Hypergraffiti

Where I spray-paint my thoughts…

Loved and Lost

45 Comments

I lost a friend this week.

Twenty-five years ago, when I took my first teaching job at Kingsway College, I had just turned 21. Though Kingsway at the time prided itself on having a young faculty, the next youngest staff members were in their mid-20s and mostly young married couples. Though they were great people, I was fresh out of university and had more in common with the 17 and 18-year-olds I was teaching, who were the same age as many of my college friends. Most of the close friends I made during  those first couple of years were my students rather than my fellow teachers. Of those, two were destined to become two of my closest lifelong friends: Jamie and Cathy.

Though I had a unique relationship with each of them that has lasted for the past quarter-century, we were also close as a trio and shared many memories and good times together. Cathy later married Jamie’s cousin, becoming his family as well as his friend.  And it was Cathy who emailed me yesterday to tell me that Jamie was dead, having finally succumbed to the cancer he had been fighting for the past couple of years. He was 41 years old.

Jamie and I had one of those friendships where you click instantly, where you feel you can finish the other person’s sentences an hour after you’ve met, where you can be apart for ten years and pick up where you left off without missing a beat. I would have described him as a “kindred spirit.” What’s struck me over the past two days, seeing the tributes people have posted on his facebook page, is how many other people used those very words to describe their relationship with Jamie. He was lucky to have a lot of kindred spirits, but it wasn’t just luck. He was a person who valued his friendships, who treated his friends well, who made time and space in his life for friends.

If you were Jamie’s friend, you knew he would be loyal. You also knew he would make you laugh, and make you think. He was a very funny man with a zest for life and a quirky way of looking at things — sometimes hilarious, sometimes serious, but always thought-provoking.

Jamie was passionate about music and about words. We shared a love of a lot of the same music — I don’t think anyone not related by blood to Cyndi Lauper ever loved her music as much as Jamie did, but we did share that, along with a love of Rich Mullins and Weird Al Yankovic and many other, very diverse, artists. We both loved books; twice in Jamie’s life he gave me credit for lending or recommending a book that had a radical effect on his thinking. One was C.S. Lewis’s Till We Have Faces, when he was 17, and the other, many years later, was Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. We both loved Anne Lamott. We could talk about books and listen to music for hours when we were together, and often did.

Jamie married his high-school sweetheart, Melissa, two years before I married Jason, and we began our families at the same time — my two children and his two eldest children are within a couple of months in age. For several years it seemed our lives were headed in very similar directions — Jamie was even a teacher for awhile. During those years, we rarely saw each other — for all the years of our friendship, we rarely lived in the same province. We kept in touch sometimes regularly and sometimes sporadically — by letters, emails, blog posts, instant messaging and Facebook, our means of communication evolving with technology.

We began communicating more regularly about six years ago, when Jamie came out to me. I had no idea he was gay, but when he told me, lots of things made sense. And I don’t mean in the “Oh, that’s why he was so effeminate and campy” sense, because he wasn’t. I mean contradictions in his personality — Jamie was a funny, joyful, optimistic person who seemed deeply sad sometimes; he was passionate about God but struggled to hold onto faith. I thought we knew each other so well, but I learned that I had really known very little about his struggles over the years. I didn’t know about all the time he’d spent praying for God to take away what he’d been taught to believe was a sin.

I could digress here, and say that before Jamie came out I had other gay friends, and I had already begun to question the traditional Christian stance on homosexuality, but I was living with my own personal “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy which I guess could be summed up as “Don’t condemn; don’t advocate,” (i.e., don’t condemn gays and lesbians, but don’t advocate openly for their rights either). Sharing some of Jamie’s experiences made me move away from that stance … but I don’t want to write about me; I want to write about Jamie. 

