26 August 2019

Nelson Ball, 1942 – 2019: His last day

Over on Facebook, on the Nelson Ball Poetry Fan Club page, there has been an outpouring of sadness, love, and remembrance around the death of beloved poet, publisher, and bookseller Nelson Ball on August 16, 2019. Cameron Anstee has written a beautiful appreciation of Nelson on the Apt. 9 blog. rob mclennan posted a fine obituary on his above/ground blog.

I'd like to share with you certain details about Nelson's death on the afternoon of Friday, August 16, 2019.
Nelson opted for a medically assisted death at the Brantford hospital where he had been for about six weeks. It was clear that he was ready. His friend Suzan Yates says his mood brightened after he made this decision. It was tough news to get, but I respected and admired his decision. (A decision he was fine with being made public.)

I want you to know that Nelson died peacefully and comfortably, with dignity. He had taken control of his last days. He had asked Suzan, his friend Catherine Stevenson, and I to be in the room with him at the end, and I can report that he smiled several times during our final short visit. The attending doctor, nurse, and staff witness at the hospital were compassionate and human, and it was apparent that they themselves were moved.
On the previous Wednesday, a few of us had gathered at Nelson's place in Paris, Ontario. Laurie Siblock stumbled upon a passage in an unpublished journal by Barbara Caruso, Nelson's wife of 44 years. The entry was dated December 31, 1989 (Barbara died twenty years less one day after she wrote the entry). It reads:
Man does fit into the universe. We can know this by the simple fact that all men die. Our great schemes of progress and our sophisticated technologies have done nothing to change that. We may believe (to our detriment) that we can ignore this fact, but that does nothing to change it. If we ignore the fact of death and all of its implications in relation to the nature of things (and of the universe), we devalue life. The tragedy is that societies that will not understand the necessity of dying, cannot understand the necessity of living. I believe that it only takes two to start the revolution, but it is equally true that the revolution is going on all the time.
Suzan mentioned this excerpt to Nelson on Thursday and he indicated that he wanted to hear it on Friday.
So these words from Barbara Caruso were, in effect, the last thing Nelson heard, read slowly and beautifully by Catherine. He listened with eyes closed, concentrating, nodding at several points. After the reading, the four of us remained silent for several minutes. Nelson loved good conversation, but I think he loved comfortable silences at least as much.
Soon the medical staff came into the room, at 2 o'clock. Nelson died at about 2:07 pm.

So many of us have been re-reading Nelson's quiet, sublime, wonderful poetry ever since. I hope you will too. Re-read it, or read it for the first time. It is remarkable how present Nelson is in his own poems.

 Over and out.


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