Death and Dying and Left Behind…

My sister died in 2008.  I have written about her before.  She was our baby sister.  I will always think of her as my baby sister.

She died of complications to pneumonia.  It is hard to breathe with pneumonia.  Not breathing well contributes to low blood oxygenation.  Effectively one drowns from pneumonia.  Laura had myelodysplastic syndrome.  It did not kill her.  I was her blood stem cell donor.

During Laura’s treatment it was discovered that she was allergic to virtually all the antibiotics they gave her as a prophylaxis. The treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics.  The solution for MDS is kill off the bone marrow and as a result the patient’s immune system.  The antibiotics given during this process put her in a coma for six weeks.  The doctors supposed that she had veno occlusive disease, a liver problem with a low survival rate. She did not have that.

At the beginning of her treatment before I donated my luekoblasts to her, a nurse and social worker and I discussed the possibility that my blood cells which came with my immune response could actually attack her and kill her.  The discussion centered around, how did I feel about THAT.  I was certainly not excited about the fact that I could kill her.  Presented as my call.  A moral dilemma- Laura will die if I do nothing; Laura may die (sooner) if I do something.  Looking back from the distance of thirteen years my reaction is the same – tears come to my eyes. [I had to stop.]

I remember thinking that I should ask Laura if it was okay if I killed her. I did not. This procedure is presented as do this then that then this and … you are healed. I suppose that they discussed with Laura the survival rate. She did not survive. I will always be somewhat skeptical of doctors and cancer cures. The fact that she died specifically of pneumonia is a distinction of no import. I was there when she took her last breath. I will never forget the silence.

My brother died this year in May. He was my big brother. I have written about him too. He was six years older than I less nine days.

He followed his dream job to Florida many years ago and from that job he went to others always in Florida. His last job was a coder/programmer for a subcontractor to Microsoft. He was a smart guy or at least that is my perception from little brotherhood. Every time I turn on my computer I think of Bill.

Families are complicated. One wants to believe that there is a close personal connection between siblings in the family but that does not always occur in life. Gaps in age, education, life choices, geography and beliefs tug at simple family ties. Our family is no different. We held no animosities but we did not live in each other’s lives.

Our parents Virginia and Robert died about eight years apart. Dad passed away in 2007 about a month before Laura. Mom passed away in 2016. Every time I throw away a box from Amazon or Boxed Up, I think of Mom. I hear her voice, “Paul, don’t throw away that box! That’s a good box.” Mom kept a lot of crap in boxes.

I think of Dad in various situations. He was what we would call today a hacker. When I was a kid our basement was full of old electronics. When he retired he became enamored with computer equipment. He spent a lot of time futzing with computers and programming them. Visual Basic and he were friends. He was always working on something called his Bingo Program. He occasionally journaled too but although I inherited all his computer stuff I have not found any of his writings. I think of him when I write random comments in this blog/journal of mine.

Now it is only Joyce and me. We talked yesterday for about an hour. We did not talk about anything special. I called her merely to hear her voice. It has been thirteen years since our original family group started dying off. For some reason it is important that I hear her voice more often.

She mentioned in our conversation that she is not very excited about turning 70 this year. (Wow has it been that long?) She sent me the picture below many years ago in a birthday card. Laura is in the middle. In her note she wrote – I’m so glad you are my brother. I am so glad you are my sister, Joyce.

Remembrance of occasions and enjoyment of those fade with time. I have often pondered why I remember some things and have absolutely no memory of others. What we were excited about on this occasion is lost in my memory. Joyce found the picture and sent it to me. Obviously it is Christmas time. I am swallowed up in abject joy and laughter. No memory at all about it. I am grateful for the picture of us.

Life and death? — Dad was not afraid of dying. He said as much to the doctor when he was given the news that an X-ray photograph of his abdominal area revealed a mass on his colon. I do not fear dying. I worry that Cheryl will be provided for after I am gone. I wonder if Laura would have lived longer if she and I had not exchanged blood cells. I wonder if she would be alive today if her doctors had simply been smarter about what was going on in her body. Maybe she would not have spent six weeks in a coma. … could have, would have, should have.

Laura told me about a month before her death that my stem cells had taken up residence in her bones. Our life experiment was working. I speculated – how do they know? Her response was – I think because they can look in there and see little X’s and Y’s. Yes, I imagine they could detect those somehow.

In the background of the conversation between Joyce and me was a thought like, I should have asked him (her) that when Dad was still alive, when Mom was still alive, when Laura was still alive, when Bill was still alive. As I talked to Joyce I thought about how short our time on Earth is. Seventy years seems like a long time but it is not. I thought about how fragile our existence here is. At this time in our life a virus threatens lives. Ask those questions. There may be little time to get an answer.



Other morose thoughts — In his late years, Dad would not hesitate to tell you that he was older than his father. Dad’s father died when he was 82. In Dad’s mind he felt that he would live to be 82. As he got closer to that age, he resigned himself to the fact that his life was almost over. He was not worried about dying. His only concern was, would it hurt? I think that was his only fear.

Pain is the only thing that makes me uncomfortable about death I believe that I do not feel pain as others do. I understand Dad’s point of view about pain. I wonder if it hurts to drown. I wonder if it hurts to die of pneumonia. Does a sudden massive heart attack hurt?

Death causes a gap in the family. I have become very aware of that gap in our family. Joyce and I are closer. I believe we are. It is just us now.