The new year is traditionally a joyous time, a time to leave the past twelve months behind us as we look forward to a new beginning and the promise of a new year. Sadly for us 2014 has begun on a very somber note. Scarcely 7 days in and already we’ve experienced two deaths. The first was my next door neighbor, Dawn, who died on January 2nd. Less than twenty-four hours later my cousin Susie passed away. Not a very pleasant way to begin the new year.
Our neighbor Dawn was only 47. She was quite a character with a great sense of humor. She was hospitalized on December 31st and had surgery for internal bleeding on New Years Day. She came through the surgery fine, but later while in recovery she suffered a heart attack, followed a short time later by a massive stroke. Sad, I was all set to do my annual crossing of her threshold. That may sound a little strange but several years ago she called on New Year’s morning and asked me to come over. I went on over and she asked me to cross the threshold and come in. It all seemed a bit odd but I did it. Then she explained that it was a cultural believe that if a man was the first person to enter your home you would be blessed with good luck for the year. So every year since I’ve gone over and been the man! Although she’s passed on her husband Carlos asked me to carry on the tradition and I will. Dawn and Carlos have been incredibly good neighbors. We will miss her.
My cousin Susie was an incredibly, brave woman. She passed away in the early morning hours of January 3rd. Although her death was expected, it is tragic just the same. She was 57 years old and fought a valiant battle with A.L.S. for two years but as is always the case, A.L.S. victims don’t live long because the disease affects vital organs causing them to fail and it affects their ability to breath. Most sufferers die of respiratory failure or pneumonia. It is a cruel killer and at this time there is no cure and no real treatment to prevent or manage its rapid progress.
I have many fond memories of Susie. I can’t say we were extremely close, but close enough for me to know the kind of person she was. She was loving, kind and caring as she showed in the way she cared for others, particularly her dad in his later years, yet she had her wild and crazy side as well. Her sense of humor could be a bit twisted much like my own. She had a great laugh and could drink with the best of them! Yeah we had some good times and a lot of laughs together at the house. I remember one time in particular when we all talked about taking a little weekend trip down to Puerto Nuevo for some lobster and beer! The following weekend Susie, Doreen and Mary,(the Salse sisters), my wife and I were headed south in my van, Mexico bound. God we had a great time! One of the best trips I’ve ever been on! We laughed and laughed some more! I remember we shared a single room in San Diego. I was a little concerned about being the lone male but that didn’t matter, we had a blast! Yes I will certainly miss my cousin.
In the two years that she dealt with A.L.S. I saw her a number of times, but not as often as I could and should have. As the disease progressed I found myself staying away. It’s not that I didn’t want to stop in from time to time, it’s just that I have a bit of a problem when it comes to seeing friends with debilitating illnesses. Nearly 20 years ago when my buddy Art’s dad was dying of cancer I went to see him early on but not in his final months. And years later when my good friend and mentor Al Pacheco was dying, again I saw him early on but I couldn’t bring myself to go and see him either. There were others as well. I chose instead to remember them as they were when healthy. Maybe it’s a character flaw or some kind of phobia. I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.
But that all changed with Susie. Raylene and I stopped by the house two days after Christmas to drop off gifts and learned that hospice had told the family that Susie’s time was short. I sat and visited with my cousin’s Doreen and Tom who were here from New York and my aunt Fina. When we got ready to leave Raylene went into the bedroom to see Susie and her daughter Leslie who was caring for her. I stood waiting for Ray and continued visiting. I had no intention of going in. I don’t know why, but when I glanced over at the open bedroom door I was suddenly filled with this sense of urgency that I should go in and she Susie, and I did. Only for a minute or two but I did.
Susie was a very beautiful person both in appearance and in spirit. And in that moment she looked as beautiful laying there on her deathbed as she had before her illness. Sure she was thinner and more frail, but as she slept, her breath but a whisper, she looked beautiful and very peaceful. I kissed her cheek and said goodbye. I’m so glad I decided to go in and see her. Funny but as I’m writing this and thinking about those moments with Susie I realize that as she lay there she reminded me of my mom, I don’t know why, but she did. Thanks cousin for helping me find strength. Rest easy, gonna miss you but you’re home now, your heavenly home. Please say hi to my mom for me.