January 16, 2013

Hugh Yarrington on Dying But Mostly on Living

A life celebration for my friend Hugh Yarrington was held last Sunday at his home in Williamsburg, Va. The invitation from his daughters, Ashley McKee, Jill Jones, and Elizabeth Yarrington (seen above) read:
As many of you know, Hugh passed away on Tuesday, November 20th, 2012 after a 15-month long fight with Multiple Myeloma. He lived life to the fullest, and would never have wanted his family and friends to mourn him -- he always talked about wanting a party, not a funeral.  So, in keeping with his wishes (and his personality!), we're holding a celebration of life party to honor him. We hope you will be able to join us.  His friends and family meant the world to him, and we know he would love to see us all together, remembering the good times we had with him.
And a great party it was.  Hugh would have loved it.
Hugh was a great pal (and drinking buddy) of mine during the years we worked together at BNA (now Bloomberg/BNA). I remember those times fondly. But what I will remember and treasure most is our renewed friendship in the past year after we learned that we both were dealing with progressive diseases. I would have long lunches with Hugh talking about death and dying (among many other things) and always come away feeling happy and re-energized. His emails were inspiring. Here's a sampling:  

Hugh on Our Fear of Death
I think our culture suffers from its fear, or even rejection, of death as a natural part of life. In other cultures, where it happens frequently and in the midst of daily living, people learn from childhood that this is the natural way of things and they build that into their world view in a healthy way. I think our own culture tries to deny death as a part of life that must be accepted and dealt with in the normal course. It's as silly as thinking runway models represent the ideal  female form, but we are constantly pulled in that direction, aren't we.

Hugh on Euthanasia
On the end of life decision,  think you are absolutely correct to say that we can't really say how we will deal with mortality until it is an immediate issue, as opposed to an intellectual one made at a distance from the ever present fact of one of our basic life forces - preservation of our existence no matter how difficult or painful. Let's see. I can't say what I will do when the time actually comes, if it does (and we all have to reckon with a sudden turn for the worst that robs us of the choice). As a reasoning, rational person, I naturally prefer choosing my time and place as opposed to a few months in agony and putting my family through all the emotion of watching a loved one suffer and die. I've made my plans and know how it goes in every detail. It is acceptable in that sense and preferable from any rational perspective I can see, but, you are correct to point out the obvious ... most people do not choose that course when push comes to shove. But, my guess is that many never made arrangements to be able to make the choice, and I suspect that simple suicide by the standard means is beyond most of us, especially when we are sick and surrounded by caring friends and loved ones. Well, let's not think too much about it now. With luck, we are both quite a ways off from such extremities! :)

Hugh on Living with Myeloma 
Oddly enough, I find myself knowing I will be faced with good and bad news in all this myeloma business ... that my life now has a lot to do with being happy and content with my lot ... good and bad, and dealing with it, hopefully with strength and humor and - ha, to the extent I can muster it, a certain dignity. 

For the next two months, I'll do damn little but go to the infusion center and get treated! It's a pain in the ass. On the other hand, it is interesting and, as my life depends on it, I've gotten deeply interested in the science and hematology generally. So, rather than reading physics and pestering Loene with all sorts of math and silly cosmology problems, now I send her these complex blood cell protein charts and try to tell her what they mean and why they matter. She is very polite! :)) Anyway, just saying that actually it turns out to be interesting and fills my time.

Hugh on Personalized Medical Treatment
One of the things that keeps coming home to me, as I live through all this and learn, is that each of us is a unique individual chemically and otherwise. In a general way, we say that people have breast cancer or myeloma or whatever because they do … but, on a much deeper level, every patient is unique and will react differently to various treatments, etc. 

Hugh on the Prospect for Two Months of Chemo
Okay, it will be Fall and i will have been in continuous treatment for more than a year .... but, whatever, maybe I'll get some really good, normal time. The real trick is not to think so much about that, just have it as a long term positive hope. In the meantime, the task is to find something happy and good in each day ... good and bad. I'll have plenty of both to work with, if the past six months is any preview of what's coming. As always, I'm here trying .. let's see what comes and how I deal with it. 

