Every once in a while you meet someone who changes your life. That’s what happened to me one day when I turned into a driveway that had a sign out front that read “Japanese Maples.” I had passed that house for years—years, I tell you—and never had the courage to pull in. But this time, I had a reason: a new house. A blank slate of a landscape and a strong desire to plant some Japanese maples to go with our new Japanese-inspired house. That’s the day I met Leroy “Ned” Clymer.
Out of the house came Ned, charmingly friendly, upright, incredibly knowledgeable about Japanese maples…and old. I soon learned he was in his late 80s. But he seemed remarkably healthy and strong as he gave me a tour of his collection. A little part of my heart fell in love with him. If I could only be that strong and healthy at that age! I ended up buying more than 10 trees that day. All of them were amazing specimens of indeterminate age and priceless beauty. He gave me a great price, but I would have paid anything at that point.
Then out of the house came his wife, Mrs. Clymer. She was all bent over and needed a cane to get around, but incredibly sweet. We got a tour of their tiny house filled with a lifetime of memories and time spent living in Japan. As he told stories, I realized there wasn’t much they hadn’t done, and you could feel their love and even passion for each other that hadn’t been eroded by time.
I asked my landscaper to dig out the trees. He fell in love a little bit with them, too.
Ned and Mrs. Clymer even came to visit the trees a year later. Their twin daughters brought them since they were both too old to drive, although Ned still stood straight and tall. They were stunned that we hadn’t lost a single tree in the transplanting process. They even brought me a tiny stick of a tree that was Mrs. Clymer’s favorite kind. I planted it, and it is a jewel! Ned, who was a lifelong wild ginseng collector and advocate, even brought a ginseng plant to transplant into our woods.
For the next two years, every time there was an article in the paper about me I would get a call or, more likely, a voice message that went something like this: “Hello, honey, this is Mrs. Clymer. I saw the article in the paper about you and I am just so proud of you honey! I hope you are doing well. Me, I’m doing terrible! The only thing that still works is my mouth! But I love you honey, so take care. Goodbye!” At the time, my own mother was fighting her breast cancer to the death and my grandmother had long passed, and that little bit of maternal comfort would warm my heart to the core. Which is why it didn’t surprise me when one morning, sitting out on my couch having my morning coffee in the garden, my daughter said to me “Hey, look at that tree (one of Ned’s). It’s shaped exactly like a big green heart!” And so it is.
Time passes. I worry about them. My landscaper goes to check on them and reports that they are alive and well. The last time I drove by their house, Ned was sitting tall on his lawn mower as he sped across his big green front lawn. I got busy with work and have less time to putter in the garden. I tell my nephew, a fellow tree lover, about them. Spring comes, a time of planting trees…. I get an email from my nephew. He was googling Ned Clymer in preparation for a visit to him, and he came across an article from last year’s local newspaper (which, I confess, I have stopped reading). On July 5th, 2011, it reported: A 92-year-old man named Leroy “Ned” Clymer murdered his 87-year-old wife, called 911 and then killed himself.
Lately, I have heard from more and more people that their parents are surprised that they have lived so long. Many of them haven’t prepared for it either financially or physically. Most are stories of parents fighting a change: They don’t want to leave their homes but can’t take care of themselves anymore. I don’t know what happened with Ned and Mrs. Clymer. But in my heart, I have to imagine that what he did, he did for love.
We may never know for sure. But here is what I do know: I will think of them with love every time I see my beautiful Japanese maples. And maybe this year, I’ll even follow up on the thought I had last year as I saw the little Jap maple seedlings sprouting beneath the trees that I might transplant some of them and start my own little Japanese maple nursery, like Ned’s. He gave me buckets of unidentified trees that he had grown from seed, and I’ve gradually spread them out as their color comes true.
But I also will think about planning for old age. I will try not to pretend and deny that death is the final stop on this journey. I will try not to be afraid or stubborn about asking for help and accepting it when the time comes. I am putting this in writing so my kids have evidence I said this, and can flap it in front of my face when I cross my arms and say, “I ain’t leaving!”
Well, after all that, I will leave…but the trees will stay.
A SPECIAL NOTE: As I was finishing this blog and eating my breakfast while reading the local paper, the front page told another, similar story. A longtime community leader and a dear friend of my parents’, Charlie Snelling, also murdered his wife and then committed suicide. She had been suffering from Alzheimer’s for the past six years. The entire community seems to be rallying around the belief that he did it out of love. I’m not implying that what Ned and Charlie did is either right or wrong. However, I think the issue of how we both age and die gracefully—how we greet the end of life and help those we love to—will be one of the primary issues of our times.
What do you all think?
