As she plummeted toward the Wisconsin countryside below, JorJan Borlin tried desperately to straighten out her parachute. The lines had tangled, creating what is known as a “Mae West” effect, the chute ballooning out between them. It was only her second jump and the ground was coming up on her much too fast for her to pull out her reserve chute.
In a flash, she calculated: “If I pull my reserve chute I’ll swing sideways, and when I hit the ground I’ll break my pelvic bone. If I land on my feet, I’ll break my legs.” She knew that she was going to break something. As a young woman of 23 who hoped to have children someday, JorJan opted for landing on her feet.
The impact jackknifed her body and pitched her head forward, slamming it against her legs. She felt numb from the chest down but at the same time was experiencing tremendous pain. She knew that her back was broken and later found out that she had a compression fracture of her vertebrae in the lower lumbar area. The bones there had been crushed into tiny fragments the size of sand and splinters.
Since that day in 1970, JorJan has had to walk with a cane in each hand and braces on both legs. But she had managed to prevent too many internal injuries, thus assuring her ability to have children. And ten years later, in 1980, she and her husband, Peter Schwei, had a blond-haired baby boy they named Teddy.
Teddy was an exceptional child in many ways. For one thing, he weighed nine pounds, 12 ounces when he was born, causing the attending nurse to remark, “This one must have come with his own paper route.” For another, he appeared to be surprisingly mature for his age. His mother noted that he had the wizened, knowing eyes of an old sage.
He talked and made attempts to stand rather quickly, but by the time he was six months old, his parents noticed that he had not developed certain motor skills that he should have had by that age. Then he began losing some of the ones he already had. The couple took Teddy to their pediatrician, who found a telltale cherry red spot in his eye–representing an accumulation of fatty tissue around the optic nerve–and he was diagnosed as having Sandhoff’s disease, a rare genetic illness similar to Tay-Sachs disease. He was expected to live two, maybe three years.
But Teddy didn’t live two or three years. He lived to be almost seven years old, the oldest known survivor of Sandhoff’s disease. The fact that he lived so long had as much to do with JorJan and Peter’s around-the-clock care as it did with Teddy himself–a remarkable boy who defied his classification as deaf, blind, and cerebrally dysfunctional.
During the last few years of Teddy’s life, Peter painted a powerful series of portraits of his son, endeavoring to depict the physical, emotional, and spiritual experiences of living with a boy like Teddy. A group of some dozen paintings, aptly titled, “Living With Dying,” is currently on view (through June 23) at ARC Gallery, 1040 W. Huron.
Sandhoff’s disease is rare. It is estimated that perhaps 1 in 100,000 people carry the defective gene. Symptoms are similar to Tay-Sachs disease, but Tay-Sachs is much more common among all population groups. There have been only 12 to 15 documented cases of Sandhoff’s disease in the U.S. since it was identified around 20 years ago.
At birth, children with Sandhoff’s disease appear normal. At around six to eight months, they begin to regress; they have seizures and soon lose the ability to move voluntarily. They never learn to speak, eventually become blind and deaf, and, most significant, are unable to swallow. Death, usually from pneumonia, occurs between the ages of 18 months and three years.
The probability of two people who are carriers getting together is remote. If they do, there is a 50 percent chance that their child will inherit the gene from only one parent and simply be a carrier. There is a 25 percent chance that the child won’t inherit the gene at all. There is also a 25 percent chance that the child will inherit the gene from both parents and develop the fatal illness.
Basically, Sandhoff’s disease is an enzyme deficiency that progressively leads to the destruction of the central nervous system. The enzymes (hexose aminidase A and B) break down metabolic waste products (sphingo-limpids) in the nerve cells. In the absence of such enzymes, the waste products accumulate, eventually causing destruction of the cells. Cells in the brain stem are more resistant to damage than those in the cerebral cortex, so cortical activities like rational thought, speech, and voluntary movement disappear first. Autonomic processes like heartbeat, respiration, and temperature control are the last to go.
