Facebook Posts Photo of My Sister on her Deathbed – And Forces Me to Grieve

Last Friday, Facebook apologized to a grieving father for posting a “Year in Review” on his feed that featured his dead daughter.

Facebook’s “Year on Review” on my brother’s feed.

On Saturday, they posted this photo on my brother’s feed:

It’s a photo of our sister, Gabriela, agonizing on her death bed. She died later that day.

gabibebeGabriela got sick when she was 9 months old.  She got síndrome urémico hemolítico (hemolytic-uremic syndrome– HUS). I was almost four when this happened and I don’t remember ever not knowing those words. I didn’t know their meaning, of course, because at the time nobody did.  A syndrome, I was told, is a set of symptoms that go together without a known cause.  Now we know that HUS is most often caused by e-coli or another bacterial infection.  Not that it mattered, what mattered was that Gabriela got sick.

Ironically enough, I have rather good memories of the three months I spent living with aunt Gladys and Granny while Gabriela was at the hospital.  My aunt and grandmother doted on me, and I enjoyed the visits to the hospital.  The old, immense Hospital de Niños building was located in front of the Parque Saavedra, a huge park with a lake and plenty of green space.  Later, in fifth grade, I would come back here with my class to do a “study” of its ecosystem.  After every visit my aunt would buy me an ice cream bar.  Back then children were mostly put in large wards.  It was probably for that reason that, upon noticing that Gabriela was sick, my parents had taken her to the private Clínica del Niño.  The doctors there didn’t know what to do with her.  I’ve heard the story thousands of times: they kept filling her with serum while she couldn’t urinate until my father, worried, picked her up and took her against medical advice and without having her discharged, absconding with her to the public Hospital de Niños, where they saved her life.  HUS, you see, is a disease of poor children, the Clínica doctors hadn’t seen it before.  It was rare and worrisome enough, however, that my mother and Gabriela got the only single private room in the hospital.  Some years later, it’d be occupied by my cousin Fernando. Those memories are not in the least bittersweet.

I still remember, as well, the names of the doctors who saved her life back then and kept her alive afterwards: Silver and Rentería.  Their names would be replaced by others a few years later.   While Gabriela survived HUS, her kidneys were permanently damaged. By the age of six, they were giving out on her.

The three of us celebrating a doll's birthday, c. 1978?
The three of us celebrating a doll’s birthday, c. 1978?

The CEMIC.  The Center for Medical Education and Clinical Investigations in the posh Palermo Chico neighborhood of Buenos Aires.  It became Gabriela’s home-away-from-home from the moment my parents found out about the possibility of a kidney transplant.  There were so many tests; my father had a different blood type; my brother and I were too young; my mother’s kidney was not fully compatible.  A German drug could work, perhaps, to bring down her immune system and prevent it from rejecting the kidney.  Working with the insurance companies to get them to import it and pay for it.  Getting Gabriela to gain weight so she could withstand the operation; getting my mother to lose weight to make it easier to take out her kidney.  My vacaciones the invierno, winter break, that year were spent in a nice apartment close to the calle Florida, in Buenos Aires.  It was owned by tío Héctor, one of my father’s college friends.  Mamá and Gabriela were in the hospital, papá working and visiting them, I was pretty much on my own.   I strolled the calle Florida, browsed at the toy stores and Harrods, ate the delicious pear jam that tío Héctor’s cousin was working to distribute. I visited Gabriela at the hospital some times.  She was in an isolation room, all by herself.  To enter, you had to cover your clothing, your head, your face and even your shoes.  You had to wash your hands with disinfectant and then put on gloves.  After her death, I discovered a letter I wrote to her while she was in the hospital, telling her about some little dolls I’d bought, advising her to be good to the doctors and nurses.

We celebrated Gabriela's first transplant with an asado for doctors, patients and family members.  1979.
We celebrated Gabriela’s first transplant with an asado for doctors, patients and family members. 1979.

The rest, well, the rest is history. She got the transplant, a year later she started to reject it, two years later we had come to the US in search of a second kidney.  It would take a year, two at the most, and we’d be back home.  That’s what we thought.  Instead, it was six, and I was a sophomore in college by the time it came.  Before and after, well, there were health problems after health problems.  My freshman year in college I wrote a poem about her death, I don’t even remember what particular health crisis she was growing through then.  Peritonitis, convulsions, infections, my mom actually kept count of the hospitalizations, she’ll probably comment and say how many they were.  My mom was with her on every single one.  Every medical crisis presaged her death, but she didn’t die.  Then she lost her second transplanted kidney, around the time I was having my second child; she refused to go back on hemodialysis so we waited for her to die.  At the last minute, when the toxins in her brain were giving her painful hallucinations she consented to be treated, and there she went on until she had her third transplant, this time from a girl she met on the internet.  The Wall Street Journal even wrote about that (years later, my husband would also be featured on a WSJ front page story, on a completely different topic).

