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Gary Nereim, RIP

Gail’s brother Gary died just before midnight last night. I mentioned in a post a little over two weeks ago that he was comatose and on life support. A little over a week ago, in my next post, I noted that he was still with us. Well, no longer. I’m writing this at 3:00 AM, having just gotten back with Gail from the hospital, where we spent some time with him, along with Gail’s sister and her husband and Gary’s son.

A bit of background: Gary has had major health problems for a dozen years. He survived one crisis after another, but it was clear when we arrived at the hospital 17 days ago that this one was different. The way he looked, I didn’t think he’d make it through the day. He did. He would spend ten more days in the ICU, during which time he gradually improved: coming out of his coma, breathing without a respirator, and so on. He needed continued dialysis, but a week ago he was able to move out of ICU, and over the course of last week, he became more conscious and alert. Last Friday, we spent an hour and a half with him during dinner time, chatting and occasionally checking out the Yankee-Mariner game (a pitching masterpiece by Felix Hernandez and a very satisfying Mariner win). His voice would fade at times, he’d halt mid-sentence at other times, but he was communicative. One could imagine continued progress, albeit with a very limited upper bound to his potential improvement.

Alas, in addition to other chronic health problems, he had acquired a disease that, the doctors had explained to Gail the day before, would slowly kill him. On Sunday, just three days ago, with Gary able to discuss his situation with his doctors, they held a conference with him, Gail, his/Gail’s sister, and Gary’s son. The news was not good. With dialysis, he could live some months, but his disease would take over. Without dialysis, he might have a week. Fully understanding the situation, he chose the one-week option.

Monday, just 40 hours ago, the fourth sibling drove 300 miles from eastern Washington to Seattle and all four siblings had a very special final time together, along with Jessica. Gary was able to talk a little and knew what was going on. I would gladly have joined in, but I went through with the oral surgery that I had scheduled for that morning and had to spend the rest of the day at home. Yesterday — just ten hours ago — Joel and I went to the hospital, joining Gail and Jessica, who had been there all day. The four of us sat with Gary for a while. He was asleep most of the time, occasionally opening his eyes, but not communicating. We went out to dinner, then Gail and Jessica returned to spend a little more time with Gary, leaving about six hours ago. Three hours later, Gary had died. I awoke to hear Gail on the phone with Gary’s son, and soon we headed back to the hospital.

It ended quickly and peacefully. We can be thankful that Gary had those few days of mental alertness and coherence, enough for us all to talk with him, enough for him to take control and make the necessary decisions for himself.

Gary may not have lived the life he would have wished to. Indeed, he surely didn’t. But he did have a gift. He was a master butcher. An artist. There was nothing like having Gary over for a holiday. Gender stereotypes don’t work too well in this household. After Gail cooks the turkey, or the prime rib, or the leg of lamb, she can’t count on me to do the carving. That’s not one of my skills. But with Gary around, the pressure was off. He would have the honor, and the result was a sight to behold. You haven’t eaten turkey until you’ve eaten turkey carved by Gary.

I bet for Gary that was mere child’s play. His son recalled just a couple of hours ago how extraordinary Gary was with a cow. That I missed, which may be just as well. Not all art needs to be seen. But I am sure there was no one better.

In any case, Gary is now gone. We will not benefit from his artistry again, except in our memories. He was a sweet and gentle soul, and we will miss him greatly.

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