Neither JorJan nor Peter had any idea that they were carriers. It’s possible that they were the only two people living in the city of Madison, Wisconsin, who harbored the deadly gene. The chances of two carriers falling within the same age group and being attracted to one another is infinitesimal.
They met in Madison at the University of Wisconsin, about a year and a half after JorJan’s skydiving accident. She was working on a PhD in chemistry and he was a medical-school dropout enrolled in graduate school in Tibetan studies. A year later, they rented a log cabin in the country and moved in together.
After they moved out of the town, graduate school quickly lost its appeal. Although JorJan and Peter had backgrounds in the sciences, both had artistic interests that had been largely unfulfilled. They decided to live off the land and try to make some money fabricating items to sell at art fairs. She created batik clothing and wall hangings while he carved wood figures and fetish objects.
Following a particularly lucrative sale of Peter’s wood sculptures in 1974, they put earnest money down on a farm in Dodgeville, Wisconsin, and borrowed the down payment from Peter’s mother. For the next five years they shared a bucolic existence, making art and tending their own sheep as well as their neighbor’s cattle. When JorJan became pregnant in 1979, they were married. And on September 6, 1980, Teddy Naemyd Schwei was born.
“In some ways, he seemed to mature so early,” JorJan recalls. “We consulted a child development book and he had all his fine motor skills, but none of the large motor that went with it. For a long time, we said things like, ‘He’s not going to be a football player, he’s going to be a computer programmer.'”
“We thought maybe we weren’t doing enough to stimulate him,” says Peter. “We went out and bought him all kinds of toys to stimulate his big muscles. He never learned to crawl and could only sit up if you helped him.”
“He only rolled over once,” JorJan says. “I remember he struggled and struggled to roll over and I thought it was so cute, you know, so I turned him back over. He just glared at me like, ‘Mom, that was the worst thing you’ve ever done,’ and he never did it again. After that, I always felt like, why didn’t I just leave him there?
“Then he stopped doing things he had done before, like talking,” she continues. “He used to do this activity that we called ‘reading the paper.’ He’d sit and turn the pages of these small shopper newspapers, which was pretty strange for a little kid anyway. If you would say his name, most kids at that age would look at you, but he’d just stop reading the paper and wouldn’t do anything. And if you didn’t say anything more to him, he’d start reading the paper again.
“We thought, well, he’s either turning into this snotty little kid who’s ignoring everything we say, or maybe he’s autistic and doesn’t want to relate to us,” she continues. “So we took him in at around eight months because we were concerned and wanted to catch whatever it was early.”
Their pediatrician suspected something serious as soon as they mentioned that Teddy had regressed. After examinations by a neurologist and an ophthalmologist, and an enzyme analysis of his blood, a positive diagnosis of Sandhoff’s disease was determined.
“What we really hoped to hear was, ‘Oh, you guys are just being silly, he’s just fine,'” JorJan says.
“I still remember riding back from the doctor’s appointment in total shock,” says Peter. “I don’t know how we even made it back to the house. It was just unbelievable.
“It was bizarre in the sense that Teddy was still doing well enough that he demanded all the usual kind of energy that an eight-month-old child does, and we were in shock over the fact that he was going to die when he was the most normal-appearing of the three of us.
“The first time it got to me,” Peter continues, “was when we were riding home and we passed a school bus and it suddenly sunk in: Teddy’s never going to ride a school bus; he’s never going to go to school.”
As a matter of fact, Teddy did go to school, but that was something JorJan and Peter couldn’t have foreseen.
JorJan and Peter spent the next couple of days with their son outside in the garden and in the woods.
“There was a very paradoxical aspect to our grief,” JorJan says. “We were sad that Teddy had to be that way, but he was our son and he wouldn’t have been Teddy if he hadn’t had Sandhoff’s.”
