New me.

Ages ago, someone told me that we replace all of the cells in our bodies every seven years. Every single one.  That idea has haunted me since.  It seems to mean that I am literally no longer the same person I was seven years ago. Even though I have memories of things that go way further back, they are not the memories of the me of today.

That’s not a completely alien idea; it’s like copying files from an old computer to a new one or making a new printing of an old story. The information is the same but the vessel is new.  But somehow when it comes to the cells that make me up, this has always felt different. Because I think of me as this me, this couple of hundred pounds of meat and skin, these scars, this reflection in the mirror. I don’t usually think of myself as a concept, a construction, or as data that can be re-recorded on a new cassette.

I woke up with idea in my head again and as I write this, I’m starting to realize why. The first and most obvious reason is that I am in the middle of organizing all the data files for Sketchbook Skool, 16 terabytes of data stored on a big stack of hard drives. Part of my archiving process is to make clones of each drive so we have backups in case anything goes wrong with the originals. I put an empty drive into a slot in the dock, put the original in the other slot, push a button, lights flash, and soon every byte has been duplicated and I have two identical drives. All those hours of footage, all those conversations, and drawing demos are now in two places.

And somehow, as I do this, my  body is doing the same thing.  As I watch the blinking on the front of the dock, my old cells, the old me is slowly being copied and then deleted. Old cells are being cast off, exfoliated, dropping onto my pillow, blowing around my apartment with mites of dust, sluicing down the shower drain, peeing into the bowl, crapping out with my digested burrito.

Me shitting me out.

The other reason this popped into my conscious predawn today is that in less than two months, I will slough off the last cell that ever saw Patti first-hand. The last cells that ever talked to her, held her, kissed her goodbye.  Soon every part of me will be a fresh clone with no personal experience of her.

In December, Jack and I took Patti’s ashes out of the cookie jar that has contained them since March 18, 2010, and put them in their final resting place. We went to one of her favorite places, just after sunset, and we put her ashes in a place we can always come back to, a private place in a public spot, one she went to every day, where we know she would be happy to be, no matter where we are.

Her ashes are not Patti. They are just dead cells that were burned and preserved, not in amber but in a heavy-duty plastic bag, which we kept in that cookie jar, on a shelf where I could see it every day and gaze at when memories of her became intense. They stood for her but now they no longer need to do that. For she is in us.

new-cells-3

The process of burying Pattia was not sad.  It was actually slightly comic as Jack and I bumbled our way through it, making a couple of clumsy errors that were pure Patti, pure Hoofy. I don’t think either of us felt sad as we did it. Rather, we felt that she was with us still, that the pain of losing her was a faded memory, and that this was the final thing the three of  us would ever do together and that it should be light and silly just as our best times as a family always were.

Patti’s cells are now forever in that one place. Jack’s are now in Los Angeles, three thousand miles away. And mine are here, being replaced with new cells, new cells that look older, more wrinkled and grey.

Many of the hair cells were not replaced. Some of the brain cells did not replicate with all the memories in place. Other cells have less resiliency and vim than their predecessors. And  yet they are all still me, they all still bear the weathering of the years, the experiences, joys and traumas that made me and still do.new-cells-2

My memories of Patti have changed with these cells. Some are lost forever. And those that used to take precedence because they were at the front of the line, have stepped back into the mists. I am no longer haunted by thoughts of Patti at the window, of the policemen, of the visit to the coroner’s office. I no longer think of Patti as a woman of fifty, increasingly limited by her disabilities, who didn’t want to grow old in a wheelchair.

Now when I think of her, I rummage through my huge archive of snapshots. I see her in a Polaroid, pregnant with Jack. I see her in a soft focussed, black and white picture dressed up to go to a party, I see her laughing in a bar with friends I haven’t heard from in years, I see her smiling through her freshly cut bob, I see her holding our first dog Frank like a big baby, his long legs sticking up in the air, both of them grinning. I see her looking at me like she did on our first date, saying ‘Mommy’, the gap between her front teeth.

