I was half an hour outside of Minneapolis last Thursday when I got a call from my youngest daughter saying that her mother, my estranged wife, had died. None of us had expected this. She died of congestive heart failure. She would have been delighted, because this meant breast cancer didn’t get her.
Her mother died of breast cancer when she was 11, which left Reen to support her father emotionally, logistically, and often financially. When I met her she was 16 years old and was holding a full-time job as well as managing the household accounts and seeing to her father’s medical care. When we married, I was 18 and she was 17. Looking back, I believe I wanted someone to take care of me the way Reen was taking care of her father–I’d been on my own for about a year, and I wasn’t especially good at it. I believe Reen, on the other hand, wanted someone to finally take the burden off her and let her relax a bit.
Not such a good start. All she knew of love came from “I Love Lucy” and Carrie Grant movies–and I didn’t know nearly enough to contend with that. But we were together for 10 years, and produced four amazing children.
She created the character of Aliera, and you can still see her in it. When I was laid off from a programming job in 1980, she told me to take six months off and write a book, so I did; that’s why Jhereg exists. We met Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead, and Reen gave him a tarot reading, while I stood there with my mouth open. She found my old high school manuscript of my first attempt at To Reign In Hell and made me actually write the thing. When I became interested in music, she got behind it and pushed. How much of what I’ve accomplished came from her? There’s no way to know. A lot, though.
The Reen I married was like no one else I’ve met. Together with the solid, down-to-earth sense of responsibility, was a sense of fun, a sense of enthusiasm that I found irresistible–as did others who crossed her path. She found people–Martin, John, Mark–and pulled them into her world because her world was so attractive, so bright, so full of profound wonder. As she changed, and that part of her was gradually buried under health problems, pot smoke,and borderline schizophrenia, still, every once in a while it would show up and amaze anyone who was around.
We live in a world where, in addition to wonder, there are also mortgage payments, and car insurance, and medical bills, and food costs. Over the years, she went from the one who could handle all of that, to the one who needed it handled. I don’t understand how that happened, and I probably never will; but Martin was there, and so she and the children got what they needed. And because of that, I was able to focus on telling stories. Those of you reading this who enjoy my work should say, “Thank you, Martin.” Because, without him, at best there wouldn’t be as much of it.
When we learned from the autopsy that her heart was twice the normal size, everyone had the same reaction: That’s about right. Everything about her changed over the years, often becoming its opposite. Everything, that is, but this: she inspired love, because she gave it so willingly. And I think, even with all that went wrong, and even with all the could-have-beens, she made those in her life better people. At the end of the day, that’s not so little.