Of course, it wasn’t always easy to be philosophical. “There were periods of time when I really couldn’t stand to see healthy little boys,” she confesses, “particularly after we found out about his illness and then again after he died, but not so much in between.”
They decided that they wouldn’t do anything extraordinary to keep Teddy alive. But what was extraordinary and what wasn’t became a very gray area. They ended up deciding that extraordinary meant anything they couldn’t do for him at home.
“When we first found out about the disease, the doctors had indicated that he would turn into a vegetable,” JorJan explains. “We thought that if he ever really became a vegetable, we’d consider putting him into an institution. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t. And he never did. We wanted to do the very best for him. I think when you decide to bring a child into the world, you’re making a commitment to do the best you can. In Teddy’s case, it was making him as comfortable and as happy as his life could be.”
She mentions, however, that some things they had to do were “hurtful.” Because he had great difficulty swallowing, a tube had to be put down his throat three or four times an hour to suck out the saliva. This wasn’t necessarily painful, but it was extremely uncomfortable for him. Whenever he contracted pneumonia, which happened more and more frequently as he got older, he got painful injections three or four times a day for several weeks. Toward the end, Teddy had to undergo what’s known as “postural drainage treatments,” which involved putting him upside-down on a board and pounding on him in different positions in order to drain the mucus out of his lungs.
“He’d really get agitated,” Peter recalls. “He didn’t often complain or cry, but in those situations he would. It was like, in order for him to live, you had to torture him. And if you didn’t do anything or were nice to him, he would die. Good and bad, life and death got all mixed up.”
Because of his difficulty swallowing, Teddy couldn’t take a bottle, and as he got older he had to be breast-fed up to eight hours a day. Eventually a stomach tube through which Teddy could be fed mushed-up food was surgically implanted.
Because Peter had to get up very early to do chores on his and some of the neighboring farms, it became JorJan’s job to care for Teddy at night. Typically, she slept next to his bed, and when she heard him start to choke on his saliva, she would turn on the suction machine and clear out his throat. This occurred approximately ten times per night. It got so she could almost do it in her sleep.
Teddy would finally wake her up for good around 6:30, pushing against the bed frame and crying “Muh, muh, muh.” As soon as he knew she was up and making breakfast, he’d go back to sleep. Each morning she gave him a sponge bath. He’d be given food and medicine through his stomach tube every three to four hours. A couple of times a day his parents would exercise him, gently twisting his feet and bending his knees to keep his muscles from tightening up. After lunch, JorJan would knit, letting the yarn run through Teddy’s fingers. (By this time, JorJan and Peter had set up a cottage industry, raising sheep and making wool clothing and selling it through a mail-order catalog.)
Evenings were devoted to listening to music or watching a basketball game on TV with Teddy sitting on Peter’s lap. They had a set of what they called “smell bottles”–bottles containing spices or cotton balls soaked in essential oils–which Teddy liked to smell. On a special occasion like his birthday, they might feed him ice cream and cake in his tube, but let him have a little taste of it in his mouth, too.
“I think he really got the sense of when you put something adventurous in his tube,” JorJan recalls. “One thing he loved to have you do is pour baby root beers from A & W down his tube.”
Despite Teddy’s obvious limitations, he seemed to mature, in some respects, like any normal child. When he was between three and four years old, he became interested in little toy figures.
“We hadn’t really thought about the fact that he might be maturing at the same rate as other kids,” says JorJan. “But I noticed when I was visiting my parents with Teddy one time, my mom had a Planet of the Apes man that she peeked up over the edge of Teddy’s bed and he glommed on to that thing and would not let go. That was going to be his little thing.
“He became attached to it like other kids would become attached to their teddy bears. He always wanted it there. After that we got him other creatures. He tended to like the more bizarre ones. His favorite one in the end turned out to be this Arkus creature, a purple thing that looked like a big insect with three red bird feet, a green head, and silver bones. Kind of an outer-space dinosaur.”
