I was recently featured in the University of Chicago Magazine. This was a huge honor for me and thrilled my mother to no end, especially since she was fairly sure my medieval history degree would lead to me living in my parents’ basement (we don’t really have basements in Hawaii, so, like, basement equivalent).
After my death theories arrived in hard copy to alumni all over the world, I received an email from Pete Groat, a U of C alumnus from 1951.
“My wife of 58 years (and 83 on her own) died about six weeks ago. She had been in poor health for a number of years and yet, until Christmas was in her studio at least four hours a day, painting up a storm and other activities. The day after Christmas she went to the ICU for five days and then home. We knew her prognosis was death within a short time, but she hoped to be able to finish her last painting “Glimpse.” She was not able to do so, however her final two weeks were made bearable by Hospice.
She died at home, looking out upon her garden with its Buddha statue. It was a relief to her to be free of a body that had become burdensome, and painful. And that was a relief to me as well. We had an evening ritual (she slept in a separate bedroom owing to her medical needs) we had observed for years in which we promised each other to wake up in the morning! Not a bad or trivial thing to do when one is in the eighth decade! One evening, after her hospital visit and when we knew there would not be much time left to us she grinned hugely at me and said, ‘Soon I’ll know the Great Mystery!’ ”
His wife Jenny was a dancer, calligrapher, and painter. The picture above was taken in the 1960s.
Pete is having a custom urn created for Jenny by a local potter, but until then her ashes reside in a red ACE Hardware container to celebrate her life as a painter. On the way home from the crematory in Novato, California, a trip they had made many times in the past, Pete commented on “the sights she loved, the verdant hills, the oak tees (of which she did a series of paintings), cows going about their lives, and brilliant yellow fields of wild mustard. I know she enjoyed the journey.”
Pete, who I was fortunate enough to correspond with, takes solace in bringing Jenny coffee every morning “half milk, three lumps of sugar in her favorite Quimper ware mug. It has been a good death which she so well deserved. ”
“Jenny has been gone almost 2 months and I busy myself with deciding what to do with her large corpus of artwork & materials occupies most of my time, but on days like today, I am overwhelmed, even though our bargain with dying and death was a better one than most people have. She lived a long (83 years) life productive of art and kindness and I was fortunate to share 58 of it with her.”
I will save the commentary and say only that we should all be so lucky. Lucky to have a death (and life) like Jenny’s. Thanks to Pete Groat for allowing me to share this with you.