While I know Jamie loved Melissa and their four children very much and leaving that marriage caused him (and them) a lot of pain, I was glad to see how happy he was in the last few years of his life. Not knowing, at the time, that they would be the last few years, he made the difficult choice to live those  years honestly, being open about who he was, and sharing his life and home with a wonderful man, D’Arcy, who truly loved and cared for him. I guess you could say his true colours came shining through.

Somewhere in the midst of Jamie writing to me about his coming out/separation/new relationship drama, suddenly there was a totally unexpected twist — he was diagnosed with the same cancer that had taken his dad’s life a few years earlier. It was quite advanced by the time he was diagnosed, so the prognosis was never good, but Jamie was a person so full of life and hope and energy that I somehow managed to believe — as many of us did — that he would be the exception to the statistics, that he would be the one to “beat this thing” and survive terminal cancer.

Jamie did a lot of surviving and had a lot of good times in the years — about two and a half, I think — since his diagnosis. At that point he and I hadn’t seen each other for many years, except for fleeting stopovers when I happened to be passing through Toronto airport and we met for a quick meal between flights, but I went to visit Jamie soon after I learned he had cancer. I made two more visits to Ontario after that, each about a year apart. For the first two visits, I would never have guessed there was anything wrong with him, except that last year he was bald due to chemo — but his energy, spirit and joy were unchanged.

This year’s visit was different. We knew it would be the last, as Jamie’s strength was dwindling and the doctors had already told him they had no more treatments to try. I asked if he wanted me to come visit and he said yes, but that I shouldn’t wait too long.

I didn’t. I flew up for a weekend in February, and as on the last two visits, Cathy came from her home not far from Jamie’s, to spend the weekend too. We enjoyed the same great conversations, remeniscing about the past, watching terrible old home movies, listening to favourite music, talking about life, death, God and love, laughing as much as ever. This time there were tears mixed with the laughter, especially as the visit drew to a close.

For me, the weekend was unique, but I realize I was just one traveller on what Jamie jokingly referred to as “Jamie’s Farewell Tour” — a stream of old friends who came to visit in the last few weeks and months, wanting to spend time with him once more. His joyful spirit and loving nature touched a lot of people, and everyone wanted to say goodbye.

Death is terrible however it comes, and in some ways sudden death is easy in its painlessness and lack of fear, but it is a wonderful gift to have the chance to say goodbye. The last time I hugged Jamie, I said, “At least with you I know there’s nothing we’ve left unsaid.” When you know it’s the last visit, you don’t hesitate to say, “I love you.”

My friend Jamie was a more gifted person than the world ever knew. He was a good writer, though he never wrote for publication. He read everything I ever wrote, often before it was published, and I used to tell him he was the world’s worst critic, because he was so unflaggingly encouraging and generous that he never criticized. But I wish I, and others, had gotten to read more of his writing. If he’d survived cancer, Jamie would have had an incredible life story to tell, and I wish he’d had a chance to write it. He was also a gifted musician, singer and songwriter, though only a relatively small circle of people ever got to hear his songs.

Before I left at the end of that last visit, I asked for a copy of a song he’d recorded years ago — his version of my favourite song by his favourite singer, which he had once given me on CD but I’d misplaced.  Now I listen to it over and over; it’s the last I’ll ever hear of his voice.

Here’s that song, Cyndi Lauper’s “Change of Heart” as performed and arranged by Jamie Townsley, along with some pictures that I’ve kept over the years that give a little flavour of our friendship.

That last picture is one Jamie didn’t want me to take — the last picture I have of him. He was uncomfortable, towards the end when his liver was failing, with people seeing how frail and sick he looked. But in that picture, though he’s thin and his skin is discoloured, all I see are his eyes and his smile — the same smile that caught my eye twenty-five years ago; the smile I’ll never forget.

Friends are precious; every one lost leaves a hole that can never be filled. Of course, what Jamie has lost is far greater than what his friends have lost — he lost half his life, the chance to see his kids grow up, the chance to spend years with D’Arcy in the yellow house they bought together. After his struggles with faith, Jamie was both skeptical and open-minded, and always curious, about what there might be beyond death. I pray I will see him and laugh with him again.

