The weird thing about my best friend dying is that he’s the only one with whom I want to discuss the grieving process.
Maybe everyone feels that way when they go through this; I don’t know. But as my psychic twin since 1978, James Leroy “Sputnik” Gjerde would see the black horror part of it AS WELL AS the intensely spiritual aspect. And know that the one does not preclude the other.
For those just joining the show, here’s something I sent to friends:
Team loses star player
sub: Gjerde sparks psychotemporal “whiplash”
A memorial service will be held Saturday afternoon in Mount Shasta for Jim
“Sputnik” Gjerde, who died Dec. 27 in Redding following a two-week coma.
Gjerde, 40, suffered cardiac arrest at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 11 while talking with girlfriend
Jan Stirling in Stirling’s Shasta bookstore. Gjerde, who lost consciousness
almost immediately and never regained same, reportedly stopped breathing
before paramedics arrived and again while en route to Mercy Medical Center
in Redding. He was later diagnosed with diffuse global brain damage, and
— except for a few false signs of hope — began deteriorating throughout
Gjerde left no written instructions, but close consultation with friends and
family led to the inevitable do-not-resuscitate decision. Thus, on Dec. 26,
Gjerde was removed from various machines, tenderly washed and dried, and (as
a recent re-adherent of classical/mystical Christianity) traditionally
ministered to by his favorite Episcopal vicar. (So, that part was done.
Those of us who worry about that sort of thing, in whatever flavor, can rest
Stirling said that as Gjerde’s breathing became slower and more peaceful, he
seemed to become more angelic, “growing younger and younger.” (Those who
suspected Sputnik to be half-related to Merlin, take note.)
Gjerde stopped breathing at 10:08 p.m. PST, Friday, Dec. 27, 2002. However,
he is believed to have exited the local space-time envelope sometime more
immediately after his heart attack. (Mark the times and consider.)
The memorial service will be held at 1 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 11, 2003, at St.
Barnabas Episcopal Church, Mount Shasta, CA ). A more formal, potentially
Klingon- or Arrakeen-style howl will commence at an appointed time and
Zechroteinu tzaddik l’vracha. Our memories of the righteous bless us. And so
In many ways, Jim was my other half. Whatever he went through, I went through — and vice versa — and at the same time, though in flavors unique to our individual situations: he rediscovered Christianity when I rediscovered Judaism, and after the same explorations; we both fell madly in love with “older women” (Older than we were, anyway, not that age matters to either of us) and for the same reasons (they are more sane than the younger women we knew); we are both blessed with steel-trap memories, so could call up 20-year-old conversations with equal ease and re-weave their threads into whatever was currently before us, even if it took an hour to do so (but concisely, with no unnecessary explanatory extranea); we used to joke about which one of us would get the sex-change operation so we could marry. (Even though our 1980s-era experiments at roommate-hood proved that we would viciously murder each other in our sleep if we ever tried living together again. We were THAT much alike.)
(Interestingly, I was in the hospital for a sudden and heart-related condition on the day he died — I had picked up an atrial fibrillation after throwing up on the morning of Dec. 25, and was defibrillated on the morning of Dec. 27 at our local ER. So while I lay on one bed, my partner lay on another some 400 miles distant. One comes back, another leaves. (Alternatively, “The little bastard broke my heart.”) For the record, though, I’m fine — physically — according this week to my doctor and my cardiologist; an interesting contrast to Summer 2002, when I was physically wrecked and emotionally fine. In all things, balance, I guess.)
Connections like that are not easily severed. And I would dearly love to give and get insights into this incredibly cold darkness I seem to have stumbled into. When Jan S. called us on Saturday night, the 28th, with the news that Jim had died, I got off the phone, hugged Ann, and literally heard a big black “whump” fall over my world. Seriously — as clearly as I now hear the keyboard clicking out this account. Just a big “whump” as of a curtain or ton of feathers hitting the concrete, and then silence punctuated by sobs…
Fortunately, I was scheduled for a week’s vacation last week so didn’t have to work. However, my heart condition prevented us from spending that week visiting relatives in Texas as planned. Again, though, that fits — since we probably would only have wanted to be in our own home.
And now, everything seems to be in shadow. Ever read/see Lord of the Rings? When Frodo puts on the ring, he slip sinto the world of the wraiths — everything is insubstantial to him; dim; echoey; distant. That’s how I feel now. Nothing really seems real to me except my wife’s hand and the occasional dog. (We could really use a dog right now; something comforting there is about a big fuzzy wall to hug and watch softly sleep, and then the biting of the paws…)
So we’re driving to Shasta. I wrote a eulogy — one of four to be delivered Saturday afternoon — but maybe I’ll excerpt this instead. There’s nothing to say anyway, not really — but it seems vitally important to say something. I’ll think of something. I always do.
I’m very glad that Sput came to visit Ann & I in early November. We hadn’t seen him since 1994/5 (whenever we got married), but he made the trip down via bus and I got to “show off” a bit, a weekend, and then ferried him down to an East Bay friend’s house so he could help the UC Medical Center continue its assault on his ill health (he’s had Type 1 diabetes since he was 12, and was having some undiagnosed trouble which seemed thyroid-centered. The last thing I told him was that I loved him, and he said the same. So, at least there’s that.
If I don’t stop typing now, I never will. And I have work to do. More later… or not. We never can tell.