Not good-bye to Donna Robinson
September 26, 2006
I did not know Donna Dowling Robinson well enough to say that we were “friends,” but she was a very dear friend of my daughter Skye, and on the few occasions when our paths crossed I remember how she always looked me straight in the eye, gently but firmly when we talked, and it was never a “Hi, how are you?” chat.When she and her husband, Curtis, were at Roaring Fork Sunday, a newspaper, I’d haul myself out of bed on Sunday morning to pickup at City Market, I especially enjoyed their travel columns.But I didn’t get a real hint of Donna’s depth until I went to see the exhibit at the Woody Creek Store of her collages representing her reactions to 9/11. A collage of photographs, clips from newspapers and her comments (fear, anger, rage, disbelief), these pieces hit to the heart. Curtis had driven past the Pentagon moments before that plane stabbed into it, and that struck home.By the time I had circled the room I was, much to my surprise, sobbing. Donna’s reaction to 9/11 was so deep and so intense and so openly personal that it triggered an opening in my own heart to reactions that had been buried so deep I didn’t even know they were there. That was the last time I saw Donna. This February, Skye forwarded a message that a scary issue with melanoma in a mole in 1995 had resurfaced without warning 11 years later, and metastasized throughout her body.Curtis and Donna’s e-mails detailing their ordeals and hopes throughout her various treatments were heart-rending to read though we champed for more news, prayed for good news.We speak of “battling” these dreaded diseases and conditions, but I don’t know if that’s the right word. You go to the cutting-edge hospitals, take their advice on the best course of action and hope like hell for the best.If giving battle means having the courage to undergo the often unspeakable procedures without ever giving up, this beautiful, creative young woman (41! Too young to die!) certainly had that. She was brave, determined, angry. “Shit,” she wrote to Skye. “I’m pissed! I feel like a cornered lion with all claws out, roaring!!!!!!”She had everything to live for: Curtis, their darling redheaded son, Finn, open-ended careers, their paraplegic dog, Rufus.A retrospective of Donna’s art and journals at the Wyly Center took you through her private life: taking Rufus to a pool where he could swim, trying to get pregnant, the death of her father, her search for herself. There was no way to look at that powerful exhibit without being greatly moved.At her memorial service the shoulders of Curtis and her family shaking with sobs was heartbreaking to watch, while the stories told about her by so many people and the reading of her intense poems brought her back to life by the Roaring Fork River.It has been such a terrible time losing our best people to this dreadful disease: Sara Sue, Katharine, Nick, Scott, many others, now Donna. We are reminded to seize our own day and count our own blessings while we can.Su Lum is a longtime local whose column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.
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