Peter built a small stagelike structure with lights, a mirror, and platforms upon which an array of such creatures could be arranged. Teddy enjoyed looking at them and at himself in the mirror, and if the arrangement was changed in a way he liked, he would smile appreciatively. Clearly, he was no vegetable, nor was he blind or deaf.
“If Teddy didn’t like something, he’d tune out,” explains Peter. “One of the little tricks he developed was something we called ‘playing possum.’ He couldn’t run away and hide physically, so he’d just blank out. I’d even catch him at it when he thought we weren’t looking at him, he’d come out of it and check things out, then if you looked at him, he’d be gone again. So if he didn’t like something, he’d be gone and there was nothing you could do about it.”
“He’d be pretty selective about some things,” JorJan agrees. “We bought a bunch of Dr. Seuss books, and with the ones he didn’t like, he’d play possum. But The Cat in the Hat was another story; he really liked The Cat in the Hat. In some ways, the Seuss books aren’t all that different, they’ve got the same kind of rhythm. But if you read him The Cat in the Hat, he’d pay attention and smile.”
Although it was obvious that Teddy could see and hear, he tested blind and deaf. Doctors would flash lights in front of his eyes and make random sounds in his ears and Teddy would play possum. But when they put earphones on him and JorJan and Peter spoke to him from another room, he paid attention and responded.
“Teddy really liked music,” Peter adds. “He’d respond to my fiddle playing or to classical music on the stereo. Other kinds of noise–a baseball game on TV or rock music–no. Everybody who tested him medically in the last year or two of his life came to the conclusion that he flunked the tests. Yet anyone who had any contact with him, like us or the nurse or the hospice volunteer who relieved us one day a week, all swore, up until the day he died, that he was aware of things. He knew when people were there or when they weren’t. In fact, I remember the nurse would always be amazed at how excited Teddy would get about five seconds before she heard our car come up the road–and not just any car, but our car.”
Teddy liked affection. He liked to be kissed and hugged, and he especially liked being held–which became a bit of a challenge when he got to be four feet tall and 70 limp pounds.
“I still can’t sit on the bed and watch a basketball game without thinking that his head should be about right here sitting up and leaning back against me,” says Peter. “I don’t think he was watching TV as much as interacting with me. He just liked being with us and held. I’d catch him sort of looking up at me sometimes to see if I was still watching TV.”
Big movements like being rolled from side to side made Teddy laugh. Peter also would play something he called “strong arm”: he would push gently against Teddy’s hand with his hand, and Teddy would resist. Peter would act as if he couldn’t push Teddy’s hand back and then give up, as if exhausted, and Teddy would smile as if he had won. But if Teddy stopped resisting first, then Peter would win.
“Sometimes when Teddy would get started laughing, he wouldn’t stop. And, of course, that got us laughing,” JorJan recalls. “He had a black sense of humor. One of the things that would consistently make him laugh would be if I were feeling bad about something that was on TV. Like once I was watching a special on children with AIDS, and I was feeling pretty sad and identifying with the parents, and he just started roaring. It was almost as if he could sense the tension in you. I sometimes wondered if, in his own way, he wasn’t just feeling that it wasn’t worth being sad about stuff, because being sad isn’t going to change anything.
In the summer of 1983, JorJan became pregnant with another child. When she was 20 weeks pregnant, the baby, a girl that JorJan and Peter named Coriandra, was diagnosed through amniocentesis as having Sandhoff’s disease. Again the odds were only one in four that the baby would inherit the gene from both parents, and again the odds went against them. The couple couldn’t imagine taking care of two children with Sandhoff’s, but placing a newborn in an institution seemed like a bad alternative. (Early on they had taken Teddy to one for a week’s respite, but without their care he had grown noticeably dull and out of touch with his surroundings). So in September 1983, JorJan had an abortion.
“I made Coriandra a coffin as part of my grieving process,” Peter says. “I felt really bad about it, but somehow I had to come to grips with what was happening. The way I’ve always done such things is through my artwork. So I designed a Tibetan wheel of life on the inside of her coffin and various symbolic paintings and carvings on the outside, and put a poem by Rilke on the bottom.
