A writing group friend’s life ended prematurely -- “…peacefully, surrounded by family,” -- was the startling and sad news I received recently. I’m still processing the thoughts and feelings associated with this loss. Mark, (not his real name,) was one of numerous interesting people I met in the first group I joined for this new-to-me writing activity that I had decided on a whim to pursue after starting this blog.
About five years ago I introduced myself to this group and explained my writing would be for my blog – a term which elicited perplexed looks on almost everyone’s face. I later learned Mark, young talented personable man in his fifties, was the only group member who even knew what a blog was. During the ensuing years he was always very supportive of my writing as I was of his. We shared a similar sense of humor with a quirky thread that often paralleled each others.
Our writing group meetings were structured to be rather casual. Attendance was flexible with necessary late arrivals acceptable. Mark was rarely late and when he occasionally was absent his honest, perceptive, sometimes humorous comments were missed by all. He had shared that he was self-employed, engaged in information age computer technology assignments, so had unpredictable deadlines impinging on his leisure writing time. The group had no required writing exercises, but if new prose or poetry forms were presented we were encouraged to use the opportunity to try them. This was a challenge Mark generally accepted by producing quite remarkable results.
Mark was a prolific writer of material of varying length, mostly fictional stories, which we greatly anticipated reading. A few of his stories were of a science fiction nature or pure fantasy. He created stories that were sometimes peopled by characters who were emotionally wounded and other individuals that were mentally warped who could be wicked dregs of society. Accurate depictions of socially phony individuals with the classic personality traits of various social levels were satirically funny in some of his tales.
Mark had a viewpoint he could express in multiple ways through direct storytelling, with subtle nuances or bold assaults on the readers psyche. He created unusual plots in ordinary settings, often with strangely unique, even weird characters. A few were truly reprehensible as could be their behavior. Occasional descriptive nouns and adjectives he used, or action descriptions, aroused offense in rare instance, but that language enhanced story significance and was not gratuitous.
Eventually, Mark began to share a novel he was writing that he first presented to our initial writing group. We were all soon emotionally invested in his realistic characters, following the complex plot, and appreciating the colorful setting he was creating. The story on the page stimulated strong emotional reactions in the characters and among the readers as their very human behaviors were revealed within his fictional, but specific real life situations.
Mark continued to develop his novel through those five years as our group evolved in member composition, with changes in meeting location and leadership. This past year, after a short summer break, we resumed meeting in the fall. He continued to seek our group’s critiquing, but a year or so earlier had become a dynamic force in a new much more structured writing group that was demanding of increased time commitment. Now his book was ready for further author editing, then referral for professional editing in conjunction with his seeking a book publisher.
Last fall Mark began missing several consecutive weekly gatherings. We were shocked to finally learn this strong appearing, healthy-looking man had been hospitalized. He was in and out of hospital with a heart problem medical diagnosis. We were shocked when eventual medical revelations indicated he needed a heart transplant. About this time we also became aware that he had no health insurance.
These developments raised grave questions in our minds about his recovery and what health services would be available to him. The whole situation seemed almost unbelievable to us, and perhaps to him also. He reportedly carefully considered all factors associated with this major surgery, including organ rejection issues, and finally concluded that the heart transplant procedure was an option he would not choose. He returned home, and after a time, unexpectedly to us, he left this world.
When I learned Mark had died, that fact was mind-numbing to me as I hadn’t grasped the idea his death was eminent. My thoughts that morning I was told of his passing had been focused on a radio news item I heard that the United States has fallen to 37th in life span expectancy in a ranking of countries. Reasons given for this shameful standing included our nation’s lack of a national health care system.
Mark’s death prompted me to not only mourn losing him prematurely, but to wonder how a young Boomer-age man in the prime years of his life, with so much unrealized potential, could have failed to receive earlier-in-life health care that might have prevented his death?
I don’t know all the specifics of his life, but he had shared some of them during these years. He appeared robust and healthy, of normal physical weight and stature. He did not smoke or engage excessively in other self-destructive behaviors to our group’s knowledge. He never mentioned any serious illnesses or diseases that might have been associated with the development of his heart condition. If we had difficulty accepting his medical diagnosis I can’t begin to imagine what an incredible shock it must have been to him.
I recalled that a year ago last spring Mark had traveled with a well-known national politically oriented organization to a large California city up the Coast from Los Angeles. He engaged in pre-primary election campaigning on behalf of State candidates and issues that he strongly supported. He had been equally active in the Presidential election campaign two years ago. Mark had a busy life with his work contracts, social life contact with U.S. family and friends around the country and world. I know he had a vital interest in our nation’s health care system and welcomed expected insurance coverage changes.
Knowledge that Mark had no health insurance has stimulated secondary over-shadowing thoughts about his death. We all could ask many rhetorical questions about why far too many people in our nation lack optimum health care? Why our nation’s health care ranking is so low? How can we best refine the current health plan but not totally repeal it? More questions come to mind that others may wonder about for themselves, much as I’ve asked myself specific questions about Mark’s situation:
Why didn’t he have health insurance?
Was purchasing health insurance beyond his financial means?
Had he believed his odds were high for having no serious medical issues?
I wonder if he had ever received any preventative health care?
How would his life scenario have been different if he could have had preventative health care?
I’m absolutely sure that Mark’s individual health insurance coverage rates would have been very high, based on accounts from other independent contractor Boomer age consultants with whom I’ve spoken. My own family, in generations following the Boomers, have been subjected to excessive obscene health care rates and increases from which none of us are immune. And insurance rate increases persist. California insurance companies have merely put announced increases on a three month hold. The premiums the insured described above must pay are excessive, and seem unlikely to lessen unless further major overhauling of insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies is undertaken. But that does not presently seem to be on anyone’s agenda.
I’m confident that Mark would be seeking further refinement of our health care system and approve of the perspective here with my writing about him. I do wish he could express some opinions himself. Several times in recent years he initiated conversation with me indicating he was seriously considering starting his own blog and wanted to talk further about doing so. We never had that conversation. He never started that blog. His time ran out too soon.
A young writing group contemporary was stunned Mark had died since she had been unaware of his problems. She emailed me:
“I do keep realizing it is a privilege to be allowed to experience growing old when I consider how many people are deprived of it.”
Rest in peace my writing friend.