What novelist Cai Emmons taught us about how one can die

Cai Emmons, novelist and playwright, was furiously busy within the months main as much as her dying Monday at age 71. However she would possibly properly be greatest remembered for a weblog she maintained after she was identified with bulbar-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis on Feb. 4, 2021.

In a collection of posts, she candidly mentioned the modifications in her bodily self whereas additionally celebrating moments of pleasure. She wrote of her willingness to carry nothing again, to fix previous rifts, to concentrate on moments of magnificence and to notice the sublimity of a life properly lived. As she wrote in her final put up on Dec. 28, “I wanted to devour the world, do it all, even with the end in sight.”

In late November, Cai took a guided psychedelic mushroom journey meant to make her snug with the bodily technique of dying. “When the mushrooms took hold,” she wrote, “I imagined shedding my body, wriggling out of it like a worm offloading a thick skin, then hovering above as I watched myself being carried away.” Shortly thereafter, she asserted her proper to die underneath Oregon’s Loss of life With Dignity regulation and was granted authorization by her medical doctors.

A drug journey to discover what dying would possibly really feel like was in character for a girl with boundless curiosity. Whether or not she was recounting her love for skinny-dipping, taking part in sensible jokes or plunging into a brand new writing undertaking, her sense of play and humor endeared her to mates and readers.

Emmons, whose novels explored subjects together with girls’s rage, maternal love and grief for a planet in disaster and whose most up-to-date novels, “Livid” and “Unleashed,” have been each printed in September, died surrounded by relations and mates at her house in Eugene.

“Cai Emmons ended her remarkable life today,” learn a statement released on Twitter by her household Monday. “She faced her final days with clarity, untold amounts of bravery, and entirely on her own terms. She died as she lived, surrounded by love.”

To the tip, Emmons was making new mates, and I think about myself exceedingly lucky to have change into one in every of them. I first met Cai and her husband, playwright Paul Calandrino, in August once I interviewed her for a profile in The Occasions. We sat on a patio surrounded by flowers and buzzed by hummingbirds, speaking with the assistance of Emmons’ speech synthesizer. A number of hours handed as we mentioned her writing profession, her political passions and her 20-plus-year partnership with Calandrino, whom she wed shortly after her prognosis. Considered one of my greatest reminiscences of that afternoon is the sound of Cai’s frequent laughter.

Emmons was born Jan. 15, 1951, in Boston and grew up in Lincoln, Mass. She graduated from Yale earlier than incomes an MFA in movie from New York College and one other in fiction from the College of Oregon. She taught at USC earlier than becoming a member of the school of the College of Oregon, instructing fiction and screenwriting from 2002 by way of 2018. A documentary about her by filmmaker Sandra Luckow is in manufacturing.

Cai Emmons, within the bed room work house she referred to as the “cockpit.” She completed her final novel shortly earlier than her dying.

(Todd Cooper / For The Occasions)

Initially a playwright, Emmons wrote the performs “Mergatroid” and “When Petulia Comes,” each staged in New York. Along with a group of quick tales, she printed six novels. “His Mother’s Son” (2003) was awarded the Oregon E-book Award for fiction. Her 2018 eco-feminist novel, “Weather Woman,” was praised by KLCC-FM, the NPR affiliate in Eugene, for its “evocative writing and resonant themes” and for balancing “a thoughtful concern for the world” with “individual human concerns and passions that make a compelling story.”

Though “Unleashed,” which interweaves a mom’s grief over her solely baby leaving for school with the ravages of a Northern California wildfire, was written earlier than her ALS prognosis, Emmons felt it mirrored her physique’s consciousness of the illness. “The novel was written over the year when I was losing my voice,” she famous. “It seemed to run out of me, and it was so weird, but I didn’t care… That book seemed like something that was a roaring from my body.”

After we first spoke, she was engaged on a brand new novel, which she accomplished shortly earlier than her dying. Her latest work is an exploration of anger over the rise of fascism and nationalism in twenty first century America. Cai rued the setbacks in actions towards gender rights and racial and social justice. She acknowledged that her rising sense of peace with dying needed to be balanced along with her passionate rage about injustices that will outlive her.

She additionally explored these themes on her weblog. In response to a pal’s query about whether or not Cai was “a Pollyanna,” she mentioned she was genuinely optimistic, as a result of the presence of family and friends buoyed her. However, she famous, “I live in a state of cognitive dissonance, floating on my hammock of love as I watch humanity going down the tubes.”

Shortly after I interviewed Cai, I acquired an e-mail inviting me and my husband to dinner. Extra meals quickly adopted. Considered one of these occurred on the evening of the midterm elections; we toasted as Cai was reassured that, a minimum of for now, American democracy had been preserved. Her dad and mom’ civil-rights activism impressed her first literary effort, a poem about racism. This November evening, she shook her fist in triumph as varied races have been referred to as.

On my final go to along with her in mid-December, it was apparent that she had misplaced most of her bodily energy. However as we spoke in her “cockpit,” the entire work house she had created in her mattress, she nonetheless radiated ebullience as she recounted the richness of moments spent over Thanksgiving with those that now survive her — Paul and their son, Ben; her sisters and their households. The smallest caretaking interactions between Paul and Cai exhibited what you’ll be able to solely name real love. In a single weblog put up, she wrote about Paul brushing her hair each day: “I close my eyes as he strokes and pats and fluffs. I would happily sit there all day under his gentle ministrations. The ritual has come to feel almost sacred.”

I really feel honored that happenstance introduced Cai into my life; watching her journey has modified me in methods I’m solely now starting to course of. Shortly after 4 p.m. Monday, in my very own home in Eugene, I watched wild cloud formations from my window and imagined that she was free and using the wind. She died at 4:12 p.m.

In “Unleashed,” Cai wrote a passage that’s tough to not learn as her reckoning with these she would go away behind. “We would become for them a memory, or a dream they could make sense of and would ponder again and again, trying to understand … We imagined them wishing that they, too, might someday sample the satisfactions of a stripped and simple life.

“No grasping, no greed, no ambitions, no malice.
Enough. Gone. Full stop.
Sniff the glorious world.”

Berry writes for numerous publications and tweets @BerryFLW.