Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Dave Werth

David F. Werth ObituaryI have been avoiding some text messages on my phone for over nine months.

They were from Dave Werth, who lived here in Salem. He commented here on this blog, and elsewhere, as "Riverrat."

He liked to travel down rivers on inflatable rafts -- hence his nickname. Dave got in touch because he read my blog, and after I moved to Salem, where he lived, we had beers several times, and once went to Portland together to see James Hansen speak.

He was a software programmer for Garvin, who makes GPS devices. Later he invited me on a rafting trip down the Snake River, but I couldn't make -slash- was afraid I couldn't make it.

We didn't know each other well. My fault mostly. I do not make new friends easily, a bane of mine, a painful difficulty.

The last time I saw him, sometime in spring 2018, we met at a McMenamins -- a pub -- in suburban Salem. We commiserated about our various ailments -- being two lonely single guys in our 50s -- and he told me he had cancer, and it was consuming his insides, and it was pretty serious. Sadly, I'm not really sure I knew him well enough to understand its full extent.

And then, just before Christmas last year, December 18th, I was in my bathroom trimming my pathetic little beard to go somewhere and I received this text message:
(1/3) David, we haven't been in contact much lately but I want to let you know they found a big cancerous tumor in my liver and it's not likely I'll survive much past Christmas. But we had a few interesting times together like the Hansen lecture and I felt like I owe you something before I just disappeared. Thanks for some good memories, Dave Werth.
I called him immediately. I didn't know what to say. He was surprisingly forthright about it all. We talked, about the few times we had together, and also about global warming, something we had often talked about, because we knew each other through my blog. I remember us agreeing that global warming had turned a corner due to Hurricanes Garvey in Houston and Maria in Puerto Rico the previous year.

We only talked for a few minutes. Our friendship wasn't deep. Perhaps that was my failing. What do you say in such a situation? I said I was thankful I knew him and I had fond memories and I regretted I wasn't able to raft with him down the Snake River.

Then it seemed his illness lingered and he was going to live past Christmas. A few days later he send a group text:
(1/2) Folks, turns out things are not quite as dire as I was making out earlier today and I'm not going to die tonight or not likely in the next several days.

(2/2) I'm making this generic message so I can copy and paste and save some energy.
He was so open and direct.... He lived until the new year. Dave died on January 12th in the presence of both of his sisters. I think, from what I can tell, that that was a happy situation for him.

I didn't know him well enough to go to his funeral, I thought, but now I think I did and I made a mistake by not going and I'm kicking myself. Knowing me, I will kick forever.

I haven't been able to fully look at Dave's text messages until today -- I've been carrying them on my phone since December.

But today I was able. Again I didn't know him well. But Dave was special because he was astonishingly willing and able to look his death straight in the face and accept it. I didn't know a lot about him, but wish I did. He had a lot of dignity and bravery in his final weeks. He didn't have a wife or kids but he had his sisters and he had courage. He really impressed me. He moved me. No one else in that situation has ever done exactly the same.

And I've been thinking about it, and about him, ever since, with his text messages on my phone. Until today. Today I was able to read them. Today I was finally able to write this.


Marco said...

David, very brave to write this. We all have regrets for which we kick ourselves. Sometimes small steps create big strides, however. Some suggestions: visit his grave, message his sisters, perhaps even send what you wrote to them. And have a beer in his name.

David Appell said...

Thanks Marco, I appreciate your message.

You're right, I should write to his sisters at least.

Layzej said...

I knew him on Slashdot as riverat1. He will be missed.

Marco said...

Do that, David. I am sure they will appreciate it.

DocRichard said...

David, you are not alone.

Apparently, we medics will toil all hours to help someone avoid death, but if there is no more effective medical response available, we tend to "switch off" our attention to the patient, apart from giving adequate pain relief.

It's embarrassment I suppose. And unfamiliarity with the situation. After all, we rarely encounter dying people, but a dying person encounters people who are unfamiliar with dying people all the time.

Given that we are all going to go down this path (apart of course from people who die rapidly and unexpectedly) we all need to brush up on our techniques.

David Appell said...

For some reason I thought I wasn't close enough to Dave to attend his funeral. I thought I might be intruding on his family. But now I remember how many of my (younger) brother's friends -- not close friends, but just people who knew him, some just guys he had once worked with -- saw his obituary in the paper and came to his funeral. It was very touching. It meant a great lot to me to see them there, to see whom my brother had known and maybe touched and who had touched him.

I regret that I didn't remember this and consider it when Dave died.