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Emotional State of Matt #2: CARPE DIEM

Updated: Feb 29

This trip, and specifically this week’s destination of Coos Bay, was inspired by two people who are no longer with us. 

The overall trip was inspired by mi padre adoptivo - Howard Anderson. 

Howard came into my life when he and my mom dated roughly 25 years ago. They were together for a few years, but didn’t work out in the long term. He and I connected instantly, each of us recognizing in the other a kindred spirit.

After they separated, I waited a few years - which felt like an appropriate statute of limitations - before asking my mom if she’d be comfortable with me reconnecting with him. Despite some clear reluctance, she gave me her blessing. The breakup had been difficult for her, and Howard had not been kind. Maintaining a relationship with him despite that fact is something I still carry some guilt about. 

Howard was a colorful character. His professional life ranged from screenwriting in Hollywood in the 70’s to being a Federal Public Defender along the Mexican border and, in the last decade of his life, becoming an author of several novels and a memoir. His first and most successful novel, Albert of Adelaide, is a gritty, violent western set in the Australian outback. Oh, and the main character is a platypus. 

Howard was whip-smart and had biting sarcasm and a wit to match. He could be warm and gregarious, but a sharp-tongued asshole as well - he did not suffer fools gladly. He was someone who wasn’t content resting in one place and always “had to see what was over the next hill”. This spirit was one of the things we shared. 

Howard had no remaining family, and our friendship evolved into a father/son dynamic. He began describing me as his hijo adoptivo - even though there was no legal relationship. He used to brag that avoiding the chaos of raising young children and adopting an adult son was definitely the way to go. 

Despite our closeness, Howard was always careful to not undermine or try to replace my relationship with my father. He and I connected in a different way and he was a role model to me in other areas. 

Two years ago, Howard had a minor stroke. I flew to Las Cruces, NM to spend time with him and help out around the house. He had been suffering from COPD for years, and was therefore physically limited, but the stroke had slowed him down even more. My week-long trip extended to two, and we spent a lot of quality time together. I departed, promising to return in a few weeks.

Three days before my return flight, I got a call from Howard. He’d had a fall and hadn’t felt quite right, so he called an ambulance. At the hospital they discovered stage 4 brain and lung cancer, and sent him straight to hospice. I spoke with the hospice nurse and asked if I needed to drop everything and get down there immediately. No, she was sure there was time and the flight I had in a few days should be fine. Two days later, before I’d arrived, he slipped into unconsciousness. 

Howard remained unresponsive except for an hour when he suddenly came to, alert and attentive. The hospice nurses informed me that this is a regular occurrence with those who are very close to death - a last, lucid “visit” to say goodbye to their loved ones. The following day he waited for a quiet moment when he was alone in the room, and slipped away.

As the only member of his “family” I handled the arrangements for his cremation, organized his remembrance, and took on the impersonal, bureaucratic process of dealing with death in America. I scattered most of his ashes in the Rio Grande, but saved some for a pilgrimage to South America. A decade prior, we had spent a wonderful Thanksgiving together in Buenos Aires, so that’s where I returned for Thanksgiving 2022.  

Howard didn’t put any requirements or limitations on the money he left me. However, he did suggest that it shouldn’t be used for boring practical things, but in the service of adventure and creating memorable stories. Funny enough, he did recommend at one point that I visit Coos Bay, though he didn’t say why - honestly, I suspect simply because it’s pronounced “cooze” and he found that funny. 

My inheritance from Howard is partially funding this trip, and I know that would make him happy. To honor his memory, and to share the trip with him in a way, I brought along Albert as my co-pilot.

My inspiration to visit Coos Bay came from my friend Kevin’s mother - Diane O’Bryan. I met Diane a handful times over the 15+ years I’ve known Kevin - from the time he was in the hospital after a motorcycle accident, to his wedding several years ago in Charleston, SC.

Diane had an incredible warmth - she exuded “mom energy”. Growing up, did you ever have a friend whose mom naturally became the surrogate mom of your entire crew? That was the vibe I got from her.

A few months after moving to Oregon, I met Kevin and Diane in Eugene for dinner. She invited me to visit her in Coos Bay - not in a perfunctory way, but in a way that made it clear she would be absolutely tickled to host me. I said I would, and I meant it. 

Time passed and life happened, and I didn’t take her up on the invitation. A few months after Howard passed, Diane suffered a brain hemorrhage while swimming. She was airlifted to OHSU in Portland, but arrived comatose. Kevin and his aunt flew up to Portland and stayed with me their first night in town. A couple of days later they had to make the impossible decision to take her off of life support. 

Diane, who was a Master Gardener in three states, is buried just outside Coos Bay surrounded by beautiful plants and nature. I was told by Kevin after I wrote this post that she had also visited all 50 states.

I do my best not to regret anything in life, but I regret not visiting Diane in Coos Bay while she was still alive. I regret not rushing down to Las Cruces to see Howard in hospice while he was still conscious. 

The death of someone in your life serves as a stark reminder of the fleeting and unpredictable nature of life. You never know how long you have with the people you love. You never know how long you have to do the things you want to do. 

Take advantage of life’s opportunities while they are available - don’t ignore them, don’t procrastinate. Don’t end up looking back, wishing you’d worked less and lived more. Make those memories now. See the people you love while they are still around and tell them that you love them. 

This trip is my best effort to seize the day. Choices and circumstances have led me to this moment and created the opportunity for me to do this. If I don’t do it now, I never will. It sounds simple and exciting, but uprooting your life for a year and laying your head in a new place every week is challenging. There are a thousand complications and reasons why not, and it’s easy to let them trip you up. 

This journey is a tribute to Howard and his indomitable spirit of adventure. This visit to Coos Bay is a tribute to Diane and her indomitable spirit of welcoming and warmth. I can’t do anything to have another conversation with them, but I can choose to live my life to the fullest, CARPE DIEM, and spend time with the people I love while I can. 

Yes, and…



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