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Sunday, March 13, 2005

In memoriam: My buddy Neil

Neil and I met through mutual friends about 6 or so years ago. A whole group of us used to go golfing together on occasion and I took a liking to him since he was a humorous, light-hearted kind of guy. As a matter of fact, despite being in his late fifties, when I first met him, he came across almost like a teenager, a little immature, impetuous, not very serious about living an adult life….

Neil got a bit upset with me over the last year and a half because I had been focusing so much on work that I really didn’t have time to go out and play golf. Close to 60 years old, he was already living a semi-retired lifestyle and he liked spending time with younger, sports-minded people. As I said, he was really very young at heart.

On the other hand, my life had changed substantially. My business was growing, my husband and I had bought a house and were preparing for our big move, and I was a little stressed out with all the things on my plate. And so I didn’t spend enough time with Neil….

So we had a bit of a tiff about a year ago when it became apparent that Neil was upset with me that our casual friendship and our occasional golf games had dwindled. So we didn’t talk to each other for a long time…..

Until I heard from him again in the middle of February. He called me to tell me he had been diagnosed with a terminal illness: amyloidosis. Indeed a very rare disease where the body produces proteins that don’t dissolve, but rather get deposited in various organs such as the heart, the liver, the kidneys. He also told me that he was sorry for the silly misunderstanding that we had had and that he wanted to set things straight between us. I was glad he called.

Unfortunately, Neil’s disease was first misdiagnosed as a heart problem and the correct diagnosis came too late after the disease had already wreaked too much havoc in his body. When I met him in the hospital in February, he was very ill, had lost 50 pounds while his limbs were swollen with the liquid that is produced by the disease.

All he wanted to do is get well enough to hop on a plane to fly out to the West Coast to spend his last few months (or as it turned out, weeks) with his mom, nursing him in the last few weeks of his life.

I only had a chance to meet Neil very briefly, for about an hour, in the hospital, while days later he checked himself out and boarded a plane to British Columbia. He was in reasonably good spirits and even cracked jokes, as he always had. I told him I found it amazing that he was able to accept his situation, which he referred to as a “reverse lottery”, a disease so rare that only one in more than a million ever catches it. A disease that could have been treated, stopped and reversed, had it been diagnosed early enough.

Neil explained that he wasn’t religious and that sometimes “sh…. just happens”. He had completely resigned himself to the fact that he was going to have a very short time to live. And from what I could tell, he had few emotional dilemmas over it, at least by the time I met him. At that point he probably had had a few months to come to grips with his disease.

Well, at 9:27 pm tonight I got a call from his daughter, letting me know that Neil had passed away yesterday. She had been trying get out to British Columbia for 3 days, but due to the Jetsgo (a Canadian budget airline) bankruptcy she hasn’t been able to get a ticket and she was unable to see him before he passed away, two weeks earlier than expected.

Neil, we knew each other only for a relatively brief period of time and there were some bumps in the road……. But I hope you have a chance to play many great rounds of golf where you are now.

Farewell, my friend.


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