2015 was not a banner year for this blog, with fewer posts than I’ve written in most years. Truth to tell, it wasn’t a banner year for me personally, either.
I lost a lot this year, which had started off promisingly. I had a new job, one that seemed might be a good fit after a period of unemployment. In the end, it wasn’t, and shortly before the holiday season began, I lost it. Along the way, I lost much of my savings and a chunk of my pride.
Also this year, I said goodbye to the USS Ranger, the aircraft carrier I served aboard in the Navy, as it was towed toward a scrapyard in South Texas, which I wrote about here.
All of that, however, paled compared to the loss of Sarah Lynn Nicklaus, my former girlfriend, who died in September.
I met Sarah in the summer of 2009, not long after I had been laid off from one newspaper but just after I had accepted a job at another one, in another, somewhat nearby city. She had just moved to Houston from her hometown of Austin, after getting her first job in her chosen field, as a hospice social worker.
We met when we both attended a church service being given by a mutual friend, then in seminary and now a Unitarian-Universalist minister. When he introduced us, she smiled so warmly that I told myself I had to get to know her better. I boldly (for me, anyway) sat next to her during the service, and was blown away when she beautifully sang one of the hymns. “You’ve done this before,” I joked, only to learn later that she was a classically trained soprano.
The relationship progressed very quickly. Within a month of meeting, we were a couple. It was a wonderful time, but also marked by the strain of being a commuter relationship, with me working in that other city during the week and driving back to Houston to be with her on the weekends.
I was struck not only by Sarah’s outer beauty, but also the depths of her inner conviction and idealism, which was brought into full measure as she worked with her dying patients. Sometimes, I worried that she carried too much of that with her.
That early, blissful period was short-lived, however. Just a few months into my new job, it became clear that the management and I had very different ideas about how I should best cover my beat. And just about the same time, Sarah, who had suffered from health issues for much of her life, started to become very sick.
Sarah had an underlying condition called Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome, a disorder of the connective tissue. As a consequence, she developed gastroparesis, which involves the inability of a person’s stomach muscles to function, making it almost impossible for the person to hold down food.
I won’t go into details here. Suffice it to say it is a horrifying condition, and Sarah suffered tremendously. Ultimately, it led to her having a stomach tube permanently implanted — right after Christmas 2009. She was 28 years old.
A few months later, I left the job at that newspaper. The disagreements with the editors were the primary motivating factor in the decision, but also there was the strain caused by Sarah’s health issues enhanced by the separation.
It was during the immediate aftermath of that decision that I conceived the idea of this blog. There were a couple of reasons behind it. First, it would serve as a way to continue doing journalism, in a fashion; and second (and really, the foremost reason), was that it would give me a platform to cover a court case that I was interested in, a continuation of my work at the newspaper I had just left.
Sarah was the first person I told about the blog. She was extremely supportive of what might have seemed a foolhardy idea. She read the drafts of my earliest posts, and offered very good advice.
In the months that followed, we both tried very hard to maintain a healthy relationship despite our own individual struggles, me with the turmoil in my career and she with her continuing health problems, and the self-esteem issues both those entailed.
In the end, it became too hard. Although neither of us really wanted it, we broke up. It was one of the most sorrowful and guilt-inducing events of my life.
At first, Sarah and I tried to remain friends. A few months afterward, she was going to have another medical procedure performed. I was with her in the hospital.
Later, however, it became too hard even to remain friends – misunderstandings, miscommunications, petty arguments and the like. Gradually, we stopped having any meaningful communication whatsoever.
Her health issues compounding, Sarah moved back to her hometown to be with her family. I understood the decision. I hoped we could become friends again, but that was not to be.
Then one morning last summer, I learned through Facebook that Sarah had entered hospice herself. A longtime proponent of the “death with dignity” movement, she decided that she would not continue to live with the horrifying pain of her condition.
I reached out to her again, telling her in a message that while I struggled with it, I accepted her decision. Somewhat to my surprise, she replied, giving me a chance to say goodbye. For that, I will forever be grateful.
Sarah died nine weeks later. I learned of it, again, on Facebook through a mutual friend. A week and a half later, I traveled with my mom to Austin for the memorial service which she, true to form, had planned herself. It was beautiful.
Sarah, too, was beautiful, inside and out. Like all of us, she had flaws, but I often felt I did not deserve to be with her. She taught me that love is truly possible.
This blog, in its entirety, is dedicated to her.
Copyright © 2015 Ken Fountain. All rights reserved.