My Sheri

I’ve done everything that I can to distract myself for the past three months and avoid posting on this subject, anywhere on the internet, or to wait until I’m able to do it justice and not embarrass myself or rush it or drag it out either in frustration or emotion.

This new WordPress.com blog will not be a place for posts of this kind. I promise you that. 50lux.com is about moving forward for me. The idea and opportunity of it and how it all came together for me now is something I will go into at a later time.

But there’s no question that what’s going on in my life right now, which I address below, is triggering a maybe instinctive survival mechanism that has created a need in me to put something out there that’s positive and hopefully beautiful, something that allows me to contribute anything at all worthwhile to the conversation about photography as well as broader subjects such as beauty, politics, and life.

I met a girl 17 years ago out at the Mobil station near my apartment here in Los Angeles. Her name is Sheri Wilson. Her mom calls her ‘birdi’. I used a nickname some people called me combined with Sheri’s nickname to make the internet username ‘jammerbirdi’ that I’ve employed for the last 16 or so years online.

Life with Bernadette, my significant other for 37 years, has never left me any time for friends but Sheri was instantly a huge part of our lives, in drama and in bliss, from the moment we met.

Bernadette and I are opposites. The dichotomy is that after all these years we are as one person, almost, but we are at the same time as different from each other as two people can be. It’s been a lifelong conversation between people who are like alien beings from different planets. It’s just a chemistry thing; we love each other like there’s no tomorrow, and it’s been that way now for most of our lives.

Sheri, on the other hand, is not my opposite. She was from the beginning like something that had sprung from my own subconscious. She was the little voice inside my head. I used to call her Dr Phil in a weave and from the first moments after I met her she was already in my head snipping wires and moving things where they really were supposed to go.

I was a boy of 37 when I met Sheri and I’ve said many times that she made a man out of me.

Three months ago, Sheri called on a Monday night from her car and said she’d be home in a few minutes, to be sure to answer the phone. When she called back she told me that she had just left UCLA and had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Sheri didn’t have lung cancer, that was a misdiagnosis. The largest tumor was in her mediastinum, the cavity where the lungs and heart are, but it had already collapsed her left lung, which I’m sure contributed to the initial misdiagnosis.

The cancer was stage 4 and lesions were also found at two places on her spine, as well as on her pelvis and on her ribs. It has since spread to even more places and it’s obvious now to everyone that Sheri never really had a chance.

So that’s where it is. The first three weeks I thought I was going to lose my mind. I felt like the cancer was inside my own chest. I was depressed and I told Bernadette that I was going to go about another day of being in that place before I’d call our own doctor and get referred to someone for some professional help.

But then I hit a plateau and I got strong. Sort of. Many of you probably know what I’m talking about when I say ‘sort of’. Because things progress, you’re always being hit with something new and it’s always something terrible.

I love nothing nearly as much as Bernadette. But I’ve often wondered did I love Sheri more than my own mother, my family, my best friend from home. I don’t think you can actually know the answer to some of these things.

My emotional trigger for the last three months, and Sheri’s, has been … we just can’t believe this is actually happening. Not to us. I know that sounds less than admirable but we were both thinking why is this happening to us? To our tiny circle?

I lost my mom 9 years ago and that’s a very very hard thing. I’ve never had children, something I’ve never been more glad about than I am right now. It’s said to be the worst thing to lose a child. But I’ve personally never experienced anything as bad as listening to my best friend, younger than I am, sobbing and asking why, why, why. She was so brave and strong initially. But at some point, I guess when the finality of what she was facing hit her she became a devastated person.

I knew that this would be the most difficult situation I’ve ever faced in my life. I knew that I might not survive it myself. I’m determined to survive it, though. I thank whatever forces put certain things in my world at this precise moment because I’m using them all to help pull me out of the hell of this reality and distract my attention and thoughts to other, much better realities, that are about moving forward and trying and doing something good with the time and gifts and people you’re given in this world.

Long before this news, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the two kinds of people in all of our lives. The people who are in this world, among us, and those who are no longer in this world and among us. I’ve got a lot in that second group, and other than my mom in 2003, they’ve been there for a long long time. My father died of cancer 30 years ago. My two older brothers are dead 30 years or more. I guess when you have so many that are no longer here you think about them and how much you’d give for just a five minute phone conversation. I can make a pretty good cup of coffee. What I would give to just make my father a cup of that coffee and sit down and talk about everything we never talked about when he was alive.

