'Til death do us part
Remembering Mel and Janie Master
I need to to tell you about some people.
There is this moment when you meet someone for the first time when you know it's different. Maybe it's a warm smile, the jovial shake of a hand or the way they instinctively and unceremoniously lean in for a kiss. The simplest way of making you feel suddenly like you are the most important person in the room.
The Master’s always wanted you to be the best you could be and they celebrated each greeting. Desperate and hungry to learn of all of your pursuits since you last met. To make you feel like you were missed and longed for and that your absence was absolute torture.
It started as any other lead. Client has bought an undervalued property and needs the curtain pulled back to expose the devil in the details.
Janie was punctual and just as happy to see me as a long lost cousin. There was a gravity about her, a tide that pulled at your feet, begging you to get swept up in fantasy and dream. As we poked and prodded at wallpaper and oddly placed walls and windows she spoke of France and Italy and Tuscany and how things were simply different.
There was a beautiful flippancy about Janie, in discussing a new roof line complete with dormers and a total rebuild, should would grab my arm and proclaim, “It’s simple Todd, we just pop the top, push this wall here, the stairs will go here, a wee window here so Mel can see the sunrise”
I, caught up in the dream, followed. Goldenly. Like chasing fireflies.
Mel always seemed to appear when discussions turned to money, yet Janie had this way of parlaying dollars into bottles of wine. Spoke of the investment and valuation….she would gather up all the papers, give me a wink and say “I’ll roast a chicken and everything will be fine”.
Janie knew Mel would never keep her from her dreams and Mel knew Janie’s dreams were exactly what they needed.
Richness has no relationship to prosperity, one day someone comes along and upsets your equations, makes you want to be a better person. It’s something that should be rewarded and celebrated and longed for.
We never discussed theology, it was an intoxication ill forayed, there was no time between dream.
Janie loved wisteria. What else but a beautiful alabaster promise, a hopefulness, as bewitching and intoxicating as wine, as love.
What they had was pure and innocent and rarified, we should all be as lucky. Godspeed.
— Shared by Todd Wallace
In August of 2023, Mel and Janie Master flew to Europe together for the last time. Their first stop was Paris to eat delicious food and empty bottles of their favorite wines. Then, they traveled on to Switzerland where they participated in an assisted dying program together on September 2nd.
Earlier in the year, Mel had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. A few months were spent discreetly looking for potential therapies, unbeknownst to the rest of the family, spare Janie. When it became clear the best options did not look great and would involve a long and tenuous fight with a low probability of survival, the couple made the decision to end their run in dignity.
This did not come as a surprise to the family. The two had been saying in high spirits for years that if one of them dropped dead to expect the other to not be far behind. Even when pressed on these comments in a more serious tone, they would express how they had been together so long that life without the other was unimaginable.
The couple met at the ages of twelve and thirteen and married six years later at nineteen and twenty. Ask Mel what made their 59 year marriage successful, and he would tell you that it was a perfect triad of patience, trust and his spouse being his best friend. Asking Janie would warrant a bit more nuanced response. She would tell you that no matter how much of yourself you give up to someone, to always keep your walled garden tended to inside. This is a place to retreat to in times not only of intense pain, but also exuberant joy—somewhere to recoup and be steady with yourself so as to avoid becoming over reliant on the outside world to determine who you are. A strong sense of self builds the foundation for a strong relationship, and a strong outlook on life.
While the announcement was not a surprise, it was surreal. Mel and Janie gave their family about a month’s notice to their plans. They were both still so full of life. Mel, while suffering from cancer, kept his usual demeanor through a combination of daily steroids and lack of chemotherapy. Janie on the other hand was in perfect health other than the expected age related decline of closing in on eighty years of life.
A few of Janie’s last words to me where that she was sorry to have to leave early, but that she has not been Jane Pringle—her maiden name—since she was 14 years old. Since then she had been Mel’s Janie, and he Janie’s Mel.
Mel and Janie Master were my maternal grandparents.