Until then, I can’t help dwelling a little on what’s missing from my life — because every friendship is unique: every person you love holds a piece of  you that no-one else does. There are jokes I shared only with Jamie, parts of me only he knew and understood. Those parts are held in abeyance now, waiting. I bide my time …

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45 thoughts on “Loved and Lost

  1. Trudy — this is beautiful and just, well, just right. Absolutely right.

    Thanks.

    Jamie leaves a hole in so many hearts. But he has left us so much more as well.

    Love and prayers,
    Lori

  2. Very touching tribute, Trudy. My only knowledge of Jamie has been through your photos and stories on FB. I’m glad you could spend one last time with him in Ontario. May he rest in peace for just a while…

  3. Thanks, Trudy, for sharing a glimpse into your friendship with Jamie. How we will all miss him.
    Carrol

  4. Thank you Trudy for such a loving tribute to such a wonderful person. Jamie will be dearly missed.

  5. Trudy,
    Thank you. You knew him so well. My heart aches so much at the loss of my cousin. It comes on the tails of the loss of my mother, his aunt who loved him so much. I know he is with her now. I am so glad to see this tribute to Jamie. He was amazing and I loved him.

    • Kelli, your family has had more than its share of heartache with losing people to cancer … I hope there are no more losses for awhile, to give you all time to heal.

  6. Thanks, Trudy, for saying so clearly what I have been struggling to state.
    From another of Jamie’s Kindred Spirits.
    Kathleen

  7. Trudy…..Thank you for one of the most beautiful written tributes that I have ever read. You are so right…friendships are unique….and what a wonderful friendship you shared. This tribute touched my heart for many reasons…….You certainly have great memories of your times together….

  8. Trudy, I’m so sorry for your loss and send my love to you and everyone else who loved Jamie. He was clearly a very special person. I only knew him through your blog but loved reading his insightful and sometimes challenging perspective, and the rapport you shared was evident in your written responses to one another. May God hold you close until you see Jamie again one day…

    • Thanks Karen. I realized after your post that a lot of people who read this blog will remember Jamie from his frequent comments even if they never knew him personally. I discovered WordPress allows you to sort all the comments in your blog by the name of the person who commented, and that in the 4+ years I’ve had this blog, Jamie left 383 comments. I don’t even need to check to know that’s far, far more than anyone else ever did … and yes, what he had to say was often insightful and challenging (and sometimes just very funny).

  9. Trudy, What a loving tribute to a wonderful friend. Jamie was such a special person and everything you have expressed is so poignant and spot-on. Thank you for writing this and sharing this with us. Over the many many years that I have also known Jamie, he talked about you often and I know how important and loved you were to him and what great pleasure and satisfaction he had in your long friendship. He will be so missed by everyone

    • Thanks Alicia — I think I remember Jamie talking about you almost as long as I’ve known him. So funny that we both knew him for so long yet have never met each other — but I know you had a special place in his heart. I think he mentioned you were one of the people who came, or planned to come, visit him as part of the “Jamie Farewell Tour” — I hope you got the chance to say goodbye too.

  10. thank you from my heart. That was beyond beautiful!!!

  11. Thank you for your tribute to this man whom I always thought of fondly but never really knew. Your words gave me a glimpse behind the curtain on a man whom I will miss. Jamie’s passing took me by surprise but it makes me realize that the connections we made with each other at KC, no matter how small, are a part of us and should not be taken for granted. I miss him even though I only have a few fond memories of long ago. However, for those of you who know and love him best there is a void that may never be fully filled. But within our extended “KC” family each joy and pain is shared. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of prayers going up on behalf of his family and close friends. We will miss him, but like your title reminds us – It is better to have loved and lost “Jamie” than never to have had him in our lives at all.

