Jay Gelzer: 1943 – 2012

Seattle, Washington

March 26, 1943 – December 29, 2012

across the room

we smile

the same smile


the crows outlast

the gardener

The following obituary appeared in the Seattle Times on January 20, 2013. See also another short obituary with rememberances from friends on the website for Mensa of Western Washington. Remembrances from Haiku Northest members and friends also appear below.

Jay Gelzer

When I die

I want my bones to smell like

spring rain

and shine like the moon.

In fact, I want that now.

Jay died on her beloved house boat, departing as she had wished—on her own terms and cradled in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved her. Heartfelt thanks to Drs. Kristine Rinn, Jed Gorden, and Terry Law and to Seattle’s Providence Hospice. Everlasting gratitude to Gretchen de Roche of Compassion and Choices of Washington.

Jay was an inspired and remarkable psychotherapist, an extraordinary mother, a writer, a thinker, a poet, a Pea Patch gardener, an interrupted musician, and an ardent lover of life, beauty, and the creative experience. She was a rare and exotic flower—beautiful, ferociously bright, passionate, private, sensitive, and deeply spiritual.

Although hardship and loss dogged the last third of her almost seventy years, Jay gave no quarter, steely in her determination to live life with hope, wonder, and mastery.

sunny morning

even the scraps

beautiful in the bowl

Jay was predeceased by her beloved son Connor and is survived by her bereft and loving family, mother, Helen Baker Gelzer, sisters Barbara Perry Gelzer, Helen G. Kupka, Katherine G. Murphy, and dear friend, Jean Star Wald Dinaburg.

here we go,

slipping into the last pool of


The following are comments from Jay’s friends:

My Friend Jay, by Amelia Fielden

Jay and I last saw each other in September 2012, for the Haiku Pacific Rim conference at Asilomar, California, where we walked by the shore, shared mealtimes, had quiet drinks in her room after the evening seminars. My dear friend was still in shock, deeply mourning the untimely death in the previous month of her son, Connor.

At Asilomar I wrote this tanka, fully intending the double-entendre with her name.

bright-sky morning

a blue jay flies low, lands


I affirm that is

my most loved colour

Our friendship was bookended by haiku: we had found each other first at the Haiku Society of America’s quarterly meeting in Portland, Oregon, in late June 2007.

Five years of friendship ensued. During the periods I was visiting my family in Seattle, Jay and I enjoyed numerous outings together to bookstores, movies, restaurants, parks, and gardens. Many of those happy occasions are recorded in my tanka notebooks, and a number of the tanka inspired by my experiences with Jay have been published in journals and books.

Finally, we went as appreciative participants to the Haiku Pacific Rim gathering in California.

Travelling back from Monterey to San Francisco on the 9th of September after HPR, Jay and I sat next to each other on the minibus. My lips were badly sunburned; I still have the tube of lip-balm that Jay took from her handbag and gave to me. On arrival outside my hotel in Japantown, we hugged and said not “goodbye” but “see you next year.”

That was not to be.

From an evening we shared at the Japanese garden in Seattle in 2011, this tanka I wrote remains as one of my “Jay memories.”

so trustingly

the willow’s trunk leans out

over the pond

propped by a stout pole—

my love has slipped away

Remembering Jay, by Peggy Heinrich

I first met Jay at a meeting of Haiku Northwest in 2009. There she was, across the table from me in a Japanese restaurant. After we exchanged a few comments, I felt a strong connection to her that seemed to be mutual. We met again in 2012 at the Haiku Pacific Rim conference at the Asilomar Conference Center in California. Again we felt the same sense of compatibility and had a chance to have several long conversations during which I learned of her home on a houseboat in Seattle. I told her that I often visit Seattle to see my daughter and her family, and promised to visit her and her houseboat the next time. The next time never came.

I was terribly saddened to learn of Jay’s death not long after. It seemed the world had lost a beautiful person—sensitive, insightful, and warm.

Jay’s Haiku Soul, by Michael Dylan Welch

If anyone ever had a haiku soul, surely that person was Jay Gelzer. The first time I met her was the day, to my knowledge, that she became interested in haiku. It was 2006. I had just given a haiku workshop for Mensa of Western Washington, and Jay was in the audience. She talked to me afterwards, as did several others, and I encouraged each of them to come to Haiku Northwest meetings. There was something warm and relaxed about Jay that stood out, though, and I had a hunch that she in particular would really enjoy the group. She began attending, and enjoyed each meeting she could make it to, despite the challenges of illness, especially her first bout with cancer that kept her away for more than a year. During that time, I occasionally emailed encouragement to her, and while she was mostly too ill to respond, her close friend, Jean Dinaburg, contacted me to say how much Jay appreciated my gestures. I and others were pleased when she was able to rejoin the group, and we especially enjoyed her participation in the 2011 and 2012 Seabeck Haiku Getaways. I took pictures of Jay at both retreats, and they’re both shown here.

