Today would have been Rosie’s 42nd birthday. Jessica Rose Heritier was a Bicentennial Baby, born late in the evening on February 12th, 1976. I was right there in the delivery room with her mom, Marina, doing my best Lamaze coaching, and everything worked out beautifully. (Many thanks to my dear old friend Scott Shaver for sharing the photo at the right. Please click on any image for a larger view.)
Rosebud was the light of my life, and we were tight even before she was born. Marina told me that our baby would dance in her womb whenever I sang and played in their presence. By the time she was two years old, her mom and I had gone our separate ways, but daughter and dad would always remain so very close. It’s uncanny how in synch she and I were, on so many levels. We loved so much of the same music and turned each other on to some of our favorite artists, songs and collections over the years. I sang Grateful Dead songs before she was born, but she took me to my first Dead show, a few months before Jerry left us. Our world views were practically identical; if anything, she was even more progressive than me. Likewise with our senses of humor, which were decidedly twisted. Rosie and I were the same kind o’ goofy.
My wife Kim and I bought Rosie her first guitar for Christmas when she was around 12 or 13. I showed her chords and chord progressions, and she got good enough to accompany herself when she sang. We played a gig together shortly after she graduated from high school, at a festival, no less, and we’d always sing and play together whenever we had the chance. The three videos included here were recorded with our great buddy, Phuntsok Lhasawa back in 2011, in Portland, Oregon, where she lived most of her adult life.
I have so many wonderful memories of our Rosebud, like the week she, Kim and I spent in Jamaica, celebrating her high school graduation, or times spent with her in Oberlin, Chattanooga, Key Largo, Conifer, Colorado and, of course, Portland. I will never forget the crazy fun five days we spent of Jam Cruise in 2012, but the memories that are perhaps most dear to me are the ones from the magnificent Rothbury festival in 2009. Rosie had tried to get Kim and I to go to the same festival in 2008, but we were never able to make that happen, so when she pitched the idea to us again the next year, we went all in, and had the time of our lives. It was literally a life-changing experience for me, walking around the expansive festival grounds all weekend, hearing so much great music and meeting so many wonderful people. I kept saying to myself, again and again, “Oh, yeah, this is who I am and this is what I do!” It didn’t happen right away but that festival experience gave me the impetus to get back into playing music, after a hiatus of more than 12 years.
When I did start playing again the next year, I didn’t dare let myself hope that it was for anything more than playing and singing with my daughter whenever we had the chance. But, one thing led to another, and not only did I eventually start to gig again, I recorded my first CD in 2011. Rosie was SO happy and excited about “In My Element,” and it only occurred to me later that, because she had been my inspiration to play again, I really did it all for her.
Rosie bought a house on the east side of Portland a few years ago, and quickly discovered that there was a large population of feral cats in the neighborhood. She was soon feeding and caring for all of them, taking five orphaned kittens into her own home to join her beloved Skunk (together on the left), whom she’d already lived with for several years. She became involved with the Multnomah County Animal Services Action Cat Team program, which provides trap-neuter-return assistance to apartment complexes with large numbers of feral cats, like the one right across the street from her new home. This would remain the central focus of her remaining time in this world, and I heard her refer to herself as a “crazy cat lady” on more than one occasion.
In late 2016, I caught wind of a major event that would be taking place the following summer, the Oregon Solar Eclipse Festival. After contacting Rosie and asking her if she might be interested in attending, she decided that this was too good to miss. So, we RVed out to the Big Summit Prairie with our show buddies, Phil Schneeman and Gray Campbell, and everyone had a grand time. It was on the day of the eclipse itself that she started experiencing symptoms of the cancer that would take her life three months later. The festival was epic, and our four-person crew was as cool as could be, but it was only after the fact that I realized that I would have gladly canceled going if only she had gotten the painful tumor on her leg checked out before, instead of after, we went.
A few weeks after I returned home, Rosie’s condition was diagnosed as a lyposarcoma, a rare and very aggressive form of cancer. Marina immediately flew out to be with her, and arrangements were made to begin treatment at the Cancer Center for Healing in Irvine, CA, where both mainstream and alternative treatments for cancer are employed. Rosie had been in Irvine for a week when I joined her and Marina in early October. I treasured every second of the three weeks that I was with them, though we only had two or three of what I would judge to be good days for Rosebud, and it was horrifying to see her condition deteriorate so quickly. If I could have lifted her burden and taken it upon myself, I would have without hesitation, and I told her so on the day that I had to leave her and return home for a while. It was my intention to rejoin them in Mid-November, but her cancer was too much, and our darling Jessica Rose left this world on the morning of November 15th.
It’s so heartwarming for me to know how many people’s lives Rosie touched, and how so many loved her so dearly. We held a Celebration of her life in Portland on December 3rd, and many of her friends from all over the country came to remember her. The weather had been inclement for the three days that Kim and I had been in town, but as the celebration was about to begin, the rain stopped, the clouds parted, and double rainbows appeared, as if they had been dispatched by Rosie herself, just to say, “Thanks for coming out, buddies!” There were many tears shed, but few of them were mine, as I was filled so much with the outpouring of love that everyone expressed for our girl. Later that night, there was a brilliant “super moon,” which made our celebration all the more special. (Many thanks to Jeanne Hart for the picture on the left.)
It’s now been almost three months since Rosie left us, and I miss her all the time, because I think about her all the time. There’s a huge hole in the lives of everyone who loved her, and I don’t know that I’ll ever fill the emptiness in my heart that comes from losing her. I’m mostly to the point where I can smile instead of tear up when I look at pictures and videos like those shown here or remember so fondly the many great moments and times we had together. But, sometimes the tears still come, and I expect that will always be the case.
I wish I could wish you a Happy 42nd Birthday, Rosebud. I will love you forever.