My best friend is in this world, among us. So for me, with this distinction working in my mind all these many years, the last three months of knowing that she is still here right now but will soon and forever be gone has been a very destructive place to be inside my head. I can’t sleep. I don’t care how sleepy I am. I lay down and think about something else and start to drift off but the instant my mind falls on the situation, as Sheri and her mom call it, it’s like the front of my brain shoots off like it’s strapped to the front of a rocket. It’s just like that. You’re not seeing anything. At that point it isn’t even thinking. It’s just like a rushing sensation. And the adrenaline jolt is the only thing that’s real. In an instant you go from almost asleep to up on your elbows trying to breathe.

Sheri’s in the hospital now. I don’t think she’s going to be coming home. But with things so close now to where they are going I’m at times, not now but this morning for a few hours, at peace somewhat. Like I can almost see who I will be when this is over and how I can and will move forward. I don’t know what I would do if I wasn’t getting that glimpse of relief.

You know, I never thought of this until this all happened but… one of the most real and painful realities is that I’m losing one of the few people, honestly, in this world, who loves me. Like an asset in my column. A vote for me. Sheri has always loved me and gotten me.

Sheri spent most of her life in health care in some capacity or other. She felt deeply for aids sufferers and worked in HIV for 15 years at Pacific Oaks Medical Group in Beverly Hills with some of the most important aids doctors in the country, including President Clinton’s one-time aids czar.

When Sheri was hired untrained as a drug and alcohol counselor decades ago she was offered the job 30 seconds into the interview. You had to see it all to believe it, the charm, the eloquence, the savvy, the talent and beauty and glamourous flare that is Sheri.

Everyone who met Sheri loved her because she was just the most different chick you’d ever known. I’ll be posting more pics and some video and sound files. Because I want people to know what kind of a person she was and what a unique character she was and what this world and her family and friends and especially me are losing.

This is a hard thing for me to post this here. I appreciate anyone who took the time to read it.

She’s 53, but she never looked a day over 37. She has a boyfriend in his 20s. And he is devastated. This picture was taken three years ago.

30 comments

  1. What a touching story of friendship, love and how very special people come into our lives. What you have given to each other is priceless and will be with you always. My heart goes out to you, Sheri and all the lives she has touched. Big hug Jammer

  2. Thank you so much, Lori, for the beautiful thoughts and support. It wish I could say more but it’s very hard for me to do that right now. Just know that I feel your big hug and really appreciate it.

    db

  3. Donald, This was beautiful..it touched me and I can certainly relate to every word your wrote. Thanks for sharing your feelings…may your words be a comfort to you and Sheri.

  4. So touching and beautifully written. My thoughts and prayer are with you all at this time. If you would like, I can come do Reiki on her so she is more comfortable during her transition. xox

  5. This is deep. Feeling for, about someone whom we know just from your post and your photo. Intense, like we know her for years. Life, the mortal flicker between now and then, is full of sadness and joy. You have made it larger.

    “Only in silence the word,
    only in dark the light
    only in dying, life;
    bright the hawk’s flight
    on the empty sky.” – Song of Ea, Ursula K LeGuin

    1. I’m speechless, Godfrey. Such a beautiful response. I hope I get to read it to Sheri very soon. Unbelievable. Thank you.

      db

  6. Thanks for letting me know she was a great person and friend. I hope doing this helps both of you in some way. Best wishes.

    1. Thank you, Scott. I don’t know if it really has helped me. I held back on it for three months. People always bring this stuff online to Facebook or other social media. I thought it was a good thing to do but I just couldn’t even type the words that I had to type in order to put together the post. Just couldn’t bring myself to even say it. But things got to the point where I just did it. Why that afternoon? Who the heck can say. It came out right though. So I guess waiting was the right thing to do.

      Anyway, thank you again.

      db

  7. Jammer, touching, insightful and moving. I think you have captured the essence of grief: losing someone you love AND losing someone who loves you. Hoping you find peace that you are able to share with Sheri and all who are a part of her life.

    1. Thank you, Jay. I guess there are perspectives – like the losing of someone who loves ‘you’ – that you just don’t really ever consider until you’re sitting in that place in your life.

      Thank you again for your kindness and support. It means a lot.

      db

  8. Donald, you have told me about Sheri but reading this was truly wonderful. I am so very sorry. Even though we have never met in person I hope that you know that I really love you and Bernadette. I really wish you three the very best. I wish that I could be there just to meet this lovely person. It would be great to have a friend like that in my life. May God bless.

    1. Thank you so much, Mike, for the beautiful message of love and support. I know what you yourself are going through and for you to take the time to read this and reach out means the world to me and I will pass on your message to Bernadette and Sheri.

      Much love and support back to you, my friend.

      thank you

      db

  9. Donald,

    There is something in the Universe, which I think of as synchronicity, which a lot of people dismiss as coincidence or chance. In this case it has led me here to read your blog and I hope that what I am about to write will bring you some comfort.

