Saturday, 11 November 2006

Fare Thee Well

THERE seems to be no reason to it at all.

Which is perhaps what prompted Billy Joel to sing “only the good die young.”

My cousin, Ethel Larosa Klemens, who passed away on Oct. 26, was surely the latest proof that our departure from this world — or at least the order in which each of us must face it — does not make a great deal of sense.

Ethel Pauline Banzon Larosa Klemens was an extraordinarily gifted individual, whose brief presence in this world touched the lives of countless others. A loving daughter, a dedicated sister, a devoted wife, a talented singer and musician, and a skillful physician — she meant many things to many people — and her loss leaves an aching void in people’s hearts that cannot soon be healed.

In her mid-30s, she was at the prime of her life when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Only a few years back, she married another successful doctor, Jim Klemens, and both of them were just embarking on the exciting journey of starting a family together. She literally had everything in life that one could possibly wish for.

Blessed as she was in life, Ethel dedicated as much of herself so that others may live theirs better. She was a specialist in rehabilitation medicine, with particular focus on the care of injured and physically challenged children.

Working at the Frazier Rehabilitation Institute in Louisville, Kentucky’s Jewish Hospital and St. Mary’s HealthCare, she had a reputation for excellence that was well known in the city’s medical community.

The children, whose injuries and handicap she helped to overcome, had a huge devotion for her. Even during the days of her illness, they continued to show their love for her by sending her cards, flowers and cheerful works of art.

As a fitting tribute to her exceptional contribution to pediatric rehabilitation medicine, the children’s recreation facility at the hospital has been named The Larosa Lounge, in honor of her memory.

At her bereavement in her hometown of Louisville, I was overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to pay their respects to my departed cousin. Apart from her close family and friends, there were her peers and colleagues in the medical community, who commiserated with her family in their time of sorrow. A large number of those she treated of their ailments also came and paid their respects.

Even relative strangers came calling and expressed their sorrow at her passing.

Which brings me back to my point — death does not make sense. Otherwise, why would it come so early for one so young, so needed and so loved?

And then it hit me — we cannot make sense of death, it is death that makes sense of us.

For it is only when one is not anymore with us, that their real meaning in our lives can truly be appreciated. A meteor’s brief brilliant dance across the sky only really begins to take on its full majesty when the heavens are pitch black once more.

The genius of Mozart and the talent of Van Gogh inspire us more today in their absence, than it did when they still walked among us. The blessing of a fierce thunderstorm can only really be felt once it has passed, and the earth is green and fresh once more. Similarly, Ethel’s passing has a uniquely divine message for all of us left in her fiery wake.

To her youthful handicapped patients, she will be always be an inspiration that make them realize they are special. To her colleagues and fellow professionals, she was a perfect example that in this day and age — when the practice of medicine has become so commercialized and dehumanized — one can be a successful physician and still remain a truly caring and compassionate human being.

To her family and friends, she showed us that there need not be any trade-offs between a demanding career and a fulfilling family life. And to all of us — she will always be a reminder that it is not how long we walk this earth, but the legacy we leave behind when we are gone — with which the fullness of our lives will eventually be measured.

Fare thee well, cousin Ethel, and may the good Lord take you into His loving and eternal embrace.

Published in the Sun Star Daily, Saturday, November 11, 2006 (