Coping with a death too soon

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John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
John O'Connor, editorial director, McKnight's Long-Term Care News
You will not last long in this field unless you learn how to deal with dying and death. They are inescapable realities in a profession where most customers are old and sick.

But there is no way to be completely prepared for a death in one's own family, as I was recently reminded. My younger sister Ellen died last week. She was 41.

Ellen was the fifth of nine children in the O'Connor brood. As a youngster, she was a protective sister, a good athlete and almost always in a pleasant mood. As an adult, those traits continued.

The coroner's toxicology report is still pending. But we're not expecting any CSI-type revelations. There's little doubt that our family's kryptonite – alcohol – is the reason she died too soon.

It's hard to describe the numbing sadness that accompanies such a loss. And when you lose a younger sibling, it can feel like part of an agreed-upon compact has been violated. After all, the older family members are supposed to die first, right?

At such times, it's only natural to consider the bigger picture. There are seven billion people currently alive on the planet. All but a handful will be dead within the next 110 years. So one person's passing is statistically insignificant, right? Tell that to the aching pain that feels like it will never leave.

Another saying holds that while Jews know guilt, Catholics know shame. Like my siblings, I have spent a good part of the past week thinking about what I could have done better — and should have done more forcefully — to prevent this tragedy. Alas, determination and compassion have their hands more than full when an addict's cravings kick in.

If you have a loved struggling with an addiction, here's my advice: Do whatever you can to get them help, even if it seems futile.

If you are the person with the problem, please try to get the help you need. And don't kid yourself: You do need help. But don't take action for the people who will grieve and clean up the mess after you are gone. Do it for yourself. It does matter.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.