Saturday, June 29, 2013

Thoughts and Lessons from a Brother’s Death

Earlier this month my second brother John died, after nearly a month being in a vegetative state and connected to life support. He’d suffered a massive stroke during the 2nd week of May, which I didn’t even learn about – how could I?- until returning to the U.S. from Europe. I immediately began to beat up on myself, because I’d promised to phone him again before leaving to plead with him to get the cardiac open heart surgery he needed to save his life – but which he rejected nearly a month earlier. Doctors had warned him it was perhaps the only chance he’d have for life, given the extent of arterial blockage,  but he didn’t want to take any chance on going under the knife.

Obviously, in any serious medical procedure, there exists a chance something might go amiss, and you may not come out of it. A simple colonoscopy can result in a perforation of the colon wall and death. A prostate biopsy, such as I had last July, can result in hemorrhage or sepsis. A prostate cancer treatment – whether surgery or radiation- carries its own severe risks. But we get these things done – on weighing the probabilities, and possible negative against positives – because we rationally view them as essential to continue life or quality of life. Alas, John did not, though my middle brother Jerome and myself pleaded with him to change his perceptions.

We also pleaded with him to at least stop smoking, which the doctors had warned him about, but he was unable to do so. Having already gone blind nearly a year and a half earlier (from diabetic retinopathy) he wasn’t about to give up any more sensual stimuii. Given the loss of visual input, he compensated by audio –Ipod ……and non-stop smoking as a prime activity. One might say that between the refusal to get the cardiac operation and the inability to stop smoking….at least so much smoking….he essentially laid a path that was ultimately unfortunate for him.

What lessons to take away from John, his life and especially latter decisions, actions?

- It is by no means as easy to change a person as you might think.

I know, I know, this is almost a truism but is no less germane for being so. While I regret not having known Johnny better, mainly on account of spending a good chunk of years outside the U.S., I do recall on the few intermittent occasions I did see him, or have contact, trying to entice him to make better life choices. I either appealed to the range of alternatives he seemingly couldn’t see (such as going to Vermont in 1998, as opposed to going to Las Vegas where he fell into a gambling addiction) or making better health choices to extend and enhance his life, life quality – such as cutting down on the cokes and smokes, eating a better diet… opposed to going to Vegas buffets. But in the end, he always made his own choices, and they usually weren’t in his favor or best long term interests.

-It is possible John had a methylated personality which prevented him from making the optimum choices over his life(see e.g. )

As noted therein, according to Epigenetic theory (see, e.g. DISCOVER, May, pp. 50-55)any traumatic experiences – even in the genetic past- are capable of leaving molecular “scars” adhering to our DNA. While the DNA itself is unchanged, behavioral alterations are imposed by the addition of the chemical interloper. More to the point, these alterations can be genetically passed on. In our family’s case, just tracing assorted genealogical lines near and far has disclosed numerous episodes of such trauma, as well as earlier relatives who likely succumbed to it. They also made terrible life choices and died or committed suicide at even younger ages than John’s. Earlier relatives were scarred by the First World War, and earlier ones by the Black Death ravaging Germany from 1634-1660. (Many of our more distant ancestors in the Brumbaugh line lived in the Bayerische region we visited, which included a Catholic church (St. Sebastian's) in Partenkirchen with a cemetery where over 1,100 were buried in a mass grave- all victims of plague.)

Could a methyl group then have hitch hiked on John’s DNA making him more likely to make poor choices? This is very plausible. But in the end we can’t know for certain because no actual chemical tests have been done.

- In the end, we need to appreciate and try to help our loved ones as much as we can while they’re alive and not postpone until later showing our care and affection

  As I wrote on John’s Memorial page: “This loss of John ought to bring all the remaining sibs closer together, realizing life is too short.” Family squabbles, what sib was favored over who by parents, who is a “real Christian” and who isn’t, or why that atheist sib needs to marginalized, and who is Dem and who is Repub- --- all these fall into insignificance when one considers the sheer brevity of human life. Thus, when we sow or fuel conflict we are basically wasting time – the already brief time in this life- on literal minor beliefs, ephemeral differences and subjective viewpoints.

At least so far, John’s sibs have come closer together, and one hopes it endures, and doesn't fade with time or memory loss.

John, wherever you are- if indeed in a ‘heaven” as proposed by our family's believers- or existing as nonlocal quantum wave forms (e.g. )

Be assured we will try to live up to the Self-potential you yourself sometimes glimpsed for your own life, but which bad luck,  poor decisions.....or lack of ample love and support when needed....prevented you from achieving!

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