Wednesday, June 25, 2008


My cousin Linda is a cypher. She is one of the great beauties of my family. She is also over 50 (but looks 35) and has lived with her mother her entire life. I can't remember her ever having a boyfriend. She has a very small group of friends who she's had forever. Her social circle is very small. Her days are spent working for the same boss that she's had for a quarter of a century. Her evenings are spent taking care of her mother and the other elderly members of my family.

I have always liked Linda, but I'm not really sure that she's always liked me. I'm extroverted and loud. Linda is neither. Our relationship has become more brittle in the last couple of years, and I don't feel like I see her often enough to know how to make it better.

My fabulous Uncle Ed, who just died, lived with Linda for most of her life. He helped raise her from childhood after Linda's father died. I think Linda was the one who discovered that Uncle Ed had died in his sleep when she went to wake him up and he didn't. I know that Linda blames herself for not insisting that our uncle go to the hospital sooner. She thinks that if she had done just a little bit more, he wouldn't have died so age 90. She is devasted by his death. Her social circle just got so much smaller.

Today I wrote a letter to Linda thanking her for being a good daughter and niece and cousin. She won't get this until I've come and gone from the memorial service. Even if she doesn't love being my relative, I'm really glad she's in my family.

Dear Linda,

Thank you for taking such good care of Auntie and the Uncles. I always talk about how lucky I am to have had my great aunts and uncles into adulthood. A lot of people I know don't even remember their grandparents, because they passed away when they were very young. I that this family is blessed with longevity, but I also know that happy people tend to live longer. This is where you come in--you're such a wonderful niece and daughter. I'm certain that your loving, 24 hour, care you give our relatives has helped extend their health and their lives. I know I'm not the only person who believes this to be true. I just wanted you to know. Thank you Linda.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Life Support

I've been thinking (and talking) a lot about death recently. My favorite uncle passed away last week which I'm super sad about. But even before his passing last Wednesday, I'd been pondering my own mortality a lot since Memorial Day weekend when Patty's son got a kidney transplant. I'm a full body organ donor. If I can't die of old age in my sleep like Uncle Ed, and I instead die horribly in some accident, I hope it's near a teaching hospital or some place that can part me out to the largest number of people. Being an organ donor helps me personally insure that people continue to believe in miracles. I know that Patty believes in them because some stranger gave her kid the gift of life.

Patty has inspired me to be more vocal about insisting that people sign on to be organ donors or at least donate their body to science. It's like the ultimate in recycling. I guess I'm not squeamish about this subject in part because my father is a doctor and I was raised to believe that donating yourself to save others is a good thing. But I'm also not that afraid of death. I think there's an afterlife and in that space or plane of existence I believe I will be okay. My living will expresses my wish to donate as much of my body as possible to help others, and it also expresses my wish to die without fanfare if I'm ever pronounced brain dead. I don't want to be hooked up on a machine, draining the emotional and financial reservoirs of my family and friends.

Today, Patty emailed me some thoughts about her living will that she's in the process of drafting:

"Last night my sister and I were sitting in the den and I said to her, 'I never want to live in a vegetative state, dependent on some machine and fluids from a bottle to keep me alive. That would be no quality of life at all, If that ever happens, just pull the plug.'

So she got up, unplugged the computer, and threw out my wine.

She's such a bitch."

Patty's awesome.