The Death of My Type 1 Cousin

Type One Diabetes is a stupid disease, and I truly despise it.

My cousin, Rick Boyd, was called into the nearer presence of Christ this morning at 12:45 am. He was 47.

In his youth, a stocky comrade, he was someone you’d want on your team when the neighborhood kids got together for a game of football. Flag football? No, that was for the weak. We were out for blood. And Ricky, when he had the ball, was pretty much a juggernaut. On more than one occasion, it took both my brother Michael (RIP) and myself to take him down, and that was only after he’d dragged us twenty yards.

Back in the day, no one used the term ADHD. There was no such thing. But if someone ever used the words “hyperactive,” Ricky came to mind. In fact, at some point along the way he’d been coached by someone to vigorously shake his hands when he could feel the energy building, except as he did this, it was less of a tool of release for him and more of an indicator that we’d all better get the heck out of his way. For those of us on his team, that was the moment you knew to hand him the football.

Ricky was a counterpart to so many of the adventures of my childhood—camping trips, late night gatherings with family and friends, endless biking around Danville, Illinois where we grew up. You name it, Ricky was often there somewhere. He didn’t have siblings. We were his siblings. His dad left when he was very little, and so we filled that void, too.

He also didn’t have a pancreas that worked the way it was supposed to. Like my daughter, Evelyn, he had Type 1 Diabetes. As a kid, I didn’t necessarily know the breadth of the disease my aunt would refer to when giving him a shot, but I knew it was there. It was the only thing that ever seemed to bring Ricky, the powerhouse kid on the team, to a halt.

I never really fathomed the seriousness of his plight.

Even as he grew older and we lost touch, having lived so far away from one another, I wasn’t kept unaware that his body had begun to succumb to the darker prospects of the disease. A few limbs were amputated and he eventually went blind.

Again, he died last night. Complications from Type 1 Diabetes is what will be printed on the certificate.

Having said all of this, it wasn’t all that long ago that someone said to me that there are so many children out there that have it far worse than my daughter. In the moment, I was really rather angry for the statement. Of course I know it’s true. Things could be worse. But still, it was a heartlessly ignorant thing to say. In a sense, I’ve held onto that ignorant lack of understanding of this disease, and I suppose it was for a moment like this.

Yes, we Christians know that no one knows the day or hour of one’s death—only the Lord. It could be fifty years from now. It could be tomorrow. But there is a statistical “normal” we have as humans, and the terrible truth is that people with Type 1, on average, live much shorter lives than those whose pancreases are intact. To be specific, they live an average of sixteen to twenty fewer years than others.

In this situation, Ricky lived thirty years less than a man my age probably will, and as you might expect, this is a terror that lurks in the minds of parents of Type 1 children.

Yes, I trust Christ. Still, when I look at my daughter, this little bit of ungodly information twists my insides in ways that result in the feeling of needing to micromanage the little things. I know Jennifer feels it, too.

With that, I’m not really sure what to say from all of this. I suppose I could offer that if you know the parent of a Type 1 Diabetic, know also that there are hidden concerns that might cause them to seem overly dramatic. Don’t tell them it could be worse. They already know it, and the hovering is the evidence. They already know that while they’re in charge of the care, every little bit of micromanaged success in the fight against this monster means a changing of the odds. To me, it means that for as long as I can, I’m going to work to make sure my little girl has a better shot at outliving me, and not the other way around.

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