Monday, July 15, 2013

My Week in Review

Steve Oliver by Janet Oliver

My neighbor and husband of my best friend died the 10th of July. Eight and a half years ago he was diagnosed with a deadly cancer caused by Agent Orange. It is currently taking out a huge number of our Vietnam Veterans and not in a gentle way.

Steven Ryan Oliver would have been 68 this August. And like his service in Vietnam as a Marine, he beat some long odds to make it this far. May he rest in peace.

My experience with having him and my friend as neighbors was eye opening about the American way of death and dying. If you do not have an extended family being a care taker for someone with cancer might just kill you. The statistics are against you.

I long ago dedicated myself to helping Janet through this ordeal. And she has had to totally put her own life on hold because of the care and attention he required. Even at those times when he seemed to be functioning well to the community. Until you have been there you have no idea.

On Good Friday this year Steve entered the Holy Cross hospital in Taos, and Jan and I got our first peek at how totally difficult it was going to be just to migrate through the Veterans Care obstacle course. It was Steve's wish to die at home but under Veteran's care, and where home was, it was clear quickly that would be near impossible. Unlike some veterans, Steve, was able to get total disability and health benefits. Many veterans are still waiting for that and one of our mutual friends died waiting. But with the money and care our government rightly owes them are requirements the veteran die is a certain way or place. Unattended at home not an easy option.

I have a lot of friends of my age dealing with a critically ill spouse or loved one. My advice is find help early. Hospitals make some things easier and some things a great deal more difficult. Do not expect yourself to have the funeral planned immediately. Or even where the body goes. Allow yourself at least a week of sleep to make up for that lost sitting beside the bed. Know that it is not just doctor's and nurses's questions you will have to answer, but the business manager of the hospital, the billing department, the insurance representative, the social worker assigned your case, etc.

And the next time you run into a friend with a critically ill parent or spouse or family member ask first how your friend is doing.  Ask if he or she has time for coffee or lunch. A bit of normalcy in a world that seems to have gone crazy.


  1. I am so sorry. I did not know. There really aren't any words. We knew it was coming but this still came as a shock when I see it in black and white. There is so much red tape wrapped around dying of an illness that lingers. Most people want to die at home when it would be better for them to be in a Hospice but we have had this conversation before. Yes the bureaucracy now has to be gone through which in itself, whilst keeping the mind occupied, is awful. We know that reality will hit Jan when the practicalities that comes with death, are over. Apart from anything else. Bring the carer, relief that the person is out of pain is insignificant compared to the loss and people who have spent so long looking after someone feel not only the loss of a loved one but the loss of an activity that has taken all of their time. Jan is blessed to have you as her friend and I hope as she goes through the grieving process, she is able to be open. You too need to sleep and care for yourself. It's been a tough time on you too.

  2. Anyone having you for a friend is fortunate. And once again, I am saying thanks to the spirit of Tommy Douglas. Our system is far from perfect, but we do NOT have to deal with the financial trauma on top of everything else.


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