Throughout my life I have made my peace with Gabriela’s death so many times that when it finally happened, it came as an enormous surprise.   Truth be told, I believed she would outlive us all.  She gave proof to the adage that death comes like a thief in the night, when you least expect it.

My relationship with Gabriela had deteriorated over the years.  I loved her, I hope she knew that, but we clashed too much.  I won’t speak ill of the dead because it serves no purpose, so let’s just say we did not get along.   In part I was happy to say my last words to her after she died so she couldn’t talk back.  But I think she knew what I would tell her: that I always loved her with all my heart, that I had given her as much of me as I could give her and still remain a person, that I lived every day with the guilty of the unfairness and senselessness that she had been sick and I hadn’t been, that she didn’t get to live a full life, and I did.  As she laid dead, I spoke those words for myself, of course, but I also spoke them for her.

My family back in 1980, Gabriela is at the front.
My family back in 1980, Gabriela is at the front.

But don’t get me wrong, while Gabriela and I were not close anymore, it’s in relative terms.  There is a closeness in my family which I think is very unlike  what I see in others, for better or worse.  When we were young and my brother and I would express jealousy about how much more attention my parents paid to Gabriela than to us, my mom would say that her children were like her fingers.  When one was injured, that’s the one she paid attention to, but the others were just as important and loved.  I think that the five + 1 of us (Kathy, my younger sister, was born two years before I left for college) are like fingers.  Too much part of a one to be individuals by ourselves.  I don’t think I can grieve for Gabriela without grieving for myself, for my brother or for my parents.

And thus we go back to Facebook’s ill-timed photo.   It didn’t appear on my feed, and for that I’m thankful, but it did appear on my brother’s. I understand why it did.  I come from a large family, with tons of aunts and uncles and cousins and second and third cousins.  Gabriela’s death was shared by everyone who lived her struggles.  They couldn’t be there in person, so they were virtually around her.  So they liked the photo, they commented on it, it was significant.  Which does not mean that seeing it again was welcomed.

My biggest issue was not that this photo was posted by facebook on my brother’s feed, he can deal with his own traumas, but that it was posted adorned with bright colored circles and squiggles that look balloons and garlands.  It’s a design that celebrates, that shows joy… at my sister’s agony and death.  How incredibly crass is that? How cruel?

It’s bad enough that they did it, but it’s worse that they did it with full knowledge of the pain this could cause.  After all, just like Friday they apologized for doing pretty much the same thing.  When you apologize for doing something wrong, you are supposed to change your behavior, not do it again and this time with happier designs!

Some good has come of this, for me.  I had been avoiding thinking about Gabriela this whole Xmas season, I didn’t want to break down and cry and I

have now done so, repeatedly, as I composed this post.  I didn’t want to think about the fact that next year, when my whole family comes to my house for Christmas, she won’t be with them, I didn’t want to think about how there is a finger missing from that hand now and it will never be reattached, but I know I did both of us a disservice by avoiding thinking about her.  I’m glad this forced me to and I can say Merry Christmas to the memory of that little girl that Gabriela was once upon a time.

Feliz Navidad, Gabriela!

Christmas 1975?
Christmas 1975?

Love Toast Shower Crème – Review

lovetoastI got a couple of  Love & Toast  body washes (or, as the bottle calls them, shower crèmes) at Grocery Outlet, as they were on sale for $2 for the the 8.2 fl oz bottle.  Usually, they retail for around $12!

The reason is that in addition to a bunch of unpronounceable chemicals, they have a bunch of natural oils and extracts.  Dew Blossom, for example, has minute amounts of pollen, honeysuckle, apricot, and matricaria extracts.   They also don’t have parabens and other things that may be bad for you.

As a body wash, they seem to work pretty well.  They have a nice lather and a good, neither too thick or thin consistency.  The bottle could be a little easier to squeeze, but it’s attractive and takes little room.

So far, Ive used the Dew Blossom and the Salt & Sea.  A reviewer described Dew Blossom as smelling like play-dough, and I can actually understand the comparison.  It’s basically a powdery, sweetish scent.  It reminds me of the perfumed powder my grandmother might have had, but it’s very light.  Salt & Sea smells of citrus and salt.  Basically, like a margarita would smell.  It’s a little bit strange because you don’t necessarily feel like you are cleaning yourself, when you  smell salty, but overall I like it.  I probably wouldn’t get more dew blossom, but might get another bottle of salt & sea.

I haven’t tried the body lotions, also available at Grocery Outlet for $2, but I might get one today before they are all gone. Update: I smelled the lotions, they’re all too citrusy for me.

