Lydia Sargent, Live Like Her

Death when one is diminished is devastating. Death when one is isolated is shattering. All manner of death is final. Lydia Sargent took her last breath sometime last night. She had been diminished with dementia for what seemed like an eternity but was only a horrid hiccup in a lovely lifetime. She was Covid isolated and personally shattered for the past months and weeks. She was moved from assisted living to a hospital mere days ago. Her last move.

Born in NYC 78 years ago, Lydia was saddled with despicable parents. She was abused by her corporate racist lawyer father, run over by her equally callous reactionary mother, treated like an investment project aimed at becoming a debutantish dutiful wife. She was exiled because she married a Jewish man outside the fold. She was made by all that simultaneously unimaginably self effacingly insecure and incomparably defensively aggressive. Lydia lived her whole life saddled by having to fight off those ill effects. But fight them she did.

Lydia was first a mother of three. Then she became a feminist, a playwright, director, actor, and revolutionary. She founded South End Press, Z Magazine, and the Z Media Institute of which I think she was perhaps most proud. I doubt even one of the hundreds of students who went through ZMI won’t fondly remember Lydia welcoming them to Woods Hole, engaging them with comedy and drama, teaching them about gender and media, organizing the whole thing, and trying to meet their every request thereafter.

Lydia and I were partners for nearly a half century. During that time, moving from alienated housewife, to fabulously effective anti-war activist, to courageous civil disobedience organizer, and to so many other pursuits, Lydia‘s focus wasn’t firstly a dramatic career, personal success, or even family. All those counted greatly for her, but living in this world and not the one she wanted, Lydia used her enormous talents for playwriting, acting, and directing, her remarkable capacities for getting things done, and even her emotions for loving always firstly to pursue better for all. She never pursued a commercial concern. She never pursued a self interested anti-social calculation. Battling insecurity every step of the way, Lydia, as we used to say, put politics in command.

No one is perfect but Lydia came far closer than anyone saddled by her early life travails could reasonably anticipate, and far closer than she ever expected. I helped her some. She helped me more.

If I ever prayed, I would pray through my tears that no one reading this ever suffers dementia. I would pray that no one reading this ever has to endure someone they love suffering dementia. Aging hurts. I confidently tell you that. But one’s past life and will to live slipping away is the worst sort of aging there is. And trying to maintain your loved one’s sense of self and efficacy against a withering relentless disease is torture as well.

I would say rest in peace, Lydia – but I can’t. Death is not, to my mind, to my eyes, to my heart, resting. It is nothing. And so all I can say instead is that I hope through some of the people that Lydia knew, some of the people that she touched, some of the people that she loved, for as long as we are here, good like she sought, and truth like she sought, will live on, and just maybe the early family-bred insecurity and defensive aggressiveness that hurt Lydia so often, and that hurts as well so many others in our upside down world, will fade away.

Your song, to you, Lydia – Hallelujah

Lydia’s song to all who she touched who will work to make her hopes real – Hallelujah


  1. avatar
    jlc December 10, 2020 6:03 pm 

    Lydia was a hero. A kind compassionate brilliant tireless inspiration. I think of her teachings every day.

  2. avatar
    Michael Lesher November 15, 2020 2:51 pm 

    I’ve been away from here too long, obviously. And now I don’t know what to say.

    I can only thank you for continuing the work that the two of you did so well together. And wish you the spirit and courage to keep on.

    I know something of what you’ve written here about dementia. But whatever I could say, you’ve already said it better.

  3. avatar
    Michael September 29, 2020 9:51 am 

    I did not know of the wonderful accomplishments of Lydia’s life and person. I only knew that she was a key part of this very special place where I come every day to learn and meet with special people. I am so sorry to hear of Lydia’s passing and I know Michael is grieving even as he undoubtedly has for some time for someone he loves. When my mother passed I did not weep, I said to a friend, I think my grief came so often before she died that there was nothing left. But then one day when I was alone with my little son I began to cry as I had never cried in my life. I was convulsed with sobbing as if I had held it back for some weeks and months and then it all came flooding at once. This happened one more time later on, but a day does not pass that I do not wish I could have more time with her. As I have grown older I understand her far better. It is not the same with a partner, but it is not dissimilar. All good wishes, good Michael. Continuing thanks for all and may you find some essential peace.

  4. avatar
    maryellen September 29, 2020 7:03 am 

    I was at ZMI in 2005 and it not only changed my life but helped me through a very difficult time. Lydia was indeed remarkable. This is profoundly sad news, I’m so sorry for your loss.

  5. avatar
    Joel Isaacs September 28, 2020 11:27 pm 

    A great sadness comes to me now. And for so many others whom she touched.
    ZMag and South End Press started me on a still continuing trajectory of hope, one that continued on through ZMI and ZNet, and is shared by may thousands.

    Thank you Michael, and also Eric for caring for her through these last and heartbreaking times. And for continuing the work that you do, which is just what Lydia would want. Peace and love.

  6. avatar
    Matt Grind September 28, 2020 6:31 pm 

    I am so sorry to hear this. My condolences to you and her family.

  7. Elizabeth Marxsen September 28, 2020 5:16 pm 

    So heartbreakingly well written and honest. My heart goes out to you and to her family.

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