Tuesday, July 26, 2011


When my brother Rick was in Vietnam, a grenade went off nearby. It knocked him out. There was shrapnel in his skull.

He could see himself floating above his body. He saw loved ones around him and felt a profound sense of peace. It was, he said, the most wonderful thing he’d ever felt. (This was the mid-1960s, before reports of near-death experiences were publicized in books and the media.) It was, Rick said, the last thing he expected to happen.

And then he was awake. A paramedic had saved his life.

“Why did you do that?” my brother asked, after which he slugged the medic as hard as he could.

* * *

Rick died Friday of the stroke that felled him two months before. He was not a religious man, but the near death experience stayed with him and made him unafraid of death. Years later, after a motorcycle accident, he had the same experience, saw the same things, until he was snapped back to life.

Being unafraid of death does not always make it easy to say goodbye, of course. Fortunately, there was enough time after the stroke for the process to work its way through, and for moments to be shared. Heavy, meaningful things were said, but mostly it was just the joy of companionship. We looked at old photos and talked about old times, which became more difficult as he lost his ability to speak clearly. And he wanted to know what Marilyn and I were up to, no matter how unimportant our activities seemed to us.

We were not present for the final days of his decline. His wife, Mary, said he had begun to see his twin. Rick's twin brother was stillborn and now, somehow, Rick saw him there in the living room. What he looked like, what he communicated to Rick, I do not know. How much of the transition to death is illusion, how much is reality, I also do not know, except to say that it is a mystery that befuddles the living.

* * *

Rick confided in his wife the most, of course. At one point he told her that he had wanted to be there for me when I died, and he was sorry that, instead, I had to be there for him.

I came to realize that, somewhere in the back of my mind, having CLL had created the expectation that I would die before everyone else in my family. Not just before those who are younger, which would be expected anyway, but also before Rick, who was 11 years my senior, and even before my father and stepmother, who are now in their 70s.

Not only was this my expectation; it was obviously Rick’s as well, and perhaps is shared by other people I am close to. It’s not something they talk about, just something they assume.

This assumption conflicts with another expectation that I have, which is that I will manage to muddle through thanks to new drugs like Revlimid, and perhaps have a reasonably normal lifespan after all.

Time, which I am aware is ever-short, even for the healthy, will tell.

And if Rick’s near death experiences are right, he’ll be there for me when I die, after all -- just not on this side of the curtain.


Anonymous said...

Condolences on you and your family's loss.
As you know better than most, both Life and Death can be very strange and are rarely predictable.

Hope to see you soon,


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear of your brother's passing

Dave, follow Revlimdian

Anonymous said...

I read your latest post with compassion but also with some fascination. Let me explain.
Firstly, I found your site 3 years ago as my partner was diagnosed at 38 with CLL and I was looking for some insight on what may or may not lay ahead for him and so I found your website which has been of great help.
One of my interests for the last 30 years has been researching the Afterlife. I am a logical thinker, not prone to wild fantasies of New Age hippy thoughts on the subject. I follow many Scientists - Physicists, Psychologists and Reasearchers worldwide who study and document exactly what your brother told you about. Most interesting was what he told his wife in his last days here. If a baby or child dies before adulthood, then they "grow up" in the next world. Note: This "other" world is not some imaginary fairy land (no less than this one anyway from a Physics point of view) but just another frequency level - too hard to explain here in this post. In short, it is part of the study of sub-atomic particles. Your brother's twin would have appeared to him deliberately, as a Adult, to take your brother over - twins share a special bond remember. This has been documented so many times under Afterlife Research - it's a serious subject these days. My friend here in Sydney is a retired Barrister and has a great website if you wish to take a look: www.victorzammit.com - he has a free newsletter full of all sort of information you may find of comfort. Victor is a Lawyer so he only wants hard core evidence. We aren't interested in organised Religions has they tend to cloud and judge things too much.
Your brother was right - he had nothing to fear in passing from this world to the next... and when it's your turn - (which, will probably be many years in the future as CLL seems to be so much better managed these days) - he will be right there to help you over - along with all your loved ones - you will even be reunited with your departed pets as they too survive. Love knows no boundaries - there is unbroken continuity. If it's hard to imagine, remember that your mind/consciousness is made of pure energy - and energy cannot be destroyed - it cannot just evaporate when the physical body dies. So it has to go somewhere. This stuff may not help right now as you are grieving - but in time, I can assure you, it does.
Best wishes to you and apologies for the long post.

Anonymous said...


Your brother's loss and the experiences attendant on it gave me food for thought on many levels. Thank you for taking a tragic loss for your family and using it to help some of reflect on certain issues.

And it also puts CLL in perspective. We get so focused on dying, or our loved ones dying of CLL, we myopically ignore that we can all die of something else! A good wake-up call to not neglect the rest.

The hope for the afterlife, and the previous commenter (I really like the part about being reunited with my recently departed pet) is also an interesting topic.

My condolences David, and thanks for everything you do.


Anonymous said...

Hi David - So sorry to hear about your brother, Rick. May he R.I.P. Thank you for taking the time to update us on such a loss. I do follow your posts & they have given me so much info/strength to confront my own CLL, which has just gone into remission for the first time. Take care ~ Nancy

Anonymous said...

I am newly diagnosed with CLL and have been following your blog. Just came across this article for a very promising new CLL treatment at UPenn and thought I would pass it along. Thank you for your blog and best of luck!


Anonymous said...

My dear David,
I am very sorry to hear of the passing of your brother. I, too, believe what he told you about the times he had "near death" experiences. I have had two of them in my life. The first, when I was only 16 and I was in a 747 jet going to Hong Kong and it lost all hydralics and had to return to the airport with a wing on fire and crash land. We had to endure this idea of crashing for around 1-2 hours as we dumped fuel before crashing on a foamed runway. My Mom and I were traveling together and said goodbye to each other and told each other how much we loved each other. Upon the final approach, my whole being became calm and quiet. There was no fear. The second episode was giving birth to my first son. I was overdosed with a spinal tap and knew that i was going to die. I didn't get to the level your brother did, but I began hearing people or spirits ask me if I knew that I was dying. I answered in my head to them, "yes, I know." The peace that I felt was something I have never experienced again. I really wanted to let go and go wherever the voices were. It was just like floating in body temperature water or being wrapped in some kind of warm skin blanket. I can't explain it but I know it to be true.
So I believe that your brother will be there for you and your parents. Just sorry that you will have to miss him until then.
Jenny Lou

David Arenson said...

Thank you all for your very kind comments, as well as for sharing some interesting experiences and perspectives. I truly appreciate it.