DealFlicks Twitter Follower Spam

Twitter spam is just as annoying as regular spam – perhaps even more so, as it trades on your good will and desire to play by the rules.  The way it works is simple: a would be spammer starts following you, banking that you will follow them back as a courtesy.  A smart spammer will then mix random tweets with once advertising its product, hoping you’ll mistake the ads for real tweets.

DealFlicks goes an extra step.  It apparently either hires interns, or, just as likely, creates them with the purpose of setting up twitter accounts.  The accounts include stylish photos of attractive young women with generic names like “Sophia Smith” or “Abigail Davis”.  It’s the description of each “intern” which alerted me to their spammines.  They are all along the same lines, e.g.  “Film geek. Avid movie aficionado. Explorer. Student. Social media nerd. Closet organizer. DealFlicks intern. #FollowBack #F4F#TeamFollowback.”  The hashtags are those used by spammers trying to get followers.     I’ve had three Dealflick interns follow me in the last couple of days, and I expect more, as they seem to have a legion of these accounts.

If you are curious as to why you’re being followed by multiple people with identical descriptions, like I was, you may google DealFlicks and find out that it’s a website for discount movie tickets.  An unethical, spammy website that doesn’t deserve anyone’s patronage.  Now you know to avoid them.

 

Bill Cosby Should Not Get Away with Rape

billcosbyLike seemingly everyone else, I used to have a lot of respect for Bill Cosby. I wasn’t the biggest fan of The Cosby Show – though I watched it off and on for years – but its spinoff A Different World, about students at a black college, started during my freshman year in college and I was an instant fan.

Somehow I missed the news in 2006 that fourteen women had accused Bill Cosby of drugging them and raping them.  He was being sued for sexual assault by the former Director of Operations of Temple University’s Women Basketball Program.  They had met through her job, they’d become friends and she saw him as a mentor.  One evening, he called her and invited her over to his house to discuss her desire to change careers.  When she told him how stressed she was about changing jobs, he offered her some “herbal medicine”, which she took.  Next thing she knew, she was dizzy, couldn’t walk and Cosby was helping her lie down on his couch, and then he was sexually assaulting her.  She lost consciousness and woke up feeling raw in her vaginal area.

After the woman came out with her story, the Cosby team proceeded to demonize her in the media.  But that caused other women to come forward with their own similar experiences .  In all, thirteen women said they would testify to being drugged and raped by Cosby.  Other women reached out to the victims also with similar stories, but were not willing to risk the public opprobrium that came with testifying.  At the end, they didn’t have to.  Cosby settled for an undisclosed amount.  None of the other women sued him.  The story resurfaced again when Cosby announced he’d star in a new show playing a wise family patriarch.

This is the kind of story that I don’t want to believe. As one commentator suggested, who wants to live in a world where Dr. Huxtable is a serial rapist? But Dr. Huxtable was a character as is the Bill Cosby we know from the media, whose image was undoubtedly carefully crafted by public relations agents and managers. The reality is that when thirteen women who have nothing to gain, put their careers and reputations at stake to speak their truth about a powerful man, I believe them. I’m disgusted at Bill Cosby.

I’m also disgusted that he’s given a pass. Brian Copeland, a local comedian whom I consider a friend, proudly posted a photo of himself next to Cosby on his Facebook page. I commented with links to interviews with two of the women whom Cosby raped, Tamara Green and Barbara Bowman.  Brian deleted them, as he deleted other comments about Cosby’s sexual assaults, arguing that “Bill Cosby is a friend”.  If someone is famous enough, rich enough, or is your friend, the fact that he drugs and rapes women apparently is of no consequence. It’s of even of less consequence to NBC and anyone else who hopes to make money from him.

The impunity that Bill Cosby enjoys does nothing but encourage other  would-be-rapists to act on their drives.  People who support Woody Allen, have argued that his daughter’s allegations that he molested her as a child are not credible because other children have not come out with similar allegations.  In this case, fourteen women tell similar stories, showing a pattern that spanned decades.   But if you like Bill Cosby, it’s easy enough to dismiss them, make up reasons why they don’t deserve to be believed.  By doing so, of course, you help support the culture of rape in which we live.

Sexual assault is different from other crimes in that it most often happens in private, without witnesses.  When the rapist and his victim know each other, it usually becomes a “she says/he says” scenario, with consent as the main issue.  Indeed, Cosby did claim that he had consensual sex with the woman who sued him.  Whatever physical evidence there is, can, after all, only prove sex – even bruises can be argued to come from consensual “rough sex“.   So-called “date rape drugs” dissipate from the body so quickly, that prosecutions in those cases are extremely difficult.   

Bill Cosby is a rapist.  Fourteen women have said so, and there is no reason whatsoever why they shouldn’t be believed.  He will not go to jail for what he did – and, given due process considerations, he probably shouldn’t -,  but he should at least suffer the same social opprobrium that he subjected his victims to.

 

(This article has been modified for grammar).