Yesterday my first cousin once removed, Tony Commerée, died from a heart attack suffered while at work up in Port Angeles. He was only 49 years old. I never really knew him, having only met him in the last few years. He had served in the Navy for 22 years, retiring 5 years ago. He had been a Navy Seal in the early days of his career. His grandfather (my uncle) and his father (my cousin) had suffered from heart conditions in their 50s, so genetics could likely be at play.
This news followed on the heels of other bad tidings. My friend Armi Schwalbach née Kujala died at home near Trier, Germany on February 25th. She was 12 days shy of her 65th birthday. Her husband, Peter, wrote that it was sudden and rather unexpected, though not entirely. Armi had suffered a very serious head injury a few years back when something heavy fell from a shelf and hit her. She had been hospitalized and was in tenuous condition. She recovered, though I am not sure how long it took or if it was complete. I had received Christmas cards from her – one just this last December.
Armi and I met in 1976 at Camp Colman the first time she came from Finland for the summer to tend to the waterfront activity area. Armi was a high school teacher in Vimpeli, Finland – P.E. being her main discipline. She was a short, stocky, smiling bundle of energy of whom I grew very fond. That winter, while traveling, I spent the Christmas holidays with her family at her parent’s home. Thus began our romance which flourished the following summer when she returned to Camp again. Upon the arrival of the third summer, however, our romance ended though our friendship endured. She returned yet another time to Seattle and attended graduate school at the UW where she met her husband, Peter, also a foreign grad student. He was from Germany and studying nuclear engineering.
They got their degrees, returned to Germany, married, and raised a family. I visited them in 1997 when travelling through Germany with my friend Mieka Nichols. They also came here with the kids to see the natural wonders of the Northwest and go camping. I had been considering another visit this year since Kathy and I will likely honeymoon in Europe. It would have been nice to see Armi again.
Hyvästi, rakas ystävä.