Last Days

For Your Consideration

editorial@sierrastar.comSeptember 17, 2013 

As some may observed, my columns have been absent for the past few weeks. My brother Dennis, nine years my junior, was stricken with esophageal cancer. It's still a mystery as to when it started but when it became obvious it was too late. Initially there were no visible signs and internal indicators were dismissed as benign ailments.

Dennis was unique and eccentric. He studied at the University of Massachusetts where he met his life partner of 30 years. Out of respect for her privacy, I'll call her Jane. He worked multiple jobs to put Jane through an extensive program learning AutoCad, a computer aided tool for creating plumbing, electrical, HVAC, architectural and other designs for large scale commercial projects. Jane has since become a very successful senior software consultant on the full line of AutoCad products.

My brother had an inventive mind and a stubbornly independent streak. When he saw that something was wrong he would confront the situation typically in a less than diplomatic way to correct it. Needless to say, he was not an ideal candidate for an employer/employee relationship. Having empowered Jane in a lucrative paying conventional job, Dennis felt he could now pursue his inventions.

His single-minded focus on his inventions and eccentricity led him to ignore the trappings of a conventional lifestyle. Part of that meant he didn't feel he needed to marry. It was sufficient that they were committed and loved one another. As a couple they were productive citizens and felt no need to conform.

I was fortunate enough to see Dennis during his last days. By then the cancer had metastasized into his lymph nodes and spine. The cancer had pushed up against his larynx making it difficult to speak. He could not eat or drink and was hydrated intravenously. Even at four days before his passing, he wanted to go home and finish his invention. A day later, hardly able to remain conscious, he was drawing pictures and trying to explain his designs to me.

One of his last words before his death at 3:04 a.m. Sep. 12, 2013, was "Sorry." It started me thinking. Why did he say that and what would I say on my last day? Knowing Dennis, I believe his "sorry" remark was not a sorry to humanity. Although he was not politically active, he sided with fairness, equality, compassion, and caring for all people and the environment. He did not have a greedy or selfish bone in his body. He was kind and generous. That is not to say he was a saint.

Obviously he had issues with the family to which his last sentiment, "sorry," was targeted.

Dennis received great care. Besides an attending physician, he was evaluated by a team of Oncologists and Psychiatrists. A Personal Safety Assistant (PSA) was present 24/7. Nurses and a social worker were on hand for support and care as well as the palliative care physician. I can only imagine what all this is costing. It turned out that Dennis not being legally married was a blessing in disguise. Had he been, this would have bankrupted Jane despite her insurance coverage. Medicaid paid for everything.

This makes one appreciate the expansion of Medicaid in Obamacare. In fact, there should be Medicare for all. Too many families even with insurance have been bankrupted by healthcare costs. No one should have to be at such risk when a loved one becomes ill. Many argue that they shouldn't have to pay for other people's healthcare. They may not realize that even with private insurance, you are paying for other people's healthcare.

When others in your insurance pool are sick, you pay for them. When you are sick, they pay for you.

On the flip side of not being legally married, Jane was not entitled to making medical decisions for Dennis nor could she sign a release form for his cremation even though they were together for 30 years.

We cling to laws, traditions and archaic ideas that deny happiness and rights to others - same-sex marriage, equal pay and protection of women, global warming, funding to feed hungry children (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), racial equality and voting rights, increases in minimum wage etc. Why? In the big scheme of things, is this necessary? Is this what Jesus would have wanted? Dennis would bluntly say you know it ain't right. Change your damn laws, traditions and thinking. Where should we stand so as not to say sorry to humanity in our last days?

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