  12. Beautiful…thank you, Trudy.

    jc

  13. What a beautiful summation of a beautiful life. A wonderful person with that great smile. He won’t be forgotten. Rest in peace, Jamie.

  14. Trudy,
    Thank you so much for the beautiful tribute to Jamie. The song that Jamie sang…I have been looking every where for it and could not find it… and here it is on your trubute. Thank you.
    From Jamie’s Aunt Patsy

  15. Thanks everyone for your responses. As I said on Facebook last night, it’s hard when you’ve lost someone, to be far away from everyone else who’s grieving for the same loss, as you don’t have that experience of being able to sit down around a table and share memories and stories. Posting here and on FB has helped me feel a little more connected to others who knew Jamie and given me a chance to share what I knew about him with those who didn’t. When I get a chance I’m also going to copy over here a few of the comments people left when I posted this link on Facebook, because like the comments posted directly here to the blog, they meant a lot to me and helped me a great deal.

  16. Trudy, thank you for this lovely tribute. I never met Jamie, but valued him very much as a fellow traveler on an online group for lesbian and gay Seventh-day Adventists. I also admired many of the passionate posts Jamie wrote on Spectrum Magazine online. Jamie was always interesting, honest passionate and insightful. He was never boring. I so much wish I could have known him personally. Jamie certainly enriched my life and his absence on our gay forum will be felt by many. He death will leave a hole in all of our lives that only God can make right.

    Andrew Dykstra

  17. Hi Trudy,

    Thanks for sharing. I don’t have the words and still surprised to hear about Jamie passing. I hope your writing helps you in the healing process

  18. Hi Trudy,

    What an awesome tribute to Jamie. I didn’t really know Jamie very well in Kingsway. We were in different grades with different circles of friends, but I can’t remember a time when I saw Jamie when he didn’t have a smile on his face or in deep concentration… probably from one of your classes perhaps?

    I lost my best friend from Kingsway six years ago. It’s so great to be able to look back at the times when we were young with such innocence about life and the future and to just remember and enjoy them.

    Here is a poem that I found a long time ago that I think could be very helpful to those who have ever had to go through the grief of losing someone we care deeply about.

    HOW DO YOU LIVE YOUR DASH
    by Linda Ellis

    I read of a man who stood to speak
    At the funeral of a friend.
    He referred to the dates on her tombstone
    From the beginning…to the end.

    He noted that first came her date of birth
    And spoke the following date with tears,
    But he said what mattered most of all
    Was the dash between those years.

    For that dash represents all the time
    That she spent alive on earth…
    And now only those who loved her
    Know what that little line is worth.

    For it matters not, how much we own;
    The cars…the house…the cash,
    What matters is how we live and love
    And how we spend our dash.

    So think about this long and hard…
    Are there things you’d like to change?
    For you never know how much time is left,
    That can still be rearranged.

    If we could just slow down enough
    To consider what’s true and real,
    And always try to understand
    The way other people feel.

    And be less quick to anger,
    And show appreciation more
    And love the people in our lives
    Like we’ve never loved before.

    If we treat each other with respect,
    And more often wear a smile…
    Remembering that this special dash
    Might only last a little while.

    So, when your eulogy’s being read
    With your life’s actions to rehash…
    Would you be proud of the things they say
    About how you spent your dash?

  19. I am so sorry to hear of your loss Trudy. Your tribute to him is beautiful. What an amazing person and how wonderful that he was able to claim his true self and live the rest of his life on his terms.

  20. What a wonderful tribute to your friend.
    He was blessed to have your friendship, just has you were blessed to have his.
    Pass the Kleenex….

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  21. Thank-you Trudy for saying what so many of us wish we could. I’m glad you had a chance to say good-bye. I know that is what a lot of us here out West will be doing this weekend, whether on the coast, or on these plains he came to love.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  22. You have written wonderful, true words that resonate the symphony that is Jamie. In the great Grammar of the Universe, Jamie would be the conjunction – always linking people, thoughts, and events together in ways we might not have otherwise noticed.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  23. Beautiful. I don’t have the words to express myself like you do, what I do have is a heart full of love for my friendship with you and Jamie.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  24. AWESOME. nuf said.