“While I was at it, and while my woodworking stuff was out in the barn, I thought I’d better make a coffin for Teddy,” he continues. “I was really convinced that Teddy wouldn’t make it another year. So I made him a coffin, which is still out in the barn. By the time he died, almost four years later, the coffin was way too small. I was going to do the same artwork on Teddy’s coffin as I did on Coriandra’s, but I could never bring myself to do it. Because he was alive! And he was Teddy! Somehow I couldn’t do that for him because it was like saying he was going to die.”
JorJan made a mattress for Coriandra’s casket. While she was making it, she could feel the baby (named after the coriander flower, which blooms for only a week or so then dies) kicking inside her.
When Teddy was five years old–a half a year older than any child with Sandhoff’s had ever lived to be–he started attending a special class for the trainably mentally handicapped at Dodgeville Elementary School. Peter and JorJan regretted that as an only child he was missing out on interacting with other children. Although there were classes available at other schools that could address more appropriately Teddy’s specific condition, they were too far away.
“We thought maybe some of the parents of the children in the class might be put off because Teddy was so far behind,” says JorJan. “But the other children, most of whom had Down’s syndrome, wanted so much to do things for Teddy that he became the most popular kid in the class.”
Peter adds, “It was one of the first times in their lives that they had contact with anyone who was worse off than they were.”
An activity that had once taken 20 minutes might only take 10 when the teacher said “Whoever has their overcoat on first can help Teddy get dressed.” Peter and JorJan had the children from the school out to the farm several times to see the lambs and to celebrate Teddy’s birthdays. There was one little boy, also named Teddy, who formed an immediate and close relationship with Peter and JorJan’s Teddy. He talked about Teddy so much that his mother, before she knew about their Teddy, thought her son had developed an imaginary playmate.
“The Teddy from Mineral Point would bring in things to school to show our Teddy,” JorJan says. “Once he brought in the grips from his bicycle because he wanted Teddy to know what it felt like to grip a bicycle.”
“Teddy had a buddy,” Peter says. “The other Teddy would send notes to our Teddy, mailed by his mother, that were sheets of indecipherable scrawls. But we’d show them to our Teddy and he’d look at it and smile as if they had their own language.”
In late 1984 Peter began painting the first in what was to become a series of paintings based on his experiences with Teddy.
“It had gotten to the point that I really couldn’t use painting as an escape anymore,” he explains. “Every time I tried to paint, all I saw was Teddy’s face. So I figured I might as well just try painting Teddy. In the first painting, titled Teddy, the thing I worked the longest and hardest on was trying to get his facial expression to not quite fit the head that it’s on, so the features aren’t quite in the right places. It was a way for me to indicate that Teddy was down in there somewhere, separate from all the symptoms.”
Teddy was four years old and by then his head had enlarged somewhat, so Peter depicted him with an enlarged cranium filled with a Jackson Pollock-like network of neurological patterns. Lined up behind him is an assortment of prescription drugs, baby formula, and the ever-present suction machine. At the same time, Peter did a portrait of Coriandra lying in her casket just before she was cremated.
In the next painting Peter did, called Suctioning Teddy, Teddy appears with a suction tube in his mouth. He is surrounded by images of things Peter felt deprived of because of his obligations to Teddy. Peter and JorJan could rarely have sex because Teddy needed such constant care, so Peter ended up hallucinating about naked women, represented in this painting by the outline of a nude woman, superimposed spread-eagled across the canvas. Other images floating around Teddy’s head symbolize various missed opportunities. A knife thrust toward the viewer indicates the threat of violence. (“How could I get out of this predicament? I could use a knife on him or myself, or anybody.”) A kiss mark on Teddy’s cheek reflects love for him, no matter how much he inspired anger, frustration, or self-pity. (“Basically, you’re a prisoner of love–as he is.”)
