The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

To Charlie

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My good friend Charlie and I found each other through blogging back around March 2006 – nearly 5 years ago – which in blogging terms makes us old, old friends. In fact we now share quite an overlap of blogging buddies, but it is lost in the mists of time as to who introduced who to whom (or is that whom to who?).

A few weeks after we started commenting on each other’s blogs, I put up a post about my experience of giving up smoking. In the comments he wrote, “Ah, Kim. I started smoking as a youth, although my Mom beat the hell out of me when she found out, but I never learned the lesson. And here I sit this morning, dying of emphysema.

I had to look up emphysema and was rather horrified at what I found.

Not sure how to respond, I wrote, “I was caught by surprise by your comment and have sat here for quite some time, staring at the screen, trying to figure out how to respond: light hearted quip? sympathy and understanding? burst into floods of tears? And I can't think of how to effectively get away with any of them without coming across as really glib or trite.

“So I want to ask you, Charlie, what kind of response do find it easiest to hear? I don't want to cause offence, and I don't want to ignore it either, but my experience in the world hasn't equipped me for an appropriate response.”


Charlie’s reply was, well, pure Charlie - “Kim: I did put you in an awkward position--I have only mentioned my illness once on my blog, and I was reticent to do it then. Mainly because I neither like nor solicit sympathy.

“My lung disease is, like my past alcoholism, the result of my own bad decision-making: no one forced me to drink or to smoke. I accept the consequences of my behavior, and so should you.

“Perhaps a simple "I'm sorry to hear it", then, will suffice.


Charlie doesn’t like outpourings of sentimentality and sympathy, he accepts the consequences of his past actions, and he’s happy to offer words of advice. If you can learn anything by not making the same mistakes he has, then the world will be a slightly better place.

Charlie is also a damn fine writer, and over time he began to influence the styling of some of my posts. I started experimenting with conversation pieces and opening posts with somebody saying or yelling something odd or unexpected. Little devices to make you want to read further. I started learning from a master.

However, Charlie was never a consistent blogger. He would write for several months and then disappear for long periods of time – usually just after I’d told someone what a great blog Charlie had and they should start reading him. Twice, at least, he completely deleted his blog and all its contents.

Aware now of his debilitating and degenerative illness, I was never sure whether these gaps were a sign that the worst had happened.

I once sent him an email enquiring if he was still in the land of the living, or words to that effect. Forever more this was referred to as the “Are you dead yet?” email, which seemed to amuse him no end. Irreverence rather than sentimentality has always been the basis of our relationship.

In many ways it seems bizarre I have never met him in person. It is a sign of the different and unique age in which we live that we can build up deep and powerful friendships with people who live thousands of miles away, and we have never heard their voice or even have much idea what they look like. And yet, with the power of email, instant messaging and blogging, Charlie has become a very close friend indeed.

2 years ago in an email exchange he revealed he’d been given a year to live, if he survived the winter.

6 months ago, we (his regular blog followers) were sitting with our hearts in our mouths waiting on reports from another of his friends, Wandering Coyote, who kept us up to date with Charlie’s progress as he’d been whipped off to hospital. Many of us feared this was the end.

I had a condolence card all ready to send to his wife, Martha, when word got back that he’d survived. I had to score out my message and put “Get well soon!” on it instead.

Well now Charlie has called it a day on his blog. Energy levels and eyesight have diminished to a point where keeping us all entertained is no longer possible.

So I would like to just raise my glass to Charlie and say a deep and heartfelt thank you for nearly 5 years of humour, pathos, entertainment, education and emotional support.

To Charlie

Much love

Kim
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23 comments

savannah said...

this is the best type of tribute to a friend! he'll read it and know how much you care. i can't seem to find an articulate voice to express how i feel. charlie has been a real touchstone for me in ways that i can't even say. xoxox

Ponita in Real Life said...

Glasses will be raised everywhere to Charlie... blogger extraordinaire. He has also touched my life, in ways more personal because of my mum (I so understand his battle with emphysema) but also in discovering a voice out there that is purely magical, his words forever etched in my mind's vault.

To Charlie... xoxo

Vicky said...

Glasses will be raised as Charlie's blog was a wonderful read :)

Ron Tipton said...

