Europe for two weeks. She wasn’t back more than a week before she started making plans for her next trip.

Sadly, she never got to take it.

She faced cancer with the same wisdom, strength, and courage that she brought to every other part of her life. She was first diagnosed back in March 2021, but she had been sick for far longer and the cancer was advanced when at last it was discovered. She was scared, of course, but also resolute in her belief that she could beat the odds. She never allowed herself to identify as a cancer patient. She was, she insisted, the same person she had always been, except she happened to have cancer now. She didn’t give in to despair or self-pity or bitterness. She dealt with her treatments and side-effects with quiet dignity and an uncompromising determination to live on her own terms. She continued to work, to travel, to go to concerts, to see friends and throw parties. Losing her hair bothered her a lot, but she totally rocked her head scarves, which became A Thing. All of this to say that her vivaciousness was absolutely unquenchable.

Losing her leaves a gaping hole in our lives. Nancy, Erin, and I are shattered, especially Erin, who was Alex’s closest friend in the universe and who utterly adored her sister. But all of us know that Alex wouldn’t want us to become mired in our grief. She would want us to celebrate her life and to honor her by living with the same zest and verve she brought to this world during her too brief time here.

And so that is what we intend to do.

Be at peace, Sweetie. We love you to the moon and back.

Monday Musings: Missing a Missing Friend

We lived in Australia for a year back in the mid 2000s, when our daughters were in primary school. Alex, the older one, turned 11 while we were there. Erin turned 7. Both girls were already swimming competitively here at home when we went Down Under, and so we found a swim league that was affiliated with the university where Nancy was taking her sabbatical.

Early on in our time with the league we were befriended by a family who volunteered to help run the weekly swim practices, and who had a daughter who swam with our girls. Graham and Dianna — Di — were friendly, funny, and so incredibly welcoming to us. Laura, their only child, was a couple of years older than Alex, but that didn’t seem to matter to her. She loved our kids and she was great with them.

The first place we lived that year in Australia was near the university and near the school the girls attended, but our lease there was only for about half our stay, and we were set to move after the Christmas holiday. At our last swim event before the break, I was chatting with Graham, and he asked me what we had in mind for our holiday.

“Well, we’ll be traveling a bit, and then we need to move to a new place.”

“Oh, where are you moving to?”

“Up the coast a bit to Woonona.”

“Really? We live in Woonona. What’s the address?”

I told him, and he laughed. “That’s right around the corner from us.”

When we became neighbors, Alex and Laura began to spend a ton of time together, and their friendship brought our families even closer. Like me, Graham was an avid photographer, and also a guitar player. In fact, he lent me his guitar for the rest of our stay. We had meals with them, we went on day trips, we still went to swim of course. Graham and I became close friends. Near the end of our stay in Australia, we all went to the Warrumbungles, a mountain wilderness in New South Wales, north and west of Woonona. It was beautiful, and our two families had a marvelous week together, hiking, sightseeing, cooking, hanging out in the evenings.

Graham and DiGraham was incredibly generous, kind, whip-smart, fierce in his devotion to Di and Laura, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. He and Di were both school teachers, both utterly devoted to education, to serving their schools and communities. They were active in their unions. They were political. They loved nature, loved good food and good drink. They were, in short, a lot like us. We knew that we wanted to maintain our friendship after our return to the States. And we did. The following summer Graham, Di, and Laura came to the States for their winter holiday (Southern Hemisphere and all that) and stayed with us for several days. Another great visit. We had tons of fun, but Graham and I also spent a good deal of time talking. He had just lost his father, something I went through a decade earlier. I can honestly say that even though we were now living literally half a world apart, our friendship had only deepened.

We chatted via Skype regularly, we messaged via social media all the time. We compared notes every time one of us updated his collection of camera equipment. When we lost my brother Bill, in the summer of 2017, he of course offered his love and support.

Only a few months later, Laura sent me a message that devastated all of us. Earlier that day, Graham had died suddenly. A heart attack. Totally unexpected. A thunderbolt. I felt like I had lost another brother. To this day, I miss him all the time. The loss remains raw and painful all these years later.

