Posted on Tuesday 29 August 2006

Over on Dear Elena, there is a post titled “Blame”. It is about whether Daniel or Kim is responsible for their daughter’s death. Elena died from a bacterial infection about six months ago. I can understand this behavior. I went through much the same thing after my twin brother, David, was killed. I also went through similar doubts after Gee’s death.

My twin brother was killed by a drunk driver on Saturday, September 19, 1987. The accident happened just outside of Nashville, Tennesee, on I-40, around 1:30 in the morning. He had left our family home in Newton, the previous morning. Until five minutes before he left, I had a suitcase in his car, and a return airline ticket waiting for me in San Diego. David had convinced me to stay in Boston.

He wanted me to stay because Monday was class registration over at Northeastern University, where he and I had started college together back in 1985. He had transfered to the University of California–San Diego, to study aeronautical engineering, a year earlier—about the same time I left school on a medical leave of absence. The next week would have been my first chance to return to school, after completing a year of intensive physical therapy. I would have missed this if I had gone on the cross country drive to San Diego with him. I saw his reasons and decided not to go with him, as he wished.

Early Saturday morning, I awoke in a cold sweat, terrified from a nightmare about a car accident. I knew something was wrong. About an hour later, I heard the phone ring. A few minutes after that my father came upstairs and opened my bedroom door. I asked him, “What happened to Dave?” I already had known what had happened, I had seen it in my nightmare. He told me that Dave had been in an accident, and was in the hospital—in surgery.

As it turns out, I didn’t return to school that year.  There is more to this story, but I will leave that for another time. For many years, I blamed myself, thinking that if I had gone with him, that I might have been able to do something to prevent his death. With time, self-growth, and help from friends, I have come to realize that if I had been with David that day, it is more likely that we both would have died. Whether I could have prevented his death is something I can never know. I no longer blame myself for David’s death.

Five years ago, just after Gee died. I faced similar issues. Did I do everything I could to help her fight her cancer? Was there anything else I could have done? Was there a treatment option that we could have tried, but didn’t? Should we have tried a different doctor or different clinic for her treatment?

From my research of the disease, when Gee was diagnosed, I knew that only 4% of people diagnosed pancreatic cancer survive past five years, and that it is the fourth most deadly form of cancer, even though it is only the eleventh most common. I also knew that most people diagnosed with Stage III metastic pancreatic cancer died within a year of diagnosis with six months being the median.

Yet, Gee and I had fourteen months together after she was diagnosed—we had beaten the odds in some ways—although, not quite the way I had hoped. Almost two-thirds of the time I spent with Gee, we lived with her battle with cancer. It was my choice to stay with her, and I don’t regret that decision. Fortunately, age and experience has taught me. I decided that we had done as much as anyone could have…

Could I have done anything to prevent the deaths of these two people who meant so much to me? I used to think that it was my fault that David died—that I could have saved him somehow if I had gone with him. But, I realize now that, most likely, it would have ended both our lives. With Gee, I know that I did everything within my powers to fight her cancer with her. More than that—I know that I gave her the love and support that she needed during her battle with her cancer.

I hope that Daniel and Kim can find the peace I have found, and finally understand that they are not to blame. They did not infect their daughter with the bacteria that eventually killed her. There was nothing they could have done, other than what they did do. Unfortunately, acceptance of the reality is difficult, and many can not bring themselves to face it. It is often easier to blame oneself than it is to accept that tragic deaths like that of Elena, Gee, and David happen.

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