Thank you for writing about this topic and choosing to do so in a way that expresses love and understanding rather than the outrage and dismay so often related to these types of deaths. When used to describe a death, the word “murder” is associated with highly negative connotations: a “victim” is “deprived” of life or has life “taken” or “stolen” away. Perhaps these situations involved spouses helping their spouses to “die with dignity”, a term used to describe assisted suicide. As people in our privileged society are living longer, we will be confronted with the idea that some people may want to actively decide when to die if they no longer wish to live in under the given conditions (including illness or poverty). Some of these people may require assistance. In some places, this question is already being addressed and I hope we start to talk about it more. We also need to find a broader spectrum of terms than just “murder” to use when describing one person’s death at the hand of another. Bringing this issue out of the dark will allow us to remove the negative connotations and make it possible for the people involved and their family members to deal with this situation with less stigma and pain.
Oh, I SOOOO much believe in the right-to-die. Please, please, please, when it’s my time… PLEASE let me have the dignity of deciding for myself.
I got teary when I first heard this and I’m teary again reading it. Lovely story.
My first thought was that his wife must have gotten very ill, and he couldn’t let her suffer or be without her. How sad that must be. Thanks for sharing the story in such a beautiful way. You have given me a lot to think about.
I hear these stories reported in many communities & though it saddens me, I understand the actions. Although the media terms it murder/suicide, I see it as mercy and grace, as one can only imagine the heartfelt desperation in those moments to decide their fate & final moments. As I age, I understand it more. May they rest in peace, as it is not for us to judge.
You have touched my heart as you so often do sharing experiences from your heart. Thank you.
Thank you for such a lovely, spirit filled story about an extraordinary couple facing a daunting life choice. I hope your Japanese Maples continue to thrive in the spirit of Ned and his wife and these sweet memories fill your soul with joy for as long as you live.
It’s incredible. I have tears in my eyes. The story is sweet, yet terribly sad. I feel for both couples. Who’s to know what prompted them to act this way. Maybe they were just tired of life. Maybe they felt that they had done all of the “good” living that they could, and the rest of living life, wasn’t really ‘living life’ at all. I’m just sorry that it had to end this way for them all, and maybe it was what they wanted, but maybe their exit could have been more dignified. Who am I to say?
My husband and I have been preparing for this moment for some time now. I am a bit younger that him, but he have definitely been looking out for my waning years. I love him for it because all too often, we go about our daily lives as though we are going to live forever and in good health to boot! Even if we did not do this for ourselves, I would have done it in any case because I have known too many people who made the mistake of not planning as best they could for their old age. Since I have no children, and if I outlive my husband, I will certainly place myself in a home for the aged, and for now, I have the means to do so.
I just hope that we go out loving each other and giving each other comfort and be at peace with our decisions. We should all be so fortunate to do so. Have a peaceful and blessed Easter holiday.
Interesting post, thank you for doing it. I think suggesting that how we prepare for the end of our lives is tied to a pretense that we are immortal and will not die is wise counsel. I live in Oregon and we have the Death with Dignity act here for those who are terminally ill and suffering.
I am so with you on this. It’s a subject that’s been on my mind a lot lately because my parents are both pushing ninety with a very short stick and are fiercely independent and opposed to leaving their home. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on about aging in our society and I’m sorry to report that it’s not encouraging. We have become obsessed with the length of life rather than the quality of it. Strangely I have found very few people willing to discuss the realities of it beyond commiserating over a “difficult situation.” Thank you for writing about it in this way.
Thank you for posting this story. I am one of the people who cannot accept mortality. I tell myself that, short of being hit by a bus, death is a choice made either conciously or subconciously. Either way, one must ‘give in’ to the act of letting go. I say repeatedly, “I will never die, ” knowing full well that it is a completely irrational position, yet I can’t imagine leaving this world, leaving the people I love, not finishing the tasks I’ve set for myself (an endless, constantly growing list). I don’t know how to wrap my head around the thought of running out of time. I cannot find the means within myself to admit my life is finite. It is like a faith lost, or a faith never truly held, an experience I know well. I cannot go back to the supernatural beliefs I was taught as a child, no matter how hard I try, or feel I should, I just can’t retrieve it, yet I still believe there is something much bigger that connects us all right down to the simplest living creature no matter what the life form.
You might say I’ve hit a wall on both sides of reason. On the one side, I believe I’m immortal and cannot die, cannot be gone from this world, while on the other, I believe the universe is totally integrated physically and spiritually, and that the energy that is one being who leaves the physical plane is not lost or gone, but only poured into another vessel to continue animating the universe in some way that remains meaningful.
Well, enough – not sure if any of what I’ve written bears on your original purpose in sharing Ned’s story, but I thank you for making me think, and more importantly, for the opportunity to write.