Graham would have been 63 this past Saturday. Yes, on April 1, and don’t think he didn’t make the most of having been born on April Fools’ Day.

We visited Di and Laura and Laura’s partner, Brad, in 2019, while we were in Australia to see Erin, who had taken a semester there. We had a fabulous visit — conversation, laughter, great meals, a couple of hikes. There was nothing maudlin about our time together. But Graham hovered over everything we did.

It is the most painful of clichés that we don’t know what life has in store for us or the people we love. With my brother’s death, and with the planning for his memorial, which occurred only a couple of weeks before Graham died, I had been out of touch with Graham for a little while when he passed. My fault entirely, although he would have understood. But I have thought about him a lot recently because the second book in my upcoming series is set in Australia, and it is dedicated to Graham, as well as to Di and Laura. And I have long wished for one more chance to chat with Graham, to share something funny or tell him about a recent photo shoot. So instead, I am going to take some time today to reach out to other friends, people I haven’t spoken or written to in a little while, people I miss.

Because we never know.

Have a wonderful week.

Monday Musings: What Matters? Part III — People and Relationships

We lost my older brother a bit over five years ago, and, as you might expect, in the aftermath of his death, my emotions were roiled and at times conflicted. Among other things, I was angry with him. Deeply, almost cripplingly angry. Why? Because in his youth he engaged in a lot of self-destructive behavior, and one could draw a clear line from his poor choices early in life to the cause of his death at too young an age.

Bill and I were very close, despite the nearly fifteen years between us. When I was young, I worshipped him. Later, I saw his flaws more clearly, but I still adored him. His death clobbered me. I was devastated and for a while that devastation manifested, in part, as rage — at the loss, at the injustice, and, yes, at what I perceived as the needlessness of it all. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to hold on to the anger. I wanted to grieve for him properly, without the resentment. And I got there eventually. But it took years, and several long, painful conversations with my therapist.

In writing my “what matters” posts over the past couple of weeks, I have thought about this particular post a good deal. We may devote a good deal of our time to work, but most of us expend the bulk of our emotional energy — another finite personal resource — on our relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners, as well as with work colleagues.

In my first post of the new year, I wrote about a different set of anger issues that I have been trying to control in recent months. I honestly can’t discuss these publicly, but suffice it to say I know this anger is no more productive for me than was the anger I directed at my brother. In my view, anger is not always a negative emotion. Righteous anger can empower and even inspire. But simmering resentments tend to wear on us and drain us.

In the past couple of years, I have tried a different tactic — although clearly from what I’ve written here, I am still figuring all of this out. In my professional dealings, when I encounter people who are dishonest, disrespectful, disruptive, I cut them out of my life. It’s that simple. I have no patience anymore for the kind of people I’m referencing here. (And some of them, if they’re reading this, may well recognize themselves.)

This is harder to do in our personal lives. But often it’s every bit as necessary. Toxic interactions, abusive friends and family, interactions that leave us feeling badly about ourselves — no one needs this.

I have started this post with the negative, and that may have been a mistake. Because the truth is, personal relationships mean more to me than anything, beginning with my marriage and my relationships with my daughters. I love my extended family, I have many years-long friendships that I treasure deeply, and I am fortunate to have a number of professional friends and colleagues whom I respect and enjoy seeing at conventions and other events. And just as negative interactions leach away my emotional energy, these positive ones boost it. I know this, and no doubt you know it in your life as well. It’s intuitive. And yet, so many of us continue to engage with people who suck more out of our lives than they put into them.

As I discussed last week, we have limited time for all the things we want and need to do, day to day and week to week. Spending time with the people we love, the people we enjoy seeing, the people whose company enhances our lives — nothing matters more, in my view. But I would also say it’s very nearly as important to avoid those encounters that rob us of joy, of energy, of confidence. Sometimes they can’t be avoided. We can choose our friends, the saying goes; we can’t choose our family. And, I would add, we can’t choose our friends’ friends. Nor can many of us choose our co-workers and the people we interact with in parts of our lives over which we have less control.

