August 22nd, 2009

On death and dying and disco music and dancing...

~Saturday~ Death was on my mind today. Twice this week I've learned about someone dying via Facebook. One of the people was the husband of a guy who I've only ever "met" online, and the other was a high school friend of mine. Neither one of which I'd known was sick.

I'm surprised at how much of an effect the death of my friend's husband has had on me. I've spent some time thinking about why that is, and I want to capture some of my thoughts about that here. Just to avoid pronoun (i.e., "he") confusion I'm going to use names. Will is the guy I've talked to online. His husband was Tony, whom I've never spoken to online.

  1. Without a doubt, one of the reasons that this has affected me is because Tony died of a brain tumor. Several years ago, I lost an IBM colleague and friend, Kurt, to brain cancer, and I had some of these same feelings then. I value my intellect so much, and it just seems that brain cancer is a direct attack on that.

  2. The second thing that strikes me about brain tumors is the speed. Kurt's tumors first manifested themselves as massive migraines, and he died a little less than a year later. Though Tony's tumor was thought to be benign, at least as it's described on the My Story page of his CaringBridge site, it first manifested itself as a severe hearing loss over a few months, was found to be huge and had to be removed in scheduled surgery on August 12th, and he died on or around August 17th. Fast.

  3. This final posting on Tony's CaringBridge journal page moves me in several ways: the love of a sister, Tony's commitment to life even in death as an organ donor, and Tony's last thoughts about light.

    Sunday, August 16, 2009 1:26 PM, PDT

    We are writing our last update from the hospital. My wonderful brother, and William's wonderful husband has been lost to us. Our hearts are in pain, the struggle at times is unbearable, but we have and will continue to honor Tony's wishes.

    Yesterday afternoon Tony went in for his MRI. During the MRI he "coded", meaning his heart beat dropped precipitously. His ICU nurse brought it back up. They were able to complete the MRI.

    His nurse spoke to us about it and said that the signs were not good. Even though he had been taken off the "chiller", he wasn't bringing his body temperature back up on his own. His eyes were fixed and non-responsive. So we requested to receive the final MRI reading as soon as possible.

    We got it. His brain stem suffered a massive stroke during the first surgical procedure. He was never in pain and even now appears to be sleeping peacefully. Today we finish warming him up, take him off all the sedation. Tomorrow the doctors do their final assessment. Then we remove him from life support. He is an organ donor and has a strong heart, and other organs that will save the lives of many people. It is his last gift to making the world a better place.

    Janet held his hand from Atlanta to Stanford; we were by his side though this whole process. We held his hand during each visit in ICU. Yes, Janet’s brother is gone and Will’s husband is gone, and life will never be the same. There will be a void, but the memories will last a life time.

    We will be planning a service at Shady Grove Baptist Church in Marietta and the details will follow.  Janet will be returning to Atlanta mid-week., Janie is currently at her home in Marietta, and Will is likely to be in Atlanta by the end of the week.

    In the next few days we will post the details on this site, along with a list or organizations to make donations in his honor.

    Tony was quite at peace with the decisions regarding this surgery. He knew that there were risks and he knew that without the surgery his life would shortly end. The last thing he wanted in this journal from his hand was the following meditation and I believe that his light is surrounding us all:

    Light before me. Light behind me.
    Light at my left. Light at my right.
    Light above me. Light below me.
    Light unto me. Light in my surroundings.
    Light to the universe.
    Light to all.

    -Tony Johnson


My friend Mel died from cancer, although I don't know what kind. Mel just turned 52, and he takes me back to this period of my life:



when I led the band, and Mel as part of the percussion section, in the Lejeune High School Marching Band.

Rest in peace:

Tony Johnson
Mel Hunter



I met Joe at Helios at 9:00, where we had a cup of coffee before heading over to Flex for Disco Inferno night. Gary was the DJ and he did a great job.

In a complete reversal of last night, when I knew about 3 songs from the 80s all night, I knew almost all of tonight's songs. I danced through the late 70s, with some of my fondest memories being of disco dancing with my sister in downtown Greenville (NC) college bars, the year I was a senior and she was a freshman.