As I think of these memories, I feel old tears well up in my new eye cells. These new cells are never overwhelmed by the tsunami of grief that used to seize me but it’s good to know that those old memories can still effect them, even though I am happy, happy with my new cells, my new kitchen, my new job, my new love, my new wife, my new wife. My new cells make up a new me with all the best bits of the old.

37 thoughts on “New me.”

  1. I really enjoyed reading this Danny…sometimes change is good…I need to remind myself of this…never forget what is past…live for the present and look to the future with hope and positivity.

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  2. You are brave to put that out there. Thank you. I believe this blog will resonate with many of us who have lost loved ones. Yes, we must move forward but keep our good memories alive.

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  3. Deeply moved. Thanks for sharing. Perfect picture of the process of grief, different for everyone, but yours a role model I’d hope I could follow. Thanks again.
    Wishing for your new cells much happiness, joys and laughter! And of course happy drawings!

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  4. Danny – your post today really hit a nerve. I lost my mom at age 13 after a 4 year horrific battle with cancer. It took years for me to remember anything about her other than the person sick in bed who lost her mind and didn’t know who I was. In the last year Of her illness, I often sought refuge at a close friend’s apartment (I grew up in NYC and she lived 4 blocks away). My best friend, Fae, remained so until this year when she died in her sleep one night a month and a half ago. She was with me when my daughter (now 30 years old) was born, and was her godmother. We grew up together and I just took it for granted that we’d grow old together. She was a perfectly healthy person – at least we thought so – but an autopsy revealed an arrhythmia that occurred in her sleep. One might say this was an ideal death – no illness, no suffering. Yet it was much too soon. She was so full of life. Dedicated her life to working with autistic children. She was an exceptional person and I can’t wrap my head around the fact that she’s gone. Her loss has left a huge hole in my heart. Your post gives me hope that eventually I will be able to find joy in my memories of her. For now, I am so emotional I avoid being around people. I have to believe this too shall pass. Thanks for your insight and honesty.

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  5. Beautiful post Danny. Very moving. Would that the you that was writing A Kiss Before You Go could have foreseen this day… but then, perhaps he could. Sending love and joy now to your current cells, and all those who are loved by them. x

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  6. I loved Patti and I love you. I talk about her often – she just comes up in conversation. I talk about the magic of connecting with someone miles and miles away through messages and the importance of relationships and never taking things for granted. I learn a lot from you. About love and dignity and managing the past and enjoying the present. Lots of love, Kin xx

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  7. I also was told about our cells being made new every 7 years, glad to hear I’m not the only one. Great perspective and well written.

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  8. Lovely. Lovely to read and lovely to know that you and Jack are doing well – moving into the future strong and healthy, knowing that Patti will always be with you, in ways you’ll continue to learn about as you journey forward.
    Thanks for sharing.
    Linda

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  9. Thank you for being you, every cell of the way. The way you write, the way you think, the way you create. A beautiful sharing today, we are blessed by your presence and the life you are living and sharing with others. How beautifully human of you.

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  10. So gentle and moving… New ways of thinking about love, loss, aging, and beautiful happy new life and yes, cells! Thank you for penning these precious reflections!

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  11. Oh Danny what a poignant piece. I relate to all of this except how come my new skin cells look like my mom’s dare I say it- “old” skin and my new brain cells ain’t as sharp as they used to be? Haa I guess replacement doesn’t always mean better than before but the new layers with what came before and somehow pushes us forward. Yours in memories and in living in the present moment. I am eternally grateful for both of these things.

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  12. So moving, so sweet…thank you for sharing all this. Of course, as a far away reader and student if yours, I never knew Patti, but you have brought her alive to so many of us.

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  13. I needed this. And It makes perfect sense. With time we change as a person. We are the same but with new experiences, new opinions, new look on life. Thanks for the words. Keep on inspiring.