I have been reluctant to write about their passing here so as to avoid using a personal tragedy as a source of content. However when I read Todd’s above quoted post on Facebook, I felt I too had something to say about their lives.
What Mel and Janie Master left me with above all else was a memetic desire for love. Love of life, love of a true partner and love of self. Never wavering in the latter is what would assure success in the former two.
I went to visit the duo for a week before their passing. I stayed with my uncle nearby. In that short week, there were dozens of people who came through to say their goodbyes. As a member of the family there was a certain resentment I had a hard time shaking for not having more opportunities at 1:1 time with them. This resentment subsided over interactions with these others who’d come to visit, many of whom were also staying with us. I realized they had a similar feeling, having traveled from all over the world for a brief meal or an hour long rendezvous after having known them for what might have been longer than I have been alive.
Getting emotional in their presence was unacceptable. Any onsetting tears or the like was quickly nipped in the butt by a quick embrace and a comment of how excited they were for their next adventure. Life is long and they’d come to terms with their decision, even if the people around them hadn’t yet.
Working in the longevity space, when I will meet someone new I will often ask myself: ‘Does this person work in longevity because they love life, or are they afraid of death?’. Most people are in the latter camp, measuring life’s value in terms of length over quality.
I use this as a sort of vetting mechanism for people I want to build longer term relationships with because fear is a mind killer. A person acting out of fear will not make the same decisions in the face of a challenge as someone acting out of love. I don’t want to ally or work with people that are afraid. This is an oversimplified dichotomy, but I stand by it.
The Masters didn’t make decisions out of fear. I knew them as people who had the courage to take risks, coupled with a faith their risks were the right thing to do.
“Forgive us for leaving our own journey early - before the senility, pain and struggle become so painful that we become reliant on others to keep us alive in misery and pain.”
The thing I had the hardest time reconciling was how two people with such a love of life had so quickly embraced death without a battle. I am presenting only an early attempt to do so here. My sense is that it was an act of courage, not so much to spare themselves the battle of declining health as those around them.
Mel and Janie lived as much through others as they did in their own skin. As Todd hints at above, each reunion or phone call with the duo would have them rallying in exclamation when hearing about your pursuits, almost to a hyperbolic degree. Their love of life was impersonal. They sought fulfillment in life not only through their own pursuits, but in the totality of the human spirit.
I feel as though this is what made their decision somewhat easy on them. They left behind 3 children, 5 grandchildren, multiple living siblings, nieces, nephews and literally hundreds of friendships accumulated over a lifetime. All of these people would live on.
Mel expressed to me in one interaction that him and my grandmother had grown tired. Already they were starting to live more through others than they were themselves. The thing he noted as the biggest shame was not being able to see how our own journeys would go. And yet, for an unreligious man, he had some semblance of faith he would know anyways, as did my grandmother.
Part of the Whole
By Janie Master
I have not ceased to be because I died
As those who loved me thought and therefore cried.
I am no spirit, nor am I a soul
Yet now I am immortal! Part of the Whole!
The entire entity that once was one
Is now in plains, in forests, mountains, sea.
None of it lost, it is wholly there
In snow, ice, vapor, water earth and air.
Held as in a perfect state forever
Think of it as change, but dying, never!
I am the fog that you can feel at dawn
when you pull back curtains that have been drawn
And see the glory of the eastern sky
Where low on the morning bright clouds lie
In luminous colors of flame and rose.
They herald the sun long before it shows
Above the hills that encircle the dale
Which is lost in mist like a single veil.
I am the delight you can feel each day
That starts fine and bright with the sun’s first ray.
I am the beauty of a sunset sky.
I am the wild sound of a seabird’s cry
Above estuarine mud-flats, in the dawn.
I am bright dewdrops on an autumn lawn.
I am waves, breaking on sun warmed sand,
On cloud reflections in an off-tide strand,
On pale wisps of cirrus-cloud, drifting high,
On cool woodland under a summer sky.
For I have not ceased to be! I am still here!
I am all around you! So dry that tear!
A proposed revision of title: ‘Til death make us whole.