My heartfelt sympathy to you Kim and your dear friend Charlie. I am at an age now where I am losing friends to death and mental illness (dementia). There is no getting around the sadness of these losses. My own father died of lung cancer ten years ago. I watched him slowly suffocate to death, hooked up to oxygen tubes and numbed with morphine to kill the pain in his chest. He was warned many times over his 80 years of life to give up smoking. He never did and as a result died a slow and painful death. I don't mean to be ugly (well, maybe I do) but pehaps some good will come out of these unnecessary deaths due to smoking. Don't smoke.

debra said...

I, too, raise a glass to Charlie. A special fellow indeed. (o)

mapstew said...

I don't know what to say. I can't remember how I found the lovely man we know as Charlie. Possibly through you Kim, or sav, or Pon, or Jimmy. I'm just glad we got to know each other, all of us. I am a much better person for it. I'll raise a glass to you Charles, and even better, I'll sing a song for you, my friend.

Slán go fóill mo chara 'Cathaill'!

:¬)

hope said...

While y'all raise the glasses, I will begin the standing ovation to raise the roof with the sound of our love for our "invisible" friend.

Kim, you said it better than any of us could. We all love Charlie for just being...Charlie. :)

Falak said...

:)

Sandy's witterings said...

I'm not sure how well you get to know people from their writings - I for one don't write about all sorts of things mainly because I consider it my business, but I'm pretty sure you often get to know people quite well and you certainly feel for fellow bloggers in the way you do friends in the more traditional world when things happen to them.

I popped across to Charlies for a wee look and it is a touching last 3 blogs (eapecially the middle one)- thanks for the direction.

V said...

What a post, and what to say? Here's to meaningful friendships wherever they are are found x

nikgee said...

I am kind of new to the blog world. Just like everything else with me I ease in slowly, not sure if it is for me. As time has pasted I have developed a few ties. Enjoyed their posts and missed them when they did not post. What I am trying to say is I have changed my opinion. We do draw close to one and other through our words. WORDS ARE EVERLASTING. Living way beyond our years.

Pat said...

I remember very clearly that I found Charlie thanks to you and I'm so grateful. I think you have the perfect relationship with him
I'll raise a glass just now but I'm not giving up on him. His spirit reminds me so much of Old Hoss. He also was dying and left his nursing home, remarried his first wife and spent some happy months with her on the loose. Never say die - whatever happens Charlie's spirit will live on - certainly in our hearts.

Fluid Idleness said...

beautifully written.

Mary Witzl said...

Charlie has been my pal too, thanks to you. I'm so sorry he's had to give up his blog, but I won't give up on him just yet either. I know he has more words in him -- I just hope we'll get to hear them.

Mr London Street said...

This is a lovely tribute. I have been by Charlie's blog quite a few times, having been introduced to his work by The Domesticated Bohemian, and he's quite something. I really hope there are words left in him - the second of his three recent posts was very affecting and terribly sad.

Wandering Coyote said...

Thanks for this post, Kim. Long have I been thinking about how to articulate my relationship with Charlie & my feelings about what's going on. I'm not at a place where I can write about it yet, but I really appreciate this post because I know exactly how you feel. I needed to feel a little less alone in this.

Katie Roberts said...

Big tears in eyes, sending love and care to all who love and care for charlie. Hugs Kd x

Stinkypaw said...

Nice tribute, thank you. I've been working on something and words seems to get stuck... it's tough.

Jayne Martin said...

I'm sorry I never got to know and read Charlie. My aunt had emphysema. What a horrible disease. What you said about making good friends here in the blogging world is so true. I'm sure Charlie felt the same about you. I know I do.

Eric said...

It goes to show you that even when we get close to people online the nature of a cyberspace friendship we can get comfortable in, and then something happens, that takes us aback. On the one hand communication brings us together, but perhaps not as much as we would like.

You made me feel very unfortunate not to know your friend, that's certainly a nice tribute to him and to you.

LegalMist said...

My uncle also died of emphysema. Not a fun disease. Encouraged all of us to either avoid or quit smoking.

What a kind tribute to your friend.

I hope he won't delete his blog before I have time to read it...

Kim Ayres said...

I won't answer each comment individually this time, but thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts with me.

Alice said...

To Charlie.

There will never be anyone else like him. That's for sure! Thank you for leading me too him over a year ago. I'm grateful I have had that much time to experience him.

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