I didn’t know I’d be sharing this story when I left New York for tour and I just need to say that I’m driving into Seattle right this second, a place I’ve never been and also home of Jane Catherine Lotter. She was born and lived and died there, and she changed the way life moves around in my brain.
I was raised in a Southern Baptist family and while I no longer believe in that version of God, I easily managed to come out on the other side with little resentment and a heavy dose of respect for their ideals and commitment. But in that clear holy division of rights and wrongs, suicide seemed more than unpardonable. In August of last year, I stumbled upon an article in the New York Times about a Seattle native who wrote her own obituary (Washington state having established the Death with Dignity act in 2008 for terminally ill patients.) Jane Lotter’s decision to end her life after a diagnosis of inoperable grade 3, stage IIIC endometrial cancer was, to me, the opposite of a desperate, selfish move – it was an act so brave and powerful and had more impact on my daily moves and thought-patterns than anything had in a long time.
I’m the sort of songwriter who’s always a little surprised at what comes out but 85 was particularly thoughtless. It became itself. What struck me so deeply about Jane’s words – her actual, final words – was how intensely grateful she was for everything; all of it. She would miss her children and her husband and the hand holding and the walks through Pike Place but she seemed so happy to have been given the life she now had to give back. Having been brought up on the idea that what happened after death was more important than the Right Now, I always feared the loss of other people more than the loss of my own life. Something about how gratefully Jane Lotter let hers go made me realize what a stronghold I wanted to place on mine. She ended with a “beautiful day, happy to have been here” and I suddenly realized how many days I want. I want all the time, please, all of it. And then I want the grace to give it back, so thank you thank you thank you, Jane Lotter, for publicly summing up your life in such a way as to make me notice all of mine.