Editorial – Lessons from an island about life, death, and pressing on

The words come hard.  Really hard.

Earlier this month, as the pieces and parts of this issue began to fall into place, I had designs for a special editorial to fill this space.

It was sparked by seeing the first photos of Drew Eaton’s new boat (this month’s cover) and harkened back to a conversation I had at this year’s Maine Fishermen’s Forum in March.

Drew is the younger brother of Josh Eaton, one of the six Deer Isle-Stonington boys featured in my son Iain’s 2009 documentary, Life by Lobster, along with Seth and Lance Ciomei, Ben Weed, Scott Blackmore, and Mac Hardy.

Seeing Drew’s boat really drove home the point that the Life by Lobster boys have all – seemingly in a heartbeat – grown into men.

Among them there have been highs and lows, marriages and divorces, new boats replacing old, a skirmish with the authorities, fishing and more fishing, and kids — lots and lots of kids.

That was driven home in my brief chat with Butch Ciomei, Seth and Lance’s dad, at the forum.

I’ve been away from Deer Isle more than I’ve been there since my late wife Fraun got sick in 2011.  But the island is still my home, and where my heart is.  It is always a treat to connect with friends from home.

Butch wanted to know all about my life and my kids, but we also talked about grandkids and getting older.

Butch, who I imagine rarely took a day off work his entire life, shared that last winter he and Shari had rented a house in Florida for a few weeks – supposedly as a relaxing retreat from a tough Maine winter, but mostly (I think) a place to host kids and grandkids.

We both acknowledged the joy of aging into the grandparenting phase, wondering where the time went, and touched on the need to begin easing up a bit to stop and smell the roses.

My editorial – really more of an essay, I guess – was going to be about the passage of time, growing older and living vicariously through the successes of your grown children and grandkids, and the unique bond that we island parents all formed over the years collectively raising a great crop of kids.

It was going to be a slightly nostalgic, “feel-good” piece.  At least, that’s what I envisioned.

Then everything turned upside down.

The news that Butch had died suddenly in a freak fishing accident on May 18 was incomprehensible.

Reeling with the shock and disbelief that everyone was feeling, I tried to come to terms, but couldn’t.

Butch?  Not Butch.  Yes, accidents happen.  But not to fishermen like Butch.  A life of experience on the water and, to the best of my knowledge, not a reckless bone in his body.  No, not Butch.

But then, why Butch?  Why take a man who has worked hard his whole life, who gives so much and means so much in the lives of so many, just as he’s rounding the clubhouse turn?  It makes no sense.

I can’t say I knew Butch well.  I didn’t.  But I considered him a friend, a good man, and the kind of parent who instilled in his children a work ethic and sense of self-responsibility that prepared them to be successful adults.

Why do people like that, or Fraun – whose big smile lit up every room she ever entered – get taken away from us too soon?

I suppose people of faith have a way of coming to terms with this.  I don’t.  It just makes me angry.

But that’s probably not how Butch would want it, and it’s not the island way.  Life punches you in the gut, punch it back, and press on.  It’s what people do.

It’s spring.  New boats are going over, gear is getting set.

Gary and Paula Eaton are sure to proud as Drew heads down the bay in his new boat, as well they should be.

The Ciomeis will muster up as a family and push through the grief, supported by the island they call home.

And each of us, I sincerely hope, will stop and savor the blessings of this day – for life is short and it is precious.

Godspeed, Butchie.

Rick Martin


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