Random (but not really)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Death, Grief, and White Hot Rage

At the beginning of November I received one of those phone calls you dread–a friend was dead. She hadn’t shown up for work, and a co-worker went to her apartment where they discovered she had died over the weekend.

As we called other friends to tell them of the loss, we heard the same question again and again, “what happened?”

We didn’t know.

Over the course of the day we learned various details. She’d not been feeling well that week, and her coworkers and family had been worried about her. The thought was maybe she had pneumonia or an asthma attack, but those were all guesses. We wouldn’t know anything until the medical examiner’s report.

We talked a lot about her in the following weeks. She’d been unemployed and underemployed for the past several years, and at one point thought she was going to lose her apartment. But in the nick of time, as she was boxing up her belongings, unsure where she was going to go, she got a job offer. It wasn’t full time with benefits, but it was enough to allow her to catch up on her rent and not have to move.

She liked her job, and was delighted after so much struggle to be working again. We’d been so happy for her. Happy because it finally looked like things were turning around for her.

Then suddenly, she’s dead, without warning.

Any death is hard, but somehow it seems so much harder when it’s unexpected.

It reminds you that life is short, and you should embrace what you have while you have it, for you never know what tomorrow will bring.

It also reminded us that if we never know what will happen tomorrow, it’s a good idea to make sure your passwords and bank accounts are available for whomever comes after you and has to put away the pieces of your life.

Somehow, two months have passed, though it hardly seems like it has been that long. But it has, and the family finally received word from the medical examiner.

It wasn’t asthma.

It wasn’t pneumonia.

It was metastatic cancer.

See, when you’re unemployed and underemployed, you don’t have health insurance. And when you don’t have health insurance, you just suck it up when you get sick.

Unfortunately, there are some things that won’t go away with time. Things that only get worse if they remain undiscovered and untreated.

Metastatic cancer.

If you’re not clear on the term, that means the untreated cancer–wherever it may have started–spread throughout her body.

Spread until it finally killed her.

We cannot know whether a diagnosis and treatment would have prolonged her life. Chances are they would have given her at least a few months if not years.

But I do know one thing for certain: If she had been diagnosed, she almost certainly would not have died alone, without the chance say goodbye to those she loved.

So when politicians and talking heads claim that health care isn’t a right, when they claim that we have no moral and ethical responsibility to provide for the medical needs of every citizen, this is what happens.

People die alone.

And those who love them never get the chance to say goodbye.

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