For six years I’ve written poems for this publication. Many have included my daughter, Damaris Lee Jackson, born Jan. 15, 1954, in Oxford, England. She lived with me these past two years, while she was ill though seemingly well. She took her life Sept. 19.
When Damaris was six she attended a children’s art class. The directions were to become an animal, then draw about it. The children scampered off as elephants, giraffes, ostriches. But when they reconvened, where was Demi? The teacher found her in a hallway on her back, her arms and legs curled over her. “What’s the matter?” the teacher cried. “I’m a turtle,” Demi responded, “and no one has turned me over yet.”
This was Demi – always totally tuned into life, totally connected. Fun, funny, creative, quirky. And determined. In high school in Springfield, she commuted by train and bus to Madison, Wis., every other week to continue violin with her beloved, talented teacher. It was seven hours each way.
When she moved here recently, after teaching at a Minneapolis Waldorf school many years, she daily shared the little world of Sachi’s flower shop. Yosh Golden describes “her whimsical dancing figures fashioned from driftwood bits and colorful cloth tatters.” Demi chose gift cards, watered plants, waited on customers, delivered flowers. When her work was done, “she’d quietly retrieve her fanny pack and bicycle, and be gone before we had a chance to say, ‘See you tomorrow.’”
And she cooked. My kitchen was never so daring. Says Rodd Whelpley, “She was wonderful at putting odd things together, with the simplest ingredients, homespun dinners with always one dash of the exotic, one spice that gave it a Demi personality.” She often shopped and cooked with Larry Wright, and they were delighted when a streetside stranger stopped them, their arms full of groceries, and declared, “I know what you are – brother and sister!”
While here, she came to know a friend’s son, also ill, who after her death shared with his parents for the first time exactly how he felt about his own illness – a precious gift, my friend confided.
I’ve received scores of writings about Demi’s influence on the writer’s life; most I haven’t yet had courage to read. I hear she is all over the Internet. These stories, tributes, I haven’t looked at, either. Some have come through: One friend organized a meditation with friends coast-to-coast. During that shared hour Nancy said she felt a calm, light presence, and found a perfect feather. She says, “Demi danced through life, smiling. I never saw her do anything selfish. She never seemed Earthbound to me, a spirit that could soar – until the last, when whatever held her down seemed unbearably heavy.”
A Vermont friend told me of wild greens and mushrooms Demi picked and prepared, and the dozens of places they swam, in cold and rain as well as sun – Sheep’s Hole, Devil’s Cauldron, always swimming, and that Demi taught her not to fear boating. But they always boated together. The day after Demi’s death Carolyn first swore she’d never have the courage to boat again, then bought a two-person kayak in Demi’s honor: “I’m determined to bring my friends into the water, to carry on Demi’s spirit.” She also confided, “Demi shared her skill in gentle massage. Once during a massage I wept, for life was so getting me down. She said, “That’s okay. You’re safe here.”
Another friend: “She was one of the kindest persons I ever knew. She did not get crabby. Once she miscalculated daylight savings time and showed up at 4 a.m., not 6, for a breakfast we were preparing. Rather than grousing, she played her viola and was full of joy that she’d brought in the sun with music when the rest of us arrived, grumpy and sleepy. She was every kind of artist: dancer, visual, musician. The world hurts from her gifts being gone. Even those who never saw her dance or admired her quilts, her drawings, listened to her music, are missing something now, straining ear and eye for what is gone. Even those who never benefited from her kindness feel a little less cared about, long for her quizzical look of interest. Demi touched thousands of lives in ways we shall never even know. She was unique and irreplaceable.”
Damaris deeply loved living, loved her family and friends. A final personal story. I suffered a loss while Demi was in college. I was doing poorly. My compassionate daughter took a semester off to live with me. We teamed up in Marian Levin’s SSU creative dance class, she commented on my students’ papers, we hiked, cooked, laughed, and she brought back my joy. If only we could have helped her turn the turtle over, at the end, and given her life back its joy, too