Art Suke, 1958-2009
Our dear friend Art died yesterday morning, after a long and drawn out struggle with ALS, (Lou Gehrigs Disease) resulting in loss of motion, speech, body function, and some dignity as well. He spent the last four months in hospice, cared for by many good friends,visiting out-of-town family members and an incredible nursing staff. The faithful visits by those who ministered to his body and soul was an amazing thing to witness. Art was well loved and will be missed from our lives.
I am married to Art’s best friend Bob, and as such my role was the same as it has been through their friendship -- somewhat peripheral. I have tried to support Bob by caring for some of Art’s needs, and allow Bob the time and space to do whatever he felt needed to do with his dear friend. I have found the last few months to be the most difficult, with ever increasing demands for personal care for Art,and the fact that I don't deal with illness and suffering well. My heart is too soft in some ways, and a bit stoic in others. Still, he was loved to the best of our abilities by our family -- our children’s ‘Uncle Art’.
There was something about Art that drew me, and held me in an outer circle of influence, sometimes moving closer for certain times such as his visits to our back porch for a cigar with Bob, or Sunday dinner with the family. Art was larger than life, loved to run in races, play good golf and spend time on the lake in his boat. He enjoyed the good life with his friends, yet was sometimes independent and hard to pin down.
Now that he’s gone, I feel a little odd, a little unemotional. I haven’t cried yet, and I wonder when I will? I told the kids about his passing after they got home from school yesterday afternoon, and they were strangely silent -- I expected some words, but I have a feeling that they too were feeling numb. We knew for a long time that he would eventually die, but now that it’s upon us, we are in disbelief.
Bob is processing things differently than I am, and that's normal for us. I want to talk about it, he wants to internalize and hold it together. That's just who he is, and admirable and strong.
Bob says he’s always wondered why Christians don’t celebrate the passing of one of their brothers or sisters into the presence of Christ? Why are we so sad? We should be happy for them and what they are now experiencing for themselves. I know what Bob says is true, and on one hand he’d like to feel like that, but on the other hand he’s really hurting inside too.
Dealing with death is so surreal and unsettling, and there never seems to be the right words to say, or the right actions to take. And things other people say and do can grate on you too. As a young adult, I remember my parents being strangely and almost overly comforted by death, and saying certain things that just didn’t sit right with me. Things like, ‘her testimony during her illness was amazing’, and ‘it’s a blessing that he has gone to be with the Lord… no more pain and suffering and so on.” Man, that bugged me then, and I don’t want to speak like that now, especially to the kids.
Why must we spin it into something good? It hurts to lose someone from your life… yes, that’s the selfish reality, Art is gone from MY life, and I miss him and want him back. Yes, it’s good and right and a blessing to know that Art's suffering is over, and that his faith means that he is 'in a better place', and I believe that I will see him again some day. But for a time, can’t I just be sad and mad and wish him back again with us?
If only our culture was better equipped to deal with death, and to deal with it in a way that isn’t so stuffed down or glossed over. I envy the cultures that wail and cry and scream… and get it all out, and then move on, when the grieving has run its natural course. Or those, like the Irish, that have big parties - wakes - and celebrate life with laughter and good beer and dancing. Our 'Canadian' grief is more like a slow leak in a rubber dingy, it can easily swamp you if you don’t take care. If only the hole were big and the air gushed out quickly, then at least you could swim.
It’s been a long time since someone close to our family died. And it’s been an even longer time since we’ve been present for the days and plans leading up the the final good-bye -- the very first time for our kids. I hope that walking through this process of death and funeral, and being up close with the individuals most effected, will allow our kids to see the reality of what has happened, and that we can talk openly about their fears and sadness and grief and help them to process things in a healthy way that allows them to honour Art, express their pain, and find the strength to move on.
I’ll be preparing the guest room tonight… actually, it’s Graeme’s room that he will have to vacate potentially for out of town funeral guests. And even that is an opportunity to be part of something greater than us, and more personal. Having a grieving friend or relative in our home might help all of us to process and truly believe that the overwhelmingly tragic has happened;
That our dear friend Art Suke, age 51, lover of life, family and friends, died.
19 hours ago