February 14th, 2018

The Dying of the Light

Dylan Thomas said “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Ben Frerichs did not rage, he kept the light burning.

Ben died Thursday, February 8, 2018. Ben was the third friend who died during the past twelve months. Reach an age and these events get more frequent. The scramble to stay connected intensifies and life goes on.

Our last conversation was less than a week before he died. Ben’s voice was weaker than it was a few weeks before, he slumped more in his wheel chair, and his face was paler. We talked for two hours. His color improved and his voice became stronger as we talked, but he tired, his nurses became impatient, the afternoon rush on I-5 began, and the conversation ended.

Ben talked about Raymond Chandler and Michael Connelly and a piece of mine that he had read for me. He was thankful that someone had given him an assignment to finish. His world was constricting around him. His sprawling body got visibly smaller, he could do less and less for himself, but inside the shrinking perimeter, Ben did not decline, his thoughts were not frail. He talked about community and corporate discussions. How often people with good intention don’t understand the simple mechanics of coming together to accomplish a goal.

Dying men fight against their chains. And chains, Ben had. A plastic connector protruding from his chest, a bed pan to be changed, well he should have roared, scratched, and bit. Ben said he needed less help than most of his fellows in the nursing center and therefore the attendants were not prepared for him. Ben conceived of a course to certify caregivers. The only examination would be oral. The questions would be easy, but the candidate’s mouths would be gently sealed with duct tape.

I met Ben in a writing class. A few students formed a writing group to carry on when the class ended. That was close to ten years ago. Ben was the guiding spirit of the group, finding a meeting place, making sure that everyone knew of the next meeting, and who was up for critique. Over the years the group became less formal, but it still exists, although Ben has not been a participant since he was hospitalized over a year ago.

Until he suddenly collapsed, he was vital. Many friends, offering rides, conducting a session on writing groups at the Chuckanut Writer’s Conference, active in the Bellingham writing community, and talking, discussing, curious, out-going. His life changed dramatically when his respiratory system gave way and he was permanently attached to medical equipment, but Ben himself did not change, and now, he is beyond change.

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