My cousin Avi passed away Thursday evening. He was buried on Friday, at noon, before the start of the Sabbath, in accordance with Jewish tradition.
Only now, two days after his passing, am I beginning to digest the magnitude of our loss. And I am filled with anger, because when we trace back, step by step, the various stages of his illness, it seems so clear that his death was unnecessary, that it could have been prevented. If only the doctors treating him for rheumatoid arthritis had given him some other medicine and not one that suppressed his immune system and bone marrow production. If only they had not rushed into chemotherapy when he was finally diagnosed with leukaemia. If only, when the first round of chemotherapy failed, they had waited before immediately starting the second, more punishing round, which his body simply couldn’t take.
The chemotherapy destroyed his kidneys. The doctors decided to put him on dialysis – even though, by that time, they were convinced there was no hope. They had already heavily sedated him and his breathing was being artificially assisted. Before starting the dialysis, the doctors had told us it was now only a matter of days, possibly even only of hours. But they said they wanted to see if, in spite of everything, the second round of chemotherapy, which Avi had been unable to complete, had succeeded in bringing about a remission of the leukaemia. When it became clear it had not, they stopped the dialysis and put him back under heavy sedation. Twenty-four hours later, he was dead.
I ask myself, over and over again, if they had not stopped the dialysis, but had waited for a few more days, might the longed-for, prayed-for miracle have occurred? Possibly not. Probably not. Still the thought torments me.
Most of all, I am angry at Avi’s sister, my cousin Y. who flatly refused to donate the bone marrow that might have saved him, had the chemotherapy succeeded in bringing about a sufficient remission of the leukaemia to make a transplant a viable option. Bone marrow from a sibling has the best chance of being a match. None of us can understand her refusal. Her claim that it would endanger her own life is ludicrous. In the event, she can now attempt to salve her conscience with the knowledge that the illness progressed so fast and so aggressively, that Avi never even reached the stage when a bone marrow transplant would have been possible. But I cannot acquit her. She let her brother die in the knowledge that his own sister would not lift a finger to save his life.
At the funeral, several of Avi’s friends spoke in his memory. Friends, from school, from his military service, from the college where he lectured in Cinema Studies. From them, I learned many things about Avi that I did not know before, although my brother, who was very close to him, may have known more than I. One of them spoke of his naiveté, his innocent trust in others, his stubborn, uncompromising integrity – and of the disappointments and setbacks he had suffered as a result. Others spoke of his generosity – of which I heard more today from his mother, my aunt.
As for me – I remember him as he was the summer we made aliyah, and the summer before that, when I spent a few weeks here in Israel before starting university. Avi, in his last couple of years at high school, always had a pretty girl on his arm, no doubt the prettiest girl in the class, because my tall, handsome cousin could have his pick. That is the way I choose to remember him, not confined to a hospital bed, hooked up to heaven knows what infusions, as he was when I last saw him.
Farewell, Avi. Rest in peace. We shall meet again, one day.