that ready smile—

her tale of finding

a marvelous morel

Despite a clear love of haiku and a deep love for Haiku Northwest, Jay seldom shared haiku of her own. We learned later that she felt her haiku to be too dark, often reflecting her health challenges and the sudden death of her son. I had created a member page for Jay on the Haiku Northwest website, and wrote to ask if she had poems I could post for her, but despite my asking gently several times, over a period of several years, she never sent any poems. But she didn’t say no, either; she wanted to send work, but didn’t think they were right for the page. Another facet of Jay we all came to know was that publishing and sharing her haiku was not nearly as important as the friendships and camaraderie she enjoyed in and out of our monthly haiku gatherings.

autumn haiku meeting—

all of us smile at the poem she says

isn’t any good

After the 2011 Seabeck Haiku Getaway, I had the privilege to visit Jay’s home. She was fortunate to live on a floating home, one of Seattle’s most uncommon and distinctive housing options, on Lake Union, across from the Space Needle. That was Jay. She knew what she wanted, what she loved. Despite obstacles, she did her best to get herself as near as possible to whatever fueled her spirit.

a Japanese maple

red by her window . . .

a sort of blooming

That gentle spirit was infectious. All of us around Jay felt a close connection—she had that effect on everyone, it seemed, an openness to life and its celebration, even while she remained largely private and even closed about painful aspects of her personal life, including much of her cancer. It was no so much that she was private, but that she was compassionate in not wishing to burden anyone else with her troubles.

the glance between friends . . .

a stranger’s mention

of cancer

Jay’s son died in a motorcycle accident in August of 2012, and I cannot imagine the grief that caused her. Yet she was still able to come to the Seabeck retreat that fall. She told me she had the energy, both emotional and physical, to attend only some of the weekend’s many activities. I checked in with her several times during the weekend, and talked about my uncle’s sudden death in a plane crash that summer, and my sister’s bout with breast cancer. Even though she had so much on her mind, I delighted in the fact that she made the effort to be there with us all, as much as she could manage. Whether it was haiku or other haiku people that fueled her spirit, she needed that fuel. Yet she fueled others even more.

the nurse log

wet with moss and ferns—

sorrel swaying

Of course, none of us could imagine Jay Gelzer would be dead two months after we had all seen her at the 2012 Seabeck retreat. But she died as best she could, on her own terms, when she learned that her cancer had returned—severe, inoperable, and terminal. I have a photo I took at Jay’s houseboat in the fall of 2011, a close-up of a potted Japanese maple. Somehow, I think of those bright red leaves when I think of Jay Gelzer. Strong, vibrant, yet warm as could be. I am personally honoured to have known her, and to count her as a friend. What a haiku soul she had!

perfect for the seeds:

rain and sun

on her memorial day

The Jay I Knew, by Terran Campbell

I will tell you about the Jay that I knew. She mostly showed her bright face to others, but she was also dark and hidden. Jay sometimes felt conflicted in the shiny/happy haiku world. Very few haiku deal with despair or trauma. Because of this, Jay censored her voice afraid that others would not be able to receive what she had to say. She did not feel up to the impossible task of collapsing the horrors she had lived through into three neat lines and then revealing it in polite company.

The last twenty years of her life were overshadowed by tragedy way beyond battling cancer and Connor’s death. In the last year of her life she was like a caged bird that was being set free. After decades of being held hostage by a severely mentally-ill child, he finally moved out only to die in an accident. Despite his loss she began to reclaim her life. We were planning a month-long trip for her 70th birthday. Her long imprisonment was at last over. She could finally do what she wanted.

It was shortly after this that the cancer returned with a vengeance. Her death with dignity was a way of giving the final “finger” to the fates (her words), unwilling to let them torment her any longer. I write these things for the parts of her that were silenced, for all that went unwritten. I honor her with this telling.

As I am writing this an enormous hawk with golden eyes has landed on a railing three feet away from me and is staring me directly in the face. This would not be too unusual but I am on a bench outside a laundromat on a very busy street. After a minute or two of face time she takes wing. I cannot help but feel that this is some sort of visitation.

I have been silent too long since your death my complex, erratic, rebellious, furious, fun-loving friend. I miss you dearly.


darkness where your

light used to be

Jay’s Memorial at Seabeck, by Michael Dylan Welch

The memorial time we had for Jay Gelzer at the 2013 Seabeck Haiku Getaway was very moving—I cried, when I hadn’t expected to. Leading it was harder than I anticipated. A few others were in tears too, and the sharing around the room was transcendent, filled with love. I wish we could have recorded what everyone said. Only six or seven people spoke, in a room of 35 or 40, but they spoke for everyone. And those who did not know Jay told me they felt her presence. There were moments of quietness, too. Immediately afterwards, we took turns reading the Japanese haiku translations from William Higginson’s “Butterfly Dreams” multimedia presentation, viewing the nature photographs of Michael Lustbader, which added to the tribute. It was something I think Jay would have loved.