Of course, I had known this day would come. Saul had told me about his stroke, his later treatment for esophageal cancer and more recently, a stomach cancer.
Some months ago, he said, he had gone into hospice care and then explained in a column in May 2010 that it is available from Medicare if a physician states in writing that you have six months to live.
I knew all that. But each week, Saul's Gray Matters column (and every other week, his Reflections column) arrived via email well ahead of our deadline and I came to believe – or refused to think otherwise – that they would continue indefinitely.
When giving his Small Miracles story a first read on 13 December, I was startled by the beginning of the final paragraph: “Before I leave...” Which shows you I didn't really forget the limit of Saul's days. Briefly, I wondered if those three words were a portent, a foreshadowing or a hint Saul was giving us, his readers. I brushed the thought aside.
Now I think maybe it was Saul's hint for us that his time was near.
I first “met” Saul in June 2008, when he reached out to me after the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare made us co-winners that year of their Media Excellence Award – he for print (at Newsday) and I for this blog.
I do not believe I should be regarded anywhere near his stature, but there we were together and I am grateful now that the NCPSSM made it possible for me to know this amazing man.
After half a century as a journalist, one weekly Newsday column couldn't possibly be enough for Saul and I was thrilled when he proposed a column at Time Goes By. Titled Reflections, it began at the end of 2008, and continued twice monthly. He still wrote about health care, politics, Social Security, Medicare, etc., but from a more personal point of view than his journalistic Gray Matter column.
Then in November 2009, Newsday, which had published Saul's Gray Matters column on Saturdays for more than a decade, instituted a paid firewall that would make Saul's work unavailable to his many readers throughout the country. Saul quit in protest and then inquired if I would publish Gray Matters at Time Goes By.
WOULD I?! I couldn't fire off that acceptance note fast enough and I have posted both his columns with enormous pride ever since. He became my teacher on our common subject, my friend and my mentor. When he sometimes emailed to compliment a story I'd written, I sailed around a foot off the ground for a day.
Just ten days before he died, Saul asked if I would select six of his best columns from 2010 to submit to the annual contest run by the Association of Health Care Journalists of which he was a member.
Six??? It took me a couple of days to winnow it down from so many that are worthy. I cannot think of a better way for us to celebrate this wonderful man than by recalling and taking time to re-read some of the words he has left us with.
One of the columns I chose for the contest was Esophageal Cancer for its personal point of view combined with Saul's always excellent reporting and information.
Last July, he ended his column celebrating the life of Dr. Robert N. Butler with these words:
“Would that Butler were still alive to continue his fight to preserve the social insurance legacy that helped give this century the longevity revolution he celebrated.”
And equally so for Saul. In his field, he worked as fully and tirelessly as Dr. Butler toward the same goals and it is devastating to lose both these men in the same year.
As important as Saul's work is on policy and health care, I am particularly fond of his more personal columns. Here is his take On Turning 80.
He told us a bit about his radical political past in Seeger and Me.
In a recent column, Saul told us he was planning to take his wife, Evelyn, to Egypt to show her the pyramids and the Nile which he had visited many years ago as a journalist. Sadly, that trip won't happen now, but they did get to Botswana together in 2009. You can read about that trip and see some of Saul's photos here.
If your holiday celebrations kept you from visiting Time Goes By over the weekend, please read this extraordinarily beautiful remembrance from Saul's grandson, a young man who appears to be well on his way to emulating his grandfather.
Saul may be gone now, but his work lives on and he can continue to educate us and point the way, particularly in regard to Social Security and Medicare that Congress members, at the behest of their corporate overlords will try to gut over the coming months in the names deficit reduction and austerity. A good starting place is Saul's recent column titled Social Security – The Anti-Ponzi Scheme.
A powerful voice has been silenced. Saul had a profound impact on me personally and professionally. I have always taken this blog seriously, but I cannot count the number of ways he urged me to strive to be even better. It has been a bittersweet Christmas weekend mixed with sadness and great happiness, too, to have had this fine man as a friend.
I got behind in preparing stories for The Elder Storytelling Place. It will return on Tuesday.