Casey: On Grief and Bacon | Lissa TYler Renaud | Scene4 Magazine | November 2021 | www.scene4.com

Casey: On Grief and Bacon

Lissa Tyler Renaud

The people I've loved and lost since March of 2020 did not die of covid; they died of long cancers and sudden heart attacks. From my many experiences with death, I know that we're not really supposed to talk about it. I'm not saying anything new, and not speaking for everyone. But by and large, talk of death makes those who aren't immediately affected feel uncomfortable, casts a pall over gatherings of people who already have enough to worry about. The result is that people who are in shock and grieving are too often isolated, bearing not only their loss but also not wanting to impose their misery on others. And why should they. There is always the risk that friends and family whom the grieving have trusted will disappoint—that is, turn out not to have the emotional resources to provide the deep consolation that could make a difference. Grieving in tandem, even intimates hitherto unfailingly of one mind may suddenly not recognize each other.

The most useful thing I ever heard about grieving is that it doesn't progress in a straight line, but rather a spiral. Its path moves upward, and just when a modicum of healing seems imminent, the grief comes back around, unexpected and with full force, to have its way again. I think many who have grieved will recognize this pattern of healing and not-healing that circles around endlessly, without warning or logic, not lessening but rather wearing down over the years, until it dwindles to an ever-present hum of sadness that we stop expecting to go away. There are people around us every day—everywhere, going about their business—who are listening to that hum.

There are also people around us who have never seen a dead body, and people who have, and they are different.


 This beautiful young man, DANIEL "CASEY" LEAPER, born on December 20, 1994, was hit by a car on July 20, 2021, and killed.




When people who knew and loved him in different ways described him, the light each remark shed on Casey made a kind of hologram of him, restoring a treasured glimpse of him to us:


... [I]mpish and quick witted… a way of finding […] exciting, artsy, and original things [to do]… that twinkle in his eyes, his trickster and kind personality… his openness, welcoming, gentle and vibrant spirit… a fun guy, a great teammate… friendly, funny, smart and full of light—always a smile on his face…  a well-rounded academic, social, and creative person… bright personality and witty humor… a mischievous smile and his eyes would twinkle… animals were always drawn to him… that boy could light up a room…this calming beautiful soul…


At the July 31 funeral, Casey's father, Jerry McDaniel, gave a spare, blasted, heartbroken eulogy for Casey—something you hope someone you love never has to do. He talked about Casey's wisdom, his athleticism, his strength of character—and added to funny and smart: artistic, charming, and headstrong; he described a bit of a daredevil and an impressively ravenous eater. Here is Jerry on Casey at the University of San Francisco (USF) "as a freshman studying the basics with a heavy bent on mathematics, physics, girls—maybe astrophysics—and always with the literature. He always seemed to have some books around—poetry, religion, the classics. And music…"


Casey was like a big brother to me, which doesn't make any sense since he was almost 40 years younger than I am. Nevertheless: he was always protective of me, concerned for me, wanting to be helpful. I knew Casey through his father over the twelve or so years before Casey's undeserved death. In that time, he had some injuries, and surgeries with hospital stays, and periods of rehabilitation. Here Casey showed his real fortitude, and although his charm was definitely intact, his famous twinkle was perhaps a bit subdued: increasingly, he had a distracted quality, a shadow in his smile.


Memories, pre-epidemic

Casey and I always seemed to stand very close to each other. That's it. If we were chatting, whether sitting or standing, we just stayed close, like twins do after birth.