By the fall of ’85, Peter realized that Teddy was going to be the exclusive subject of his artwork for a while. He created a diptych, called Frontier, on the occasion of Teddy’s fifth birthday, depicting the boy with a birthday cake in one panel and in the other a fantasy of what things might have been like for Teddy had he been left in institutional care. An emaciated child lies in bed while a doctor looks at a chart that reads: “36 months: blind, can’t swallow, paralyzed, seizures.” The parents, off in one corner, walk arm-in-arm into the proverbial sunset, toward their Mercedes.
“I painted the continent of Africa in the second panel of Frontier to hint at a comparison between the emaciated child and a starving African baby, because without the stomach tube children like Teddy would basically starve to death,” he says. “But you also can’t help but think about all these resources going to keep Teddy alive when, after all, it is a fatal illness and he’s not going to make it, whereas there’s a whole continent of starving people who aren’t getting anything like that kind of help.”
Frontier gave Peter a lot of trouble. It was his most literal painting so far, and he felt it might be too descriptive. But then he realized that that was really the point of the whole thing. The way he and JorJan had treated Teddy resulted in a longer life for him, but there was no one to guide them. Medical science and technology had worked a miracle of sorts, but on the human side there was little understanding or support for Peter and JorJan. It was truly a new and frightening frontier.
In the next painting, The Teacher, Peter attempted to describe life, as far as he could deduce it, from Teddy’s point of view. And it was from Teddy’s perspective that Peter began to explore the spiritual dimensions of life with Teddy.
“The Teacher was an attempt to paint the spirit of Teddy,” Peter acknowledges. “I show him sitting in his chair with all the attachments–his stomach tube and the suction tube with the suction machine on the underside of the chair–the things that reflect his handicaps. There are shoulder braces and head braces to keep him from slumping down. If you look close, you notice that he can’t even focus his eyes. Everything physical has been taken away from him. Although everything about human life has been stripped away, there is still a human entity present who is capable of awareness and capable of enjoyment. We don’t have any good words to describe what that is except ‘spirit.’ I call it The Teacher because the ability to enjoy oneself, even in such a state of severe deprivation, is probably the most profound wisdom there is.”
Peter points out that tutelary deities in Eastern art are presented on a vehicle, usually frontally, facing the disciple–in this case, Peter–the person who attends to all his “master’s” mundane bodily functions. In order to emphasize the spiritual intention of this piece, he has placed Teddy between two flaming vertical borders, suggesting a holy aura or halo.
“In so-called primitive cultures, children who were born with defects often were thought to be in more intimate contact with the spiritual world,” he says. “If they were bright enough, they were then destined to undergo shamanic training. There is a kind of wisdom here that has been appreciated from the caveman on down, but we’ve lost track of it.”
Peter’s metaphor of Teddy as Tibetan master reached its apex in the painting Teddy Thanka–Gchod. Gchod is a Tibetan meditation practice during which the practitioner mentally “cuts off” parts of his own body in an attempt to obliterate the ego and identification with the material self. As the body is successively decimated, the practitioner transubstantiates each part into a kind of ambrosia to be offered to other beings for their benefit on the path to wisdom. This is no mental game, however. The meditator must attempt to experience the physical loss as realistically as possible without letting it get the better of him. The painting shows Teddy in his wheelchair surrounded by a severed arm, a foot, lungs, an eyeball, and a brain. He stares into the face of a dragon, the Tibetan symbol for emotions and passions to be overcome, which seems to emerge from a matrix of interconnected webs that, according to Peter, represent the nervous system.
“It struck me that Teddy progressively lost his body in a physical way, yet was able to remain calm and even enjoy life in the face of overwhelming catastrophe,” Peter says. “By setting this example, he was kind of a guru to me.”
In the last two years of Teddy’s life, he contracted pneumonia more and more frequently, and each time it was harder for him to recover.
