When I was 4, I was diagnosed with juvenile-onset diabetes. Thanks to an incredible family and support network, I've never felt like a "victim," a "sufferer," or any of those other terms which (to me, anyway) indicate a loss of control. I ran track, joined the swim team, played tenor saxophone in the marching band, went to college, lived on my own, got married....all the things that I wanted to do. Sure, I took my blood sugar monitor and insulin with me everywhere -- so what? And I do my best to explain patiently and repeatedly to people that yes, I could have diabetes even though I "wasn't fat," and no, I couldn't "just take a pill" like your Aunt Millie does. No, my diabetes won't "go away" if I exercise regularly (although it is easier to control!)/eat less candy/lose weight/whatever the theory of the moment might be. Oh, and the looks I get when someone sees me with a regular Coke -- "low blood sugar" is evidently a phrase that is nigh-impossible for some people to comprehend.
So I finished grad school, moved to a new town, and was hired at a college library. I also got a part-time job lifeguarding at the local YMCA, and during my first shift the building manager came back to meet me. He caught me wolfing down a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I tried to apologize - since food in the pool area is a no-no -- and wheezed through the sticky peanut butter, "sorry....dinner....I'm a diabetic...."
"No prob," he said, his face still open and friendly. "Me too."
And that was how I met John. During the 8 years I lived in Erie, he and I shared stories and experiences. He was diagnosed later in life than I was, but his condition was still the juvenile-onset variety. He had a pump, and sometimes had "episodes" because he would get busy with work and forget to eat. On a few occasions I was called either from the pool or from my workout to help because John was "acting strange." At least once we called the paramedics, because he was bordering on non-responsive. I worried about him, especially after he and his wife split several years ago. He came to work one day with an ugly bruise/brush burn on his face and matching gash on one leg, and admitted to me that he'd barely woken up due to an unexpected blood sugar crash. Thankfully he'd found his way to a bottle of Pepsi and managed to come around.
Last summer I left Erie for a job about 4 hours away. I kept meaning to email John and a bunch of other people, but you know how it goes...I just never got around to it. And on Friday, I decided it was time to get serious about touching base with old friends. So I Googled. And I'm still in shock from what I found. By now I'm sure you've guessed that I stumbled onto John's obituary. He passed away at the end of March. He was only 50 years old, and I've found out since that it was another low blood sugar event that got him. I find it terribly bittersweet that doctors are always warning diabetics about the complications of HIGH blood sugar - blindness, kidney failure, amputation, yadda yadda yadda - but that takes years to happen, while one low blood sugar incident at the wrong time or in the wrong place is enough to kill you. No "I'll do better," no chance to take control and throw away the cookies in the cupboard, just wham-o, you're done.
So here's to you, John. From my point of view, you were a great guy with a compassionate soul (he was the director of the youth sports programs at the Y, and he was awesome at what he did). I - and the world - will miss you terribly. And although I'm not sure I believe in a Heaven, I do hope someday to see your goofy grin and open heart again.