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  14. Danny, I can’t believe the timing of this post. I sit here this morning with tears in my eyes….this Tuesday, 1/17, i will bury my husband of almost 40 years. He had a short battle with cancer and was at home when he passed. while i am grateful that i was able to take care of him….when i close my eyes, right now all i see is his face in the hospital bed, eyes closed and struggling to breathe. you post gives me hope that those visions of him will pass, and that better memories of times past will come forward to replace them… Pictures of better times and all the things we shared over the years. thank you for your honesty.

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  15. Danny I love you. You have given so much to this art process. My comment had nothing to do with you. It just was some comments from others. Like Andrea from U.K. I just want to think of us as artists. Naive, I’m sure but just because I’m tired of political unrest.

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  16. Thank you for posting this. It’s beautifully written. Love never ceases, it just changes form. I try to remember that when I start to mourn the past. God bless you.

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  17. Danny I recently “discovered” you when I purchased your book The Creative License, from there I found out about your book A Kiss Before You Go honoring Patti’s memory. You have kept Patti alive not only in your shared memories about her, but also in the endless love that you have for her! I feel as if I have met Patti through you, because you make her so alive. Her spirit lives on and her warmth, strength and life embracing spirit is an inspiration to all who have been blessed to be Introduced to her through you! Thank you for showing us how love truly transcends all boundaries both natural and supernatural. Be at peace. That was the subject of my blog post today. I hope you can read it.

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  18. Danny, thank you for always sharing yourself with us. The photos of Patti show her personality, sense of humor, joy, etc. When I think back to your book “Every Day Matters” I think of your drawings of her, and they capture those qualities as well. Creating her likeness and crafting these words are beautiful tributes to her. Thank you.

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  19. Intrigued beginning to end. So moving. So precious. It seems as though with new cells comes a new outlook as well. Growth and acceptance. I am sure that Patti would be proud of the Danny you are today. Love lives on far past the existence of a human body.

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  20. When I started reading your post about cells being replaced every 7 years, I thought what about cancer. If that was true, then why would people die from cancer? I read on to see what more you would say about this topic. Then I read the name “Patti” and I was suddenly thrown into an alternate reality, as if I was reading about me. A life I wish I had. I know this isn’t about me. Your writing is so surreal. It gave me a perspective that is both scary and wishful. I am sorry for your loss, and also happy for where you are now. Thank you for sharing. You are blessed though at times it might not seem so. OH, I realized too as I read that just because cells are replaced it doesn’t mean they are replaced with PERFECT new cells. The cells can be damaged or missing parts of the old. Like memories. ~Patti

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  21. Thanks Danny
    its hard to imagine when your new with grief and images of illness are prominent that it can ever change Bob my husband died August 2009 and has seemed even more present recently and there is a sweetness to the memory – a sweet sadness – blessed I had that time
    I can now enjoy him his humour his sayings and I can enjoy his creative photographs and those pictures of him. I remember the humour much more and events that turn into Jacque Tati film moments and remind me of his love of films. I still have his ashes – I take a bit of him wherever I go, so he’s spread himself around England and Holland and in the church where we married which will be 40 years ago this year. We have different ways of remembering
    I’m very glad I came across the Grief Recovery Method and you
    You helped me draw feelings I couldn’t speak
    You showed me another way of communicating even when I didn’t believe I could hold a pen or draw
    Thankyou for your encouragement to be courageous and to explore what comes out of the pen
    I drew my screams on paper and it was liberating
    So thank you for sharing your life – it really resonated and my cells have definitely been renewed as Im past the seven years and thankfully I can still hear the laughter!

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  22. This is so apt for me just now. Ahh I do so envy your ability to write and get out there what, for me, may only be a feeling or a whisper of a muddled thought. As ever, thank you! You have a beautiful mind Danny Gregory!

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