Death ends a life, not a relationship. Mitch Albom
Not all paintings are of a single theme. Photos can tell several stories. So can paintings. This painting – Beyond the Mountains – was inspired by a photograph shared with me by my friend and work colleague, Heather Taylor-Williams. Behind it were many discussions about our bonds to animals, our love of water and times in the sun, life’s tenuousness and the need to pay attention to what truly matters.
This painting indeed has several stories – the tie between a man and his dog, our love for getaways that allow us to be something other than work or busyness, the cost of losing a loved one, and the consideration that nothing is ever lost if we can see beyond our loss to a larger possibility.
The man in this painting is Heather’s husband, John Williams. The dog is his beloved Jetta, an 11 year old black Labrador. For John and Jetta, there is nothing better than sharing Martinez Lake, located along the Colorado River, near Yuma. For many years, John, Heather and their family have joined friends to play at this special place. The memories are rich, full of laughter and friendship and good times with all.
Martinez Lake still remains a precious place, but life has its way of reminding us that time is not stagnant and change is inevitable. Our children grow up. We grow older. Relationships begin and also end. We get busy, too busy sometimes. Bills have to be paid. A thousand considerations rule our attention. The obvious becomes lost. We forget to say I love you. We forget to hug our partner, or children, or friends, to let them know how much we appreciate them. We forget in the blink of eye everything can change and all those lost opportunities can turn to regrets.
John knew Andy Bratlien since first grade. They were close friends, spirit brothers actually. They attended each other’s wedding, and they saw their kids grow up together. They also loved the lake.
But in the summer of 2015, Andy lost his life. He was 50, way too young, on a boat, on the lake, when a bee took his life. Yes, a bee. Andy suddenly did not feel well. He never knew he was allergic to bees. Within hours he was dead.
How could this robust man be abruptly gone? It was not possible. Unthinkable, actually. Andy was only 50, for God’s sake. It was not fair.
Yet it happened. Out of the blue. Unexpected. Life, for whatever reason, told us in that moment that we were not in control. It’s a concept not easy for us to hear, especially for those of us obsessed with the need for control. I’m one of them.
Andy’s favorite hot weather beverage was Coor’s Light. If you look real closely at this painting, Andy is prominently in the center, sitting squarely in the middle of the pontoon boat, watching his friend’s back, as John looks to the view beyond with his beloved Jetta. That can of beer wasn’t in the original photo. But consider this. Andy’s ashes were spread from a Coor’s Light can by his wife and children. Quite a cue. Andy speaking? I think so.
So, what am I trying to say? Life is tenuous, for one. We don’t know what the curves in the road will reveal at any given time. We could lament the suddenness of losing someone so quickly, and we would have every justification for doing so. But I’m thinking, Andy is sitting back and drinking his Coor’s Light, watching over his friends and family with a smile, perhaps saying, “I’m good. Don’t be sad for too long. There is life beyond the mountains.”
Hmmm. Okay. Andy would not be happy if we buried ourselves in sorrow. Rather, he would love it if we celebrated life, his life, and while we are at it, lived our own lives well. It’s a moment to toast, with a Coor’s Light or your favorite beverage, but whatever you do, do it. Andy would say just that. For that I am sure.