From the website of beloved Oregon author, Cai Emmons:
It is with sadness that we share the news of Cai ending her remarkable life on January 2, 2023. She had planned her death for her 72nd birthday, January 15, but ALS had other ideas. Like so much of her life up to this point, Cai faced her final days with clarity, untold bravery, and entirely on her own terms. She died as she lived, surrounded by love. Remember Cai with joy, do something generous for someone you love, dance (nakedly if you’re brave), and create and consume art that moves you in her memory.
Caroline “Cai” Eddy Emmons
January 15 1951–January 2 2023
by Cai Emmons 12/28/22
A good writer friend calls me a “completionist” because I insist on finishing a piece of writing even when I know it isn’t any good, whereas she is able to abandon work as soon as she senses it stinks. She is right about me; I can’t bring myself to toss something before it has a clear ending.
This completionist compulsion is in full bloom now as I prepare to die. Because I’ve known about my imminent death for a couple of years now, I’ve had plenty of time to prepare for it, to try to tie up the loose ends of my life. Initially this meant making sure I had an up-to-date will. It meant marrying the man I adore who I’d been living with for over twenty years. It meant having candid conversations with my son, sisters, and dear friends. It meant making sure Paul had all my passwords. Much of that flurry of activity happened almost two years ago, shortly after my diagnosis, and I had the illusion back then that I might move on and devote the rest of my days to thinking and remembering and dreaming while listening to music or books on tape.
What a surprise it was to see how life carried on and so did I. Those early efforts barely scratched the surface of wrapping things up. There were so many old friends, dear friends, I still needed to talk to. There was a novel-in-progress I needed to finish, a newsletter to write, two new books coming out that I needed to promote as well as I could. There were also household projects to complete, and Paul and I needed to spend as much time together as we could. I wanted to devour the world, do it all, even with the end in sight.
When I was in college a group of students formed a band called Entropy that played at many campus events. It was my introduction to the concept of entropy (I had not, to my chagrin, studied physics). But the concept — which for a layperson means gradual decline into disorder — took root in my consciousness and has colored much about how I have seen the world since then. It is the natural order of things to sink into decline, something I’m reminded of every time I walk down the road and see several sagging moss-covered buildings being reclaimed by the earth. Whoever owns them has failed to maintain them, and there will soon be little sign of them at all. It is also in the nature of living things to die and disappear. Much of our lives are devoted to pushing back against such entropy — shoring up buildings and our own bodies against their inevitable collapse. For a while it works, but in the end it’s a futile task.
When I was teaching, I emphasized — and pardon me for repeating myself, I know I have said this before — the importance of accepting uncertainty as part of the writing process. Keats wrote about this in a letter to a friend: accepting “negative capability” means setting aside “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” This is, of course, difficult to do, and one can’t do it in writing without doing it in life. When I examine my efforts to wrap up the loose ends of my life, I see that I’ve failed to fully accept negative capability. My efforts seem to be an irritable reaching for certainty and a neat conclusion to something — a human life — that will never be neat. Wrapping things up will not overcome the entropy of my own life, nor will it alter the nature of what that life has been.
What is a life, after all? It is not a novel. It is not an artifact. It is an energetic enterprise in which atoms cohere for a while before the organism they have been part of dies and decomposes, and the atoms take their energy elsewhere. If I had died suddenly in a car accident and had no time for goodbyes or clearing my inbox, would it make a difference in the life I have led? I doubt it.
Trying to wrap up my life in its final weeks has left me busier than I have possibly ever been. In addition to trying to finish the new novel in the next week, I have a list of letters and emails to write, daily Zooms or visits, a newsletter and blog to compose, a “death event” to plan, etc. Fortunately, Paul and I will going away for a few days in early January to take a deep breath together.
Part of me would like to be able to step back and say no to everything, but each time I consider that I realize I don’t really want to. I will die as I have lived, saying yes to everything, trying to bring closure despite knowing that neat endings are an illusion.
[. . .]
From PNBA Executive Director Brian Juenemann (pictured above with Cai):
My longtime friend and a fabulous author who conveyed her voice and spirit and made us all laugh—while relying on computer voice technology—at the PNBA show-closing Authors Over-Easy breakfast this September. [. . .] She was a force and inspiration. The photos I’ve attached are from the 2018 show when she debuted Weather Woman (below) and then from this year (above) when she launched two books from different pubs—Livid from Red Hen and Unleashed from Dutton.
We at nwbooklovers.org have been big fans of Cai Emmons and always will be. She will live on in our hearts and memories– and on our bookshelves. You can read more from her and about her in our archives. We wish love, peace, and joyful memories to all of Cai’s family, friends, and fans.