Monday, August 17, 2015

The most tragic family I've ever known...

Back in 2011, I wrote a blog post about a former neighbor of mine.  We grew up together.  She was about 18 months older than me and lived just across the dirt road.  Her mom worked for my dad for a few years.  In that original blog post, I wrote about finding out that this neighbor of mine had died.  She was only 39 when she passed away.  She had Huntington's Disease, which she had inherited from her father, who also had it and died from it in the 1980s.  She had an older brother who had it and died when he was about 14.  Because we moved to the neighborhood where I grew up, I got to meet my neighbor's dad and brother and I saw the damage wrought by Huntington's Disease.

My neighbor's dad lived in the local state run mental hospital.  I did meet him once, when he came home for a Sunday lunch with the family.  I will never forget him.  He moved with jerky movements and couldn't really communicate.  I was eight years old and he scared me, with the howling noises he made and the crazed look on his face.  I had never seen anyone like him.

His son, my neighbor's older brother, was also very sick with the disease and lived at home.  He was thin and frail and couldn't speak coherently.  He drooled a lot.

In my first post, I wrote about my neighbor and what it was like to grow up with her.  She was completely normal as a kid and adolescent and we were peers, so I had many conversations with her.  I was in the class of 1990 and she was in the class of 1989.  I remember her telling me very matter-of-factly that she had a fifty percent chance of getting Huntington's Disease herself.  There is no cure for it and it is pretty much a death sentence.

My neighbor graduated high school and got married.  She had a son with her first husband.  Her former mother in law once worked for my mom cleaning our house.  The marriage quickly failed, though, and they divorced.  Then my neighbor married her second husband, a guy who was in my class at school.  They eventually had a son and a daughter.  Sadly, back in 1995, my neighbor accidentally killed her daughter, then two years old, in a freak and tragic accident.  At that time, my neighbor's eldest child was only three years old.

After her daughter died, my former neighbor had another son.  Then her second marriage fell apart.  Not long after that, my neighbor came down with Huntington's Disease.  She had to move in with her mother, who had tried to go into business for herself.  The business eventually failed.

In the fall of 2010, my former neighbor died in the local hospital.  Early this morning, I was doing some Googling while trying to settle my upset stomach.  I found out that my old neighbor's first son also died.  He was in a car accident in 2012 and was just 21 years old when he perished.  While it's certainly very tragic that the young man died, I can't help but wonder if he was spared the fate of his grandfather, uncle, and mother, as well as some other relatives on his grandfather's side of the family (who also used to be our neighbors).

Huntington's Disease is a devastating illness.  At least now, people who have it in their families can be tested to find out if they have the gene so they can make decisions about family planning.  I was told that my neighbor's grandfather was adopted and the family knew nothing about the deadly gene he was carrying.  He was middle aged before he showed symptoms and had already had five children, along with my neighbor's father, who had the disease by the time he was in his early 30s.

My neighbor's mom has seen so much tragedy.  She's lost her father-in-law, husband, son, and daughter to Huntington's Disease.  She's lost two of her three grandchildren to car accidents.  There is one grandchild left.  And if he doesn't also die in an accident, he may very well have Huntington's Disease in his future.  Maybe I don't get out too much, but I think this family may be one of the most tragic I've ever known.  I don't know how my neighbor's mom has been able to cope with such grief in her life.

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