    I believe, from personal experience, that the Universe is one whole and we are all joined together through it. Again through personal experience, if a message is sent out asking for help then it will be provided, but very often it comes in a form which is difficult to recognise or appears not to be what was asked for.

    Souls, in the form of humans, come into our lives when they are meant to and also leave likewise; as Sheri came into your life, and those of many others when she came into theirs through her work as a carer and counsellor. It is now time for her to leave the body she in at present and move on to carry on her work of helping others.

    It is my belief that the soul is eternal, it is not born and does not die, it inhabits a human body to learn and carry out what it wishes to do in that incarnation, and to form links with other souls for mutual aid, as she has formed a link with you and your wife. These links are likewise eternal and last through all time, the link between you and Sheri was probably formed before either of you were born as your present bodies and will not now be broken.

    Your grief is palpable in your writing and that is as it should be. Take all the time you need to grieve for that is the healing process at work, and as with a physical wound, the deeper it is the more time is needed.

    “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die”

    May your God go with you

    Chris

    1. Thank you, Chris. Your beautiful calming comment is tremendous comfort to me. And I’m sure it will be taken in and internalized many many times by me in the future.

      It wasn’t easy for me to share this life event online. It’s not that I didn’t want to. I certainly wanted to. But there are things … there are things a person can’t bring themselves to type and put down into words. You can’t bear to make those sentences happen or to give them life. My inability to share all this earlier was just that basic.

      Sheri and I were both big believers in not even giving voice to certain things. And that can be a very useful approach to a myriad number of things that really don’t deserve to be given voice to. But I don’t think that’s even behind my own inability to write and share what was happening with Sheri’s illness. It was all just so sudden that the disbelief factor, sort of like confusion, and the gravity of it, the GRAVITY of it all, to people happily going through life like we were, we had a hard time really believing that this was even really happening.

      Honestly, there’s just this part of me even today as I write this response to you that isn’t really quite sure that it’s all real and it’s really going to happen like this.

      Anyway.

      Just can’t thank you enough for your kindness, Chris.

      thank you

      db

  10. I just wanted to let you know that I knew and work with Sheri for as long as she was at UCLA and she was a beautiful person inside and out. There are certain people in life that touch your soul; I can say I was bless to have known her and know she left a positive trace in my life for knowing her. I will always remember her beautiful warm smile and hugs she would give me when we saw each other. I can almost certainly say she touched many people’s life with her warm positive energy she gave out unconditionally. Eventually I left UCLA to return to school heard about her diagnosis. In recent nights I have prayed for her and her well being but unfortunately today I got the news that she passed away today ;( “Sheri, thank you for being a wonderful person to me without even know me and for being so caring. I will always remember your beautiful smile and your kind gestures.”

  11. This is an AMAZING piece! I met Sheri three years ago and am so thankful for having done so! The world suffered a loss today! She was truly amazing.

    “Because I want people to know what kind of a person she was and what a unique character she was and what this world and her family and friends and especially me are losing.” – Ahhh,,,,well said!

    1. It’s so comforting to hear from people who knew Sheri on the job. I know she must have been a blast to work around and treasured by those who were fortunate enough to do so. Thanks for you comments, John.

      db

  12. Donald,

    I am so sorry for your situation. I belong to a church, although I seldom attend, however I don’t think it takes any special theological perspective to feel that we have souls, and loved ones are connected on some level beyond this physical plane. To use a photographic term, your frame of reference is influenced by every experience you have ever had, but especially by the people you have loved and been loved by.

    As a talented photographer who has been generous enough to share his perspective with the world, every time you press the shutter button you are in some small way paying tribute to Sheri, Bernadette and all the other people who have been part of your life.

    Treasure Sheri’s sparkling spirit in this life and beyond, and keep taking photos that move people, tell stories, and honor all those lives which have touched yours.

    May Peace be with you, even through the pain.

    David

    1. Thank you, David. Your words are more comforting than you know. Sheri passed away last August 28th. So last year was what it was. Thing is that I thought that when the calendar turned to 2013 that this year would be about moving on, putting last year behind me, getting past it, etc. That’s not what happened and this year has been honestly in some ways even more difficult. Last year was like crisis mode and shock. From January till about June, this year was about grief, confusion, and disbelief. I’m happy to report that a lot of that has started to lift, finally. This month is tough because I met Sheri on the 11th and last saw her on my birthday, the 25th and she died on the 28th.

      Thank you so much for your kind eloquence at this time, David.

      donald

  13. Thank you for sharing this beautiful albeit painful chapter your life. I know that special people like this never leave us or those whose lives they touched and blessed. Further than that I can only endorse every word of David’s beautifully composed comment above.

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