Aug 24, 2013

On Death And Dying

Cactus Flower by Finijo

This has been an odd year. My brother, David, died the morning of New Year's Day and as much as I have tried to keep that from coloring my year, it seems to have seeped into so much of my life. I travel back to Arkansas every couple of months to check on his sons and his business, but both the sons and the business struggle without his guidance. On my darker days I feel like a very poor substitute and wonder if I am being of any help at all. The youngest son is learning to live at a new level of responsibility, and most of the time seems like he is thriving. He is trying his hardest to master a business that took his father a lifetime to build. There is no time for the steep learning curve that he faces if he is to keep the business going through the lean winter that is too quickly approaching. My brother's oldest son is in prison and has two years to serve. He seems to have adapted well to prison life, but I am not seeing anything his his personality, speech, or actions that allow me to believe that he has changed in any kind of meaningful way for the better since his incarceration eight years ago. When he is released in two years, he will own half of the business and he shows no interest in learning about what is happening with the business or in working in the business during his furloughs every few months. Each visit or phone call from him leaves me feeling more anxious than the last, but each visit to Arkansas includes a visit with him to try to clear a path for him to work with his brother, instead of against him. They are not close, because the older son is a bully and does whatever he can to undermine his brother. I think the most unsettling thing about the visits with him is his attempt to act like he has changed. The ring of insincerity is loud, but he has a smugness to him that makes me think he truly believes that he has us all fooled. I love them both, and hope that my worst fears will not be realized when he is released. In the mean time, we work at trying to keep the business going and I work at building up the younger son to have the confidence to face his brother when he gets out.

While trying to deal with all that my brother left undone, I was blindsided by a diagnosis of  diabetes (type 2) in April and two weeks ago I was told that I have "a mass in my kidney". I was diagnosed with Lupus in 1996 and although I have been in remission since 1999, I have flares and have to deal with the kidney disease it caused. A couple of weeks before the doctor told me that I have diabetes, we were informed by the medical examiner that my brother also had diabetes. He was diagnosed in 2007 and chose to never treat it or even to tell us about it. The medical examiner also told us that he had 4-5 heart attacks, which he likely did not feel because he did not treat the diabetes. I am in limbo about the mass until they figure out the next step to try to determine if it is a cyst or cancer. My health setbacks this year are troubling me.

My relationship with death is complicated. I am age 47, with lupus, diabetes, and kidney disease. My mother died when she was 35 of MS, my father when he was 45 of stroke/heart attack, my older sister at age 52 of cancer, my brother at 58 from a stroke. I feel like I cheated death so many times in my life, and now I feel it licking at my heels again. I am not so much afraid of dying, but I feel like I have so much left to do. The thought of leaving my sister and youngest nephew in the same predicament as my brother's sons is the worst thing I can imagine.

So, I am trying to be as healthy as I can. My diet has changed drastically and weight is falling off of me, faster than expected. So fast, that my doctor informed me that the weight loss "threw my kidneys into a state of shock." I lost 10% of the 35% kidney function I had, but I am slowly rebuilding it and it is almost back to normal - if you can call 35% normal. I spend spare time these days working on "getting my affairs in order." I put together my "death file" containing all of the important information about insurance, retirement funds, etc.., so that it will be easily accessible. I try to stay in contact with the friends I have that live far away, or that live close by and I don't get to see as often as I feel I should. I alternate between bursts of energy to do what must be done and an almost paralyzing inertia that keeps me from getting anything done. My art and writing have gone by the wayside this year. I don't want them to, but I don't seem to have the energy or the desire to work at them except in fits and starts. 

It seems maudlin to write all of this out, but this morning I felt like I would burst without releasing these thoughts. Better now, so it's time to do something useful...

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