Editor's Note: The Tampa Bay Times published a column last month by the New York Times' David Brooks about Charles Darwin Snelling and his wife, Adrienne. Snelling had sent Brooks an essay last fall describing 55 years with his wife and his care for her after she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. (Read what Snelling wrote at tinyurl.com/tbtimes-lovestory.) In March, Snelling killed his wife and then himself. Bob Nicholson, a part-time St. Petersburg resident, plans to attend a memorial service today for the family and wrote this about his friends.
Newspapers as diverse as the Tampa Bay Times and Lehigh Valley's Morning Call and the "All the news that's fit to print" of the New York Times treated the story of the Charles Darwin Snelling murder-suicide in late March with temperance, consideration and thoughtfulness, for which I am grateful.
Yes, he ended the life of his beautiful and beloved Adrienne before taking his own. She, in the throes of more than six years of Alzheimer's, and he, her caregiver, with a pacemaker, heart disease and an increasingly short lease on life. I have read what others have written about his actions. One suggests that "if only there were better health care, then maybe this would not have come to pass," and many relate to the irreversible darkness of the Alzheimer's itself, while others simply decry both euthanasia and suicide, no matter the circumstances. They argue that the "sum and the substance" of the Alzheimer's victim is still there inside and that the spark of life is ever and always sacred. His actions, therefore, were received with a mix of genuine sadness and sympathy, sometimes with empathy, and, of course and more often than not, with anger and reproach.
I was his friend. We were bound in that his father gave rise to the very propane that then gave rise to the industry that I helped to advance for 70 years. We shared service and outlooks and ideas and hopes and also two pending patents, designed to improve the lives of propane consumers. Cut from the same cloth, age only increased our mutual desires to investigate, discover and accomplish; and my own beautiful wife, Shirley, and I were pleased and blessed to have shared the company and affections of Charles and his Adrienne.
As his friend, I want first to attest to his goodness and to the rich substance of his character. He was an inventor and an entrepreneur in the purest sense. He was a planner who thought things out and carefully weighed all options and charted what was always the perceived and best possible course of action. He was never one to act impulsively. No, like it or not, for good or for bad, Charles Snelling did what he believed best. His children, in whom he was so proud, say that it was an act of profound devotion and love, to which I would add courage and mutual understanding and faith. For the heart often speaks and understands what the mind may not and the soul ever extends itself to God!
In truth, they had been dropping messages about this for some time. It was written between the lines of the 5,000-word treatise on love that he submitted to the New York Times in response to a David Brooks column, it was there in his reference to Andover's "Non Sibi" or "Not for Self Alone," there in conversations about life, and, oh most certainly there in their profound 2010 Christmas card.
With their backs to the viewer, they were walking away hand in hand, as always, and it simply and profoundly read, "Going Home." That is exactly what they have done. Yes, they have gone home, arm in arm and hand in hand as ever, vibrant and spirited and whole and maybe even in the greening and youthful springs of their lives. That is what I see, feel and believe, and to those who insist that he sinned, please know that it is my belief that God forgives and that his mercy knows no bounds. In his treatise, Charles also powerfully wrote of redemption and looked to Adrienne as his redeemer. Indeed, she was.