When illness suddenly turns deadly

Butch Trucks, stopped dead in his tracks, made me consider my own mortality

I am not a fatalist but every time I read obituaries or hear news of the death of a famous person I quickly and instinctively do the math.

Quick count: eighty-year-old Mary Tyler Moore died. Stephen P. Cohen, who secretly advanced the course of peace in the Middle East, died at 71. Allman Brothers band drummer Butch Trucks dead at 69.

Last week I celebrated my 68th birthday. YOU do the math.

My wife Gilda and many of my friends think I’m a hypochondriac. They may be right: I’m always complaining about aches and pains, but never about anything really important. No heart issues. No migraines. Nothing that has the potential to impinge or alter my daily life. My blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides are under control, albeit with daily pill popping, but nothing too excessive.

A recent colonoscopy found me clean as a whistle. My prostate’s enlarged but not terribly inconvenient. I don’t smoke, neither do I drink to excess.

In other words, I have no reason to outwardly worry or compare myself to the departed souls on the obituary page.

I don’t angst over the inevitable. I do, however, project into the future: How old will I be at my grandchildren’s bar and bat mitzvahs? Their high school graduations? Their college graduations? Will I be at their weddings?

Please do not conflate this musing with despair or depression. It is what I believe is a natural, rational observation and analysis of life’s ultimate frailty.

I started this blog post several weeks ago. It was a distant, even impersonal, reaction to the passing of famous people. I left it lying in my queue of unfinished blogs. Until, that is, last week when my friends and I were shocked by the sudden, untimely death of one of our cohort.

In hushed tones in small groups we reflected on how we were collectively startled into thinking of our own mortality. Even our rabbi, one of our cohort who in the last 22 years has presided over way too many funerals of the old and even the young, suffered an unusual spasm of sorrow in his voice during his eulogy for our mutual friend.

Bill’s death was a reminder, as if we needed one, that the end of life can come quickly and without warning. That the old aphorism to “live life fully at all times” is a truism to be neglected at one’s peril and misfortune. And regret.

Bill wasn’t the first of our friends to pass. Twenty-six years ago Michael, whose summer camp counsellor I had been during our respective adolescences, departed after battling spine tumours for nearly a decade.

Three years ago Neil left his family and friends less than two years after a prostate cancer diagnosis.

And now Bill. It took but a handful of days for sepsis and subsequent heart failure to end his life a week last Monday. He died on my birthday.


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