Hahaha, sorry to be so self-absorbed. Sometimes, it helps to talk a bit about it, just to ingrain all the thoughts and understand what is needed

Hugh on Mortality and Faith
 Somehow my own thoughts and feelings about mortality and faith have grown to focus on what one can reasonably assume and hope for. The faith question simply resolves on a lack of evidence, for me anyway. I'm simply too rational and too taken with the scientific method to make the required leap into belief with no proof. I also wonder, and I mean that word in the dictionary sense, at anyone who can read even one daily newspaper and believe that there is an omnipotent, omniscient, engaged and loving deity present in our universe. Pick any day, any decade, any century, etc., and it is always the same. It persists. Nature is a horror, but mindless. Humans, well, we are worse. Of course, if I look the other way, and I usually choose to do so, I can find science, art in all its wonderful forms, and plenty to lighten my mood and ease my mind. Yes, but it is only because I look away ... all of the horrors are still there. I'm ignoring them and so is the deity .... the difference is that I can do a little (which I do try to do). He, well, if he is as they say, John Lennon's Imagine could be how we live, except for the "no religion too..." part, of course. 

Hugh After A Discouraging Biopsy Report
I am struggling at the moment with my news from my biopsy. I'm not afraid of the more aggressive treatment. I've tolerated rough chemo so far, and I know I can take more of it if I have to. A lot more. what I'm wondering about is quality of life. I've been very lucky so far not to have any really debilitating side effects or things that keep from living ... you know, living as I usually do. I see other Myeloma patients in the midst of organ failure and stress fractures and wonder if that is for me. Could I go to dialysis every third day? Get used to my bones snapping at a misstep? I don't know about that, John. I don't want Switzerland to be close in time. But, I don't want to be an invalid either. [Switzerland is the only jurisdiction where euthanasia is both legal and available to non-residents.]

Well, something to ponder and mull. In the meantime, Kelly is here. We are at the pool watching my kids swim. We counted all the change in my pretzel jar this morning and got $748 ... an accumulation of a year's worth of pocket changed tossed in each night. Kelly won the guess about how much we'd get. The kids were close. I lost. So, I buy dinner, but the winner has to treat us all to the movies. At movie prices these days (counting the enormous amount of food my kids get), I think I may have gotten the better end of the bargain.

I've been trying to drink more these past four days and have done well. However, a lot of the fluid is staying with me and blowing me up. At first, I lost a little weight, but now it is going to other way and also making me worry that my kidneys aren't flushing me out as they should. Goddamn, if it isn't always something, isn't it? Take a new drug, get the new side effects. Take enough of them, and your body gets so fucking confused, who knows what's going on... haha, oh to be 30, 40, 50, 60 again!

The good news is that my daughter Jill, middle of the older girls, gave me three great books for Christmas, but wasn't able to get them to me until dinner the other night. So, now I have some great reading to do. 

I'm thinking I wrote you about my biopsy results, but if I check and see that I did not, I'll come back on and wrap that up very quickly. Right now, I am needed to referee a fight going on in the pool before my children get us evicted. 

Hugh, After Our Talking About Our Compulsions
I suppose we might all look back at our compulsions and wonder how life may have been without them. I do think, however, that we've little choice but to follow our nature wherever it takes us. Sometimes, it is trouble, for sure, as we both can attest. But, usually, at least for me, I've been happiest when doing what comes naturally and having the good sense to just enjoy it without worrying so much about what others might think. I am sure it is impossible for you to imagine your life without your Nepali (is that right, or is it Nepalese?) connections and memories. No, perhaps our lives are much messier than most for it, but they are far richer as well. 

And finally  . . .
 I feel capable now to look back at my life with some objectivity. It seems it took me about 50 years to grow up, understand who I was, and try to moderate the parts that weren't working so well. Now, I don't think of myself as old, but I do feel calmer about the whole life experience. I still have all the same needs, desires, compulsions, and interests. It's just a bit easier, a bit more relaxed, a bit more amusing. I do feel now that I can sit back and watch myself and understand how it is that I am the way I am, think as I do, feel what I feel. I am sure you feel much the same. It's a nice place to be. 

Amen, My Treasured Friend


Cameron said...


I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?



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