On Thursday, August 6, 1987, Teddy woke up with blood in his stomach and kept vomiting up blood all that day. He was having seizures regularly and was unable to keep his medicine down. The only thing his stomach could handle, curiously enough, was Pepsi. His body temperature fluctuated wildly, jumping between 82 and 106. These were all signs that the disease had entered his brain stem and that he no longer had control over his automatic functions.
At one point he struggled a lot, and when they suctioned him they felt as if they had unnecessarily prolonged his life. Furthermore, Teddy didn’t look to them for help as he usually would during a choking session. They decided that if he had another bad episode like that, they wouldn’t suction him. They also realized that he was going to need somebody awake around the clock, and called JorJan’s parents for some help.
“I had just hung up the phone,” JorJan recalls. “Peter said, ‘Jan, I think you should get in here.'”
“He went from being really agitated, his face all contorted and having a lot of trouble, to all of a sudden calming down and lifting his head up a little,” Peter says. “He got a kind of smile on his face and it was like his whole face lit up, his color got better and he seemed real peaceful. It was the happiest I’d seen him in quite a while. His eyes got big, as if he saw something coming, then he turned to me, and looked at JorJan, settled back on the pillow, and died.”
JorJan and Peter sat with Teddy on their bed for a couple of hours before taking him to the hospital in Madison. They decided that they would donate to science anything that would help in research about Sandhoff’s disease. As they drove Teddy into Madison, more than an hour away, JorJan recalled feeling Teddy, who lay in her arms, become colder and colder the closer to Madison they got.
They held a wake with an open casket. Peter hung several of the Teddy paintings and played a recording of Beethoven’s last quartets. About a hundred friends and relatives attended.
“Even though it was August, it seemed like he should have something warm to wear,” JorJan says. “I had made this sweater a couple of years before and I made it in this size, like a lady’s four or six, and I didn’t know anyone who it would fit. I had put it away and it wasn’t until I started thinking, what am I going to put on him that’s warm, that I thought of that sweater. I’d always planned on making him a special outfit for this occasion, like Peter had planned on making him a coffin, and then I discovered that I already had. It was almost as if I had known it somehow.”
Teddy was cremated on August 10 with a group of his toy creatures and a magic wand that would glow in the dark when the coffin lid was closed. Both his and Coriandra’s ashes rest in containers near the photo albums on Teddy’s clothes chest.
Neither Peter nor JorJan hold any traditional religious beliefs. From his studies in Tibetan Buddhism, Peter had always found the concept of reincarnation an attractive intellectual idea, but never developed a gut feeling for it until Teddy and Coriandra came into his life. JorJan, on the other hand, always believed in reincarnation and remembers, as a very young child, feeling as if she were a “jug or pottery vessel with eyes.”
“You try to find meaning in whatever happens to you, so I can’t help but view what happened with Teddy and Coriandra as a message of some kind. I don’t know how bizarre you want to get, but a reading we got through a psychic channeler indicated that the spirits of Teddy and Coriandra had made an agreement to study the fine line between life and death. In order for them to do that, one of them had to be in this world and the other one not. And I remember thinking that Teddy might not live as long if we had the second baby. At the time, I thought the second baby was going to be healthy, but I wondered after that reading if there wasn’t something else that predetermined all of this.”
The last time JorJan saw Teddy’s friend, the other Teddy from Mineral Point, he asked her if Teddy was back home yet and she said, “No, Teddy won’t be coming back home.” He said, “Is he really in heaven?” She said, “Well, I think he deserves to be.”
“He didn’t quite understand that our Teddy had died,” JorJan says. “He still seemed alive to him. I don’t know if he didn’t understand what dying meant or if we just make too big a deal of dying. If you have a spiritual friendship with someone and you’re really close on an intimate level, does it make any difference whether the physical body is here or not? The other Teddy said that he was still talking on his toy telephone to our Teddy. I don’t know, but I wouldn’t put it past them.”
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Mike Tappin.