The last day he was alive I'd gone into the room where he'd been staying. He'd slipped into something like a coma and it was only a matter of time before he was gone. I'd seen and helped take care of others in this condition and it all ended the same way. I cleaned him up, almost a useless task because the room was ripe with the smell of death. Beth, who had pneumonia, lay down next to him and as I checked on him a last time she looked at me and said 'I think he's gone.' I put my hand on his bare chest and he jerked...Maybe a reaction to my always cold hands...But he was dead.
When the hospice came to take him away they suggested I not watch, that most people don't want to see this part of death. I stayed. I knew exactly how this moment would play out and if you have been fortunate not to see this part of the process, count yourself lucky. It will stay with you...
...It's stayed with me.
I didn't cry for him. Our relationship wasn't one that would call forth tears.
I lost a couple of friends up in Phoenix after that and I could feel the swelling of loss starting to grow.
Then came Tony Newton. I'd met Tony and his father, Don, at a convention where we had been invited as guests. Don was incredible and always helped me keep things in perspective when I got pissed off at a string of inkers who'd finished my work. He reminded me that we were actually living the dream and as I gained more experience I'd reach a point where all of my petty problems would go away. I was working on a Captain America story when I got the call from a friend in Phoenix telling me Don had died.
I did cry at his death.
I called his editor at DC and the the first words out of his mouth were 'Did he finish that last story?' My reply would have caused a seasoned sailor to blush...We were assets and that was the bottom line. After that my life became complicated as I drifted into other areas of art and trying to deal with several personal problems of my own.
I always wondered what happened to that old gang after Don died...His son, Tony. Jay. Paul...Others. When the 'Net appeared I'd do searches for Don, looking for other fans. One day I came across a brand new page on Facebook honoring Don. I went there and reconnected with old friends. Tony and I began a long conversation about this and that on Facebook Messenger and I discovered the specifics of that last day of Don's life and the fact that he died in front of his son. I learned about Tony's time in military service and that he was paralyzed from the waist down and I became humbled at all that he was. He'd send me copies of his work and I told him I wanted to ink them...He was good and he wasn't his father...
...He was himself.
One morning I went to Messenger because I saw Tony's name there and it wasn't Tony. It was his wife and she told me Tony had died.
The tears flowed like rain and, for a very long time, I couldn't pick up a pencil or brush. It wasn't right that he'd died. It wasn't fair. Death doesn't care about any of those feelings...It simply is.
Recently my nephews wife, Amanda, had her own medical scare...None of this made sense. I question myself every day, asking why I'm still around, me...With my past I should have gone a long time ago and yet these younger people are being attacked and dying.
Amanda survived and is doing better.
I don't believe in the 'God' of most religions. I certainly don't think there's a singular 'God' who made us and the cosmos....I do believe in purpose and while the list of friends and family gone I am constantly trying to figure out my purpose. I draw, I paint, I write...I do what I can to create something beautiful, something which will out live me, something that might help bring people together knowing that one persons passion is another persons hatred.
Tony Newton has inspired me more than I ever thought possible. During our last conversations we talked about my sister and I going to his home, something we should have done much sooner. He believed in a future, he believed in art and he was filled with a great deal of compassion.
I'm working again, filling my waking hours with dots and lines and research while packing up most of my extensive library and putting the books away in storage...And it's a whole lot of books. I hate not having them where I can see them, but I've seen that none of us know when that moment is going to come, that instant when we pass from here to wherever and all I can hope for is that the books I've stored will go to someone who will appreciate them.
I have purpose. Tony and his father have inspired me to expand my skills and I refuse to complain about my back hurting or the swelling of my joints or any of the other aspects of life that come with age.
I will miss Tony for a very long time, just as I missed his father. I have been honored to know them both and even more honored that they let me be their friend.
And if there is a 'God' out there...I sincerely plan on kicking him in his balls for being such a shit.
Life is short, too short.
Tell those you know, those you care about, just how much you love them. Now. Because none of us has the promise of one more day.