Let me tell you about my brother-in-law, Larry.
Larry married my sister Wilma a few days before my 11th birthday, and they had been married 29 years when she passed away. So, I’ve pretty much known Larry my whole life. I barely remember a time when he wasn’t there.
Larry had been diagnosed with diabetes after all three of their kids were born, I believe. I remember him feeling apprehensive and guilty, thinking he might have given the disease to his kids. First two escaped the diagnosis. The third one was diagnosed when he was about 13.
Larry was what is called a brittle diabetic, that is, prone to huge swings in blood sugar. Over the years, he was hospitalized several times with glucose readings that were off the charts. Eventually, he wound up with an insulin pump, so those blood sugar readings of 700 or 800 became a thing of the past.
Before that, however, Larry developed diabetes-related heart disease. Prior to his 50th birthday, he had triple or quadruple bypass surgery (I can’t remember which, and there’s nobody left to ask). I remember the doctor coming into the waiting room in the middle of the night telling the family that he had survived surgery, but likely wouldn’t see 60. (Thanks, doc, great announcement at 2 in the morning. I drove home alone, screaming in the car the whole way.)
As Larry aged, we joked a lot about his not living to 60. We did that on his 60th birthday. And his 70th. And his 75th. Larry passed away the other day, about three weeks shy of his 80th birthday. I had spoken to him a few days earlier, just before my own August 1st birthday. He had taken a bad fall, developed a brain bleed and was pretty scared. “Hey,” I told him, "you have a big birthday coming soon. Don’t screw it up!”
“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” he said sadly.
Remembering that both of my sisters had passed away at this same time of year, I said, “Look, Wilma screwed up one of my birthdays, and Bev loused up another one. Don’t you dare mess this up for me!”
“I promise,” he said.
Well, he missed it by three days. He left us on August 4.
Son of a….
But then I remembered that doctor from 30 years ago. It was Larry’s mission to prove him wrong. He did it when married again. His second wife, the lovely Lonnie, lent him tremendous support and would be damned if she was going to let him go down the tubes. He ate right, he kept his weight pretty much in check, and conquered each physical challenge that arose. And there were plenty.
But you know what kept him going? Doing something he loved. He became one of the most celebrated volunteers with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, putting in an aggregate 6,000 hours, making friends, helping people, and getting laughs with his larger-than-life personality.
I thought he was invincible. I was wrong.
What I need to remember--and what I think he would want us all to remember--is what it means to be diabetic, how important it is to take care of ourselves on a daily basis, that this is a chronic disease and its symptoms can only be kept under control, or even at bay, with daily vigilance. So, do it for yourself. Do it for your family. Do it for Larry.
I’m going to miss Larry. I already do.