  25. Lovely. I only know him through you speaking about him but I feel I know him better now. He was obviously a special person to have so many people love him.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  26. That was a beautiful tribute to Jamie. Thank you for sharing.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  27. Sorry to hear of your loss. Jamie seemed like a wonderful man and a great friend. I am sitting here crying away and I never even knew him. My heart goes out to you and his family. Many of us never have friends like this… its wonderful when you can give tribute such as this… I am sure he would feel truly blessed to have you as a friend as well.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  28. This is a wonderful tribute, Trudy. I didn’t know Jamie, but I bet he would have loved it.

    (comment copied from Facebook)

  29. What a beautiful tribute. Thanks for sharing it.

    There were a few grades difference between us at Kingsway. I didn’t know Jamie that well at Kingsway but I’ll remember him as a kind, deep person with a smile and someone not afraid to walk to the beat of his own drum.

    A few years ago our paths crossed again when we were both working on getting our certification for the Ontario College of Teachers. I thought then that I would have loved to have been in his English class either as a student or a fly on the wall.

  30. That’s a beautiful song and a beutiful tribute. Blessings to you in your sorrow.

  31. thanks for sharing,
    I really like his version of Change of Heart
    hugs

  32. Hi Trudy,
    I was saddened to hear of Jamie’s death. It is hard to be away from those who knew and loved the person you’ve just lost. Know that others are thinking and praying for you and Jamie’s family at this time. I got to know Jamie and Melissa at CUC, where he introduced me to Rich Mullins, and I still have that cassette he gave me. I can’t hear a Rich Mullins song and not think of and remember Jamie. Thank you for sharing with us. Any man’s death diminishes me, and particularly more so when I’ve had the privilege of knowing him. Your tribute has helped me and I thank you again.

  33. That was such a deep tribute, I was blessed to have read it! I was very saddened by the news and didn’t want to believe it. You have really encapsulated who Jamie was and I really appreciated being able to reflect on Jamie through your tribute!

    Thank-you

  34. Thank you for sharing this. What a beautiful tribute to Jamie.

  35. Merci pour lui.

  36. Thanks Trudy, that was a lovely tribute. You have reminded me of Jamie’s wonderful personality and his ability to connect with people. This essay shows what an important part of your life Jamie was, I know you will miss him very much. Jennifer

  37. Trudy, Thanks for your beautiful, fitting tribute to Jamie. I also belong the online group of GLBT Adventists that Jamie belonged to. We shared his journey as he struggled with coming out and then with his diagnosis of cancer. Whose faith wouldn’t have been challenged? Yet he was courageous and honest through it all. We didn’t have the privilege of meeting Jamie personally, but we grieve for the loss of this wonderful man and will miss him greatly. And we will continue to pray for D’Arcy and the rest of Jamie’s loved ones.

    Taylor Ruhl

  38. Trudy, Thank you for sharing this, it is beautifully written. And thank you for allowing me to share a portion of it with those gathered in the Mountain church to pay their respects to a wonderful human being. You are right. His smile shines through and eclipses anything else in that picture. I have been asked to send copies of his version of Change of heart by a number of our family members. It has become quite popular. I know he kept you very close to his heart always. We are all blessed to have been so close to such an amazing Man.

    • Thanks Dwayne … I can’t imagine how you got through that eulogy, but I wish I’d been there to hear you give it.
      Probably the only nicer thing you could have done for Jamie would have been to let him put the Gandhi video on Facebook. Fortunately I have a copy. I think it’s what he would have wanted.
      Just kidding, of course.

      • Yes, he likely would have liked that all right. Unfortunately after reviewing it again, I am even more relieved that it has not seen the light of day. Maybe one day.

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