Once he and his father came over for dinner with my son, Kiril, and me—a pretty low-key occasion. I was preparing in the kitchen, Kiril chatted with them for a bit in the living room then joined me, and Jerry ended up with a few minutes to himself in the living room when Casey came into the kitchen, too. Soon enough, we were standing very close around the cutting board and Casey was both lead conversationalist and head chef, keeping the chit-chat aloft while chopping and mixing. It was then that he altered my food thinking forever: he proposed that everything tasted better with bacon. No matter what Kiril and I held up as foods that couldn't possibly go with bacon—peanut butter, ice cream, fish—Casey insisted, friendly but firm in his conviction: they would all taste better with bacon. Yes, he said, of course bacon could be wrapped around a banana. And soon enough we were seeing his point. He was like that—one wanted to join in his enthusiasms. – But not so fast: thinking back on it now, I have to wonder whether he was pulling our leg. I'll always have that question as my companion going forth.

One time his father Jerry took me to visit Casey in the hospital after his jaw had been broken. He got off his bed and came and sat very close to me on a little couch and showed me the rubber bands in his mouth that he was supposed to exercise with. Another of those uncanny moments of closeness, with no shyness between us.

One of Casey's most spectacular moments in my life was when he came to help me at my family's home in Berkeley. After my mother died, intentional obstacles emerged to my hanging onto the house where four generations of my family had been, and the house was being sold. Jerry, a brilliant actor, was also general contractor for preparing the house for sale. At a juncture when I was especially distraught, Casey arrived to do some painting around the windows in the living room, some general moving and carrying of heavy things. But without my saying anything, he also took charge of advertising large and beloved furniture for sale online. Photographing, labeling, pricing, posting, fielding messages—these were tasks that had paralyzed me, and Casey handled them, gently, as the world's best big brother would. Then he jumped on his bike and raced to his job at the pizza joint, where I hope he had plenty of free food: from the things in the house, I'd offered him a lamp that he liked, but it turned out not to work. I like to say that I have no regrets, but in fact I regret that that lamp didn't work for Casey.


Once, on a forlorn day years ago, I spotted an impressive ceramic vase in a thrift shop. It was a lovely shade of yellow, and had an unusual rectangular shape and rough texture. Best of all, it had a moving poem pressed into it in beautiful lettering. It was heavy but I carried it home, spoils from the war with my day.

I'm too shy to say how long it was before it dawned on me what this heavy ceramic vase was: an urn, that must have held the ashes of the man named at the bottom after the poem. What I'd thought at a glance was the name of the poet (which I've never found), wasn't that at all, but the name of someone who was born on April 3, 1954 and died on October 7, 1974. A young man gone too soon.

To think that
life must have
   its fourscore
and ten years
   is to forget
that God may
   need a life in
its fire rather
than the glow
of its embers

The urn lives in my garden, where I see it from my window every day, throughout the day, just between the rosebush and the scented geranium. As if in Casey's honor, a nasturtium volunteered to grow out of it—bright,
lovely, both delicate and hardy. But it's gone for now… The flowers of the nasturtium are edible, did you know? And delicious with bacon.




 There are more photos and memories of Casey here:


Cover image:
"Melancholy," by sculptor Albert Gy├Ârgy;
 located in Geneva, Switzerland


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Lissa Tyler Renaud BA Acting, MFA Directing, PhD Dramatic Art with Art History, summa cum laude, UC Berkeley (1987). Founder, Oakland-based Actors' Training Project for the actor-scholar (1985- ); lifelong actress, director, dramaturg, recitalist. As visiting professor, master teacher, and speaker, she has taught, lectured and published widely on acting, theatre criticism and the early European avant-garde, throughout the U.S., and since 2004, at major theatre institutions of Asia, and in England, Mexico, Russia and Sweden. Longtime board member International Association of Theatre Critics. Awards include Ford Foundation and National Science Council grants. Book publications include The Politics of American Actor Training (Routledge) and an invited chapter in the Routledge Companion to Stanislavsky. Founding editor (English) of Critical Stages (UNESCO) and Wuzhen Theatre Festival, China; editor, Selected Plays of Stan Lai (3 vols.), forthcoming, U. Michigan Press. She is a Senior Writer for Scene4.
For her other commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2021 Lissa Tyler Renaud
©2021 Publication Scene4 Magazine




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