We do have a choice, though, as to how we engage with the people around us. What matters, it seems to me, is continuing to feed the relationships that nourish us in return, and to set strict boundaries around those that don’t. As I say, we can’t avoid entirely the people who aren’t good to us or for us. But we can keep them at arm’s length. And, on those occasions when we have to interact at greater length or in greater depth than we would like, we can remind ourselves at every opportunity of our own worth, and of the histories that let us know a given person can’t be relied upon or shouldn’t be trusted.

I should add here that I don’t want my glib solutions to minimize the dangers of a truly abusive relationship. Extricating oneself from such situations is far more complex and difficult than I have made all of this sound. There are excellent resources available for those who find themselves in such circumstances, and if you are in an abusive relationship, please, please, please seek professional help.

We have limited time. We have limited emotional energy. We deserve to have as much time as possible with the people we love and who love us back for who we are. I believe devoting time and energy to those relationships should be at the very top of the list of things that matter in our lives.

Have a wonderful week.

Photo Friday: Three Years Ago This Weekend

Three years ago this weekend, we were in Massachusetts at Wachusett Meadow, a Massachusetts Audubon Society wildlife sanctuary, for a memorial service honoring my brother, Bill. This glorious site was one of his favorites in the world, and we dedicated a bench with a brass plaque commemorating him. He died earlier in 2017, but this weekend coincided with his birthday, and seemed the perfect time to say goodbye.

As you can see, it was a gorgeous fall day — cool, breezy, brilliantly sunny. This was at the height of autumn hawk migration, which Bill loved. He and his love, Sandy, used to come out to the sanctuary to watch for Broad-winged Hawks, Cooper’s and Sharp-shinned Hawks, American Kestrels, and other raptors. I had a sense all that morning as we prepared for the service, that Bill would find some way to make his presence felt during the day. I’m not usually prone to such thoughts. It was pretty uncharacteristic for me to believe such a thing.

But sure enough, as we concluded the service, a Cooper’s Hawk swooped over a nearby ridge and down to this lake where it began to circle and climb, its wings still, sun angling off its tail. I had held my emotions pretty much in check throughout the day, but seeing that hawk, feeling my brother’s… I don’t know, spirit, I guess, in its arrival, I fell to pieces. It was good for me, really. Cathartic.

It was a hard day, but a special one — a day I’ll never forget.

Have a good weekend all. Be kind to one another, hug those you love, and stay safe.

Wachusett Meadow Fall, by David B. Coe

The Passing of a Writer

Writing is a business and an art. It is a hobby and a way of life. But more than anything else — whether in the hands of an established professional or a weekend dabbler — it is a gift and a balm, a way to confront and cope and transcend and heal.

Later today I’ll be heading to the funeral of a friend. We weren’t very close — I actually know his parents better than I knew him, and therein lies part of a many-layered tragedy.

Reid was only thirty-seven when he died. For the past nineteen years, he had been confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down after an accident as an eighteen year-old. I don’t deny that he had a rough time of it in the first few years after the accident. Hell, he was eighteen. But . . .

But, but, but . . .

He attended and completed college, then went on to graduate school. He taught at a private high school, counseled at a treatment center for drug and alcohol addiction, volunteered at several local organizations. And he wrote. He wrote prose, he wrote poetry. He wrote.

Writing is a business and an art. It is a hobby and a way of life. But more than anything else — whether in the hands of an established professional or a weekend dabbler — it is a gift and a balm, a way to confront and cope and transcend and heal.

As I say, I didn’t know Reid well. He had a hundred friends who meant more to him than I did. People will want to respond to this post by saying they’re sorry for my loss. Please, please don’t. My loss is just a shadow of the loss suffered by Reid’s family and the people to whom he was closest. Save your prayers and condolences for them, as I will.

Still, for years Reid and I shared a common passion and that meant something to me. I would like to think it meant something to both of us. I admired his spirit and courage, but most of all I respected the internal alchemy that allowed him to spin personal challenge into something powerful and creative and true.

The world is a darker place for his passage.