Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My cousin died yesterday

I have a lot of first cousins. I have so many that I think of them in generations, or tiers. I am in the 2nd tier, but that is only from my point of view. There is a group of first cousins a little older than me, but my younger cousins might lump me in with them. My father was the oldest of 10 children, my mother is a couple years older than my father, so, I'm among the older of this partiuclar population of first cousins.

Angela was the 2nd daughter of my mom's youngest brother. She is younger than me, and I thought of her in the 3rd tier or generation of my cousins. I was a teenager when she was born, and it was hard for me to think of her as grown up and making her way in the world. But she did. Her last job that I know of was as a scheduling assistant to Ernie Fletcher when he was Governor of Kentucky. She did well for herself.

We werent particularly close, and I'll take the blame for that. I sometimes have a tendency to distance myself from my family. That's completely my fault, and my tendency.

I last spoke to her in March of 2008, at an Uncle's funeral in Hindman, Kentucky. I remember thinking what a nice person she had turned out to be. I have trouble making conversation sometimes, and she put me completely at ease. I would think that top notch communication skills would be a requirement if you are a scheduling assistant for a state Governor, and Angela apparently had them. I still remembered her as a child, and like most children (including yours truly) she was a handfull. I remembered her crying and so upset when her older sister got married. Angela had a good singing voice and she sang as part of our Uncle's funeral service. She also sang at our Grandmother's funeral many years earlier, when she was a teenager. Of course all of us were sad that our uncle had died, but it was tempered by the fact that he had lived about as long as a person can expect to live (somewhere between 92 & 95 years, depending on who you talked to), had stayed alert, mentally sharp, and active right till the end. If you are a serious pocket knife collector, chances are you've come across one of his catalogs. His final illness was very short. He lived a good, long life. I remember thinking at the time that in the next 5 to 10 years, there's going to be a lot more funerals in my family. No one in their wildest dreams thought next one would be for Angela.

Angela lived in Lexington, Kentucky - she had worked her way out of the eastern Kentucky hills. One morning back in January her house caught fire. Some people who were passing by saw flames through the living room window, one of them ran to the front door, heard a noise on the other side and broke the door down. They pulled Angela out. Her hair was on fire, and her clothes were melting into her skin. There was an sort article in the Lexington Herald, copied later by the Troublesome Creek Times, a local weekly paper in Knott County, Ky. The article was mostly about the people who pulled Angela out of the house. At the time I wondered about that, but now it seems reasonable. Angela couldn't talk to them, she could not give them any kind of a story.

From that day until yesterday, about 7 weeks, Angela was in the University of Kentukcy Medical Center. She had 2nd & 3rd degree burns over 55% of her body.

She spent part of the time in a drug induced coma, and all of it, until the very end, on life support systems. I cannot imagine the pain, horror, sheer terror and agony she suffered.

The skin graft operations did not take. There were infections after infections. Her kidneys stopped functioning, apparently, but then started again. A few days ago she suffered a seizure, but pulled through that. Then her lungs collapsed, and the operations to correct that did not work.

She had a friend who was keeping everybody posted via Facebook. I really don't know much more than what was posted in there. It doesnt matter.

When do you make a decision to take a person off life support? When do the doctors know that there is nothing more to be done? Maybe it's one of the things you just know, when the time comes.

Last year at our Uncle's funeral, no one had an inkling that Angela had less than a year to live. Not one single person anywhere on this earth. She should have been good to go for 40 more years without even trying, and most likely more than that. I wonder what I would do differently, if I knew that this time next year I would not be alive. I really don't know.

When I was little, I thought I would never die. Literally. I figured that they'd come up with a cure for death by the time I was grown up. Well, I can feel the slow deterioration of my body, and I supposed that is a symptom of my eventual demise. I have had it thrown in my face since I was very young that people get old and die, and sometimes they die young from illness or accidents. No promises about a lifespan.

I feel very, very sad about Angela. She didn't deserve this.


Anonymous said...

Angela may have touched more lives in those weeks in Intensive Care than she did before that. Over 400 people followed her story on Facebook alone. I know it's not consolation or a reason. There is no reason. But, she will always be remembered in a "good light" by those who knew her. Those who die too young stay in a "good light" to those who knew them. I know because of little Sissie. She died at age 2 and I always felt she was way special because of that.

Daisy said...

I am very sorry to learn the sad news about your cousin. My sympathies to you.

Ivanhoe said...

I'm so sorry about your cousin. I cannot even imagine being burnt in a fire. May she rest in peace.

To your question about pulling the plug... Hubby and I made a pact, should anything bad happen to either of us, we will not let them "hanging" in there for more then 6-8 weeks (unless the prognosis is very good)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

No one deserves to go in such a brutal manner. My condolences and thoughts are with you.

This is one of those stories that's going to haunt me for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Anyone in the family or close friend that dies is hard to come to terms with. A sad tale and our sympanthy goes out to you.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you, your family and Angela's friends.

Dori said...

So sorry to hear about your cousin. My condolences to you and your family.

A Valdese Blogger said...

Thanks everyone, for your comments and thoughts.