Photo of Heather Askeland
“I don’t need a cloak to become invisible.”
~J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
I found out earlier this week that a fellow Lyme sufferer in the USA took her own life. I never met Heather, but I know her journey. All late-stage Lymies know, and understand, because so easily, that could have been us. The news of Heather’s death made me sad. So very sad. And angry. But anger won’t bring her back.
The news of Heather’s death made me feel helpless too. I never knew of her struggle until it was too late. This wretched disease that has wreaked havoc and destruction in the lives of so many, including mine, became too much for this young woman to cope with on her own. People need to know. It isn’t right.
Sadly, Lyme disease, like most ‘invisible’ illnesses has a very high suicide rate. Sufferers get worn down by their illness, by the cost of treatment, by the contempt of friends, family and many in the medical fraternity who don’t believe that they are sick. When you are desperately ill, and you can’t work, and you have no money and no safety net of family or friends (or you wore out your welcome, or spent your family’s last dollar) and you can no longer take care of the most basic survival tasks in your life, you run out options pretty fast.
But that’s not why I’m writing this post.
I’m writing to honour Heather Askeland as a poet, and an artist. I wanted to share her work with you. I wanted her to be remembered with the fullness of who she was.
This is a poem she wrote about selling her beloved violin to help pay for treatment:
the sold violin by Heather Askeland
the A string keens, a notch flat, lost
songbird carrying morning.
the sun is a steak knife slicing dust.
you crouch, release the zipper’s
low whine. case like a toothless mouth.
there is no music here.
no wooden neck to cradle
like a newborn’s head,
no thin steel creasing prayer
into fingertips. no satisfied tendons,
other than the nightly fever.
you used to play Tchaikovsky.
your fingers were silverfish,
the audience thunderclap your
favorite drug. now bright lights spin
you like a top. snap you in two,
a severed dandelion.
you are lucky. illness is expensive.
you trade horsehair and childhood
recitals for antibiotics.
how many centimeters of soundpost
for homeopathic injections? for the
metronome of an IV drip?
how much varnish for hair loss?
for the skipping stone
pulse, for each battle between gut
and bread? which Bach sonata
for the skeleton memory?
your neurons are sunken ships,
the dead fish sing you lullabies, let meat
rot in cupboards and crackers grow freezer crystals.
for a moment you panic. wonder why
the case is empty. check the windows. the cats
are two otters in their sun pools.
you remember: the violin is gone.
the violin is everywhere.
it is white cells, methylation pathways
morning yoga sessions. medication three times
a day and herbs that taste like molding twigs.
the 1812 Overture blasts its cannons
with each push of blood from chest to toes.
no one can hear it but you.
your arms are warm.
the music never left, is waiting for you
to turn it up.
Image from wall alpha coders
And this is the final video Heather made, her one last shot at trying to find help. As you already know, it never came.
Spare a thought for Heather today. Say a prayer, send a blessing, wish her peace. Honour her short life for the artist she was – not as her disease, not as a lyme warrior – honour her for her poetry and her caring heart.