I don’t remember Caroline’s life, just her death. She was not a close friend but rather someone on the edges of my life. She worked where I worked for a while. A charming woman, I remember that, slender, graceful, kind. She waited too long for a breast exam and died of breast cancer. Not an unusual story. Almost everyone knows someone who was brushed by the big “C” or brought down by it. Memorial week seems a good time to remember those who died too soon.
Caroline had a friend, Bill, who stood by her and took care of her and held her hand as she went through those last rough days. Both of them appeared to me heroic in their struggle that they could not win.
I greatly admire heroes, especially the quiet ones, the ones who live their lives without fanfare but with grace and courage. What I remember most clearly about Caroline was her quiet serenity in the face of death. She didn’t whimper, or if she did, she did it privately. She may have begged and pleaded with the Almighty, but if she did, we never knew. Perhaps her friend Bill knew.
Caroline’s death came at a time when my own sense of mortality was kicking in. There comes a time for everyone when they stop and look around and realize that they probably have fewer years ahead of them than they’ve already lived through. I was just beginning to realize that when Caroline became ill. I think her impact on me was a combination of all those factors—my own age, the fact that someone nearly my age could die, the fact that at some point I would die.
Pyrography is a wood craft. It means, literally, writing or drawing with fire. During Caroline’s illness and death, I was immersed in this craft. After Caroline’s death one evening I went to my studio and the design above flowed from my fingers onto the paper pattern and then onto a piece of redwood. Inspired by Caroline’s life and her courage in death, it is one of my favorites.
I heard somewhere that a person isn’t truly gone as long as someone remembers him. I hope Caroline and everyone who died too soon live forever in memories across the world.