This Mortal Coil

To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;

For in that sleep of death what dreams may come

When we have shuffled off this mortal coil . . .

–Shakespeare, Hamlet

river rocks 1119

Mel Torpey, now retired, used to be a P.E. teacher and a gymnastics coach. Gymnastics was not a sport I understood, particularly — I still can’t clearly define a “kip” for you — but it was a interscholastic sport and I was the sports editor, so I included it in my weekly coverage.

I’m not sure any sports editor before me had made the sport part of the regular coverage, and I think Mel and her assistant, Kim Greer-Puchek, were grateful for that, but beyond that I just enjoyed getting to know both these women, who were at their craft longer than many coaches. In fact, when they retired, the gymnastics program was mostly retired as well. Kids (boys as well as girls) can participate in programs through the rec department, and there’s still a short season for middle schoolers, but there hasn’t been a high school team since Mel and Kim called it quits.

So I see them far less frequently than I used to. Lynn and I bumped into Kim last winter while out walking on a Riverwalk trail, and Mel I hadn’t seen in, well, I can’t remember. So on Sunday when I saw her eating breakfast with Patricia Patton, who worked one summer for Pat’s, I went over to say hi.

Mel, who hasn’t aged in all the time I’ve known her, was recently back from Larry Nims’ memorial service, which I should have gone to, over in Pueblo. (Patricia’s sister Abbie, who I think is still teaching in Kansas, also went. I should have gone.)

I said something about going to a couple of services this fall and missing a couple I should have been to, and Mel and I agreed it seemed like there had been a lot of memorials to go to. And then she shocked me. “And last week it was Jason — ” She couldn’t think right off of Jason’s last name, but when she started getting close in fumbling for it, I realized she meant Jason Swenson, proprietor of the local internet service used by Pat’s Screen Printing.

Unbeknownst to me, he was out of town working on a house, perhaps on Wednesday, when a massive heart attack killed him. When I took this news back to my own table, Carol said he was 59.

I did not know Jason well. In what is probably a true statement for many people around town, I am much better acquainted with his wife Paula, who has owned a small downtown plant nursery for many years, along with other businesses. She’s also been a city councilor and a county commissioner, and she has remained active in Western Slope politics, in addition to stumping for downtown business interests.

But I still remain a bit shocked by this sudden, completely unexpected death that I didn’t learn of until half a week after it happened. Especially when it turns out he was a contemporary of mine.

It’s just very strange to think that someone I saw from time to time, usually in his place of business as I was dropping off my bill payment, is just . . . gone. Like that.

This happened to me once before. I mean, as you go through life you learn of many deaths, some of them far less expected than others, but for some reason I still recall the stunned surprise I felt after learning that Denise Ritter, someone I mostly knew as a parent of kids I reported on and an involved PTA member, had died of a heart attack just a couple of days after I had seen her at a school board meeting, vibrant and vital and not remotely unhealthy as far as I knew.

And now Jason Swenson, owner of a small business whose services I utilize, is just gone in the same manner. He cooked for me once, when his wife hosted an event for a local candidate in their garage. He was wearing a shirt that said something like “College Parent” with half a dollar bill hanging out of it, suggesting his purpose in life was to vend cash for kids, and while Paula was working the room, completely in her element, he looked like he was quite content to hide behind his grill.

That’s about what I know of Jason, and I suppose my reaction is far less about him than it is about me. As Mel said Sunday morning, you just never know when your time might be up, so it’s incumbent on us to make the most of what we have while we have it.

Easier said than done, and I suppose in the back of my head I’ve always presumed my own death will come with plenty of warning, so that I can make sure all my affairs are in order. I have no idea why I think this, when my affairs are never in order.

Even though we did take a step toward this last week by visiting a lawyer. He said we were really not in too bad a shape, end-of-life-document-wise, but we told him we’d bring revisions and updates back this week. I don’t know about Lynn, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I mean to do this, I mean to do that, take action to shore up this loose end, tie up that one.

But instead of contemplating something that I am sure is very far off in the future — isn’t that what most of us want to think? — Lynn and I turned our focus over the weekend to outside chores before the weather turns. There is plenty to do in the now, so when do we worry about the later?

It’s just that for Jason Swenson, later wasn’t later, and even though I don’t know what those things were, I know he still had plenty of things left to do in his life. No rush; he had all the time in the world to get to them. Until one day he didn’t.

Mel was right, on Sunday when she said to Patricia and me, and herself, “Every day we wake up is a gift, and we need to treasure that.” If that’s the lesson of Jason Swenson, then something good has already come of his unfortunate demise.

One thought on “This Mortal Coil

  1. We were shocked and saddened by Jason’s death too. You described him perfectly when you wrote about his sticking to the grill while Paula worked the crowd. Leslie and Narcie have been after us for years to write down our wishes for a memorial service, and we still procrastinate


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