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RIP: Danny Lieberman

Indian Pipe
East coast fan Danny Lieberman died Friday night. (Many thanks, filkerdave, for the image link from Renovation.)

In September 2011, Danny was diagnosed with AML, acute myeloid leukemia. He had a bone marrow transplant in May. Last Sunday night, word privately went out that the transplant had become ineffective. He was moving to hospice this past week, most likely Thursday.

The email I saw mentioned the hospice was "in the Bronx for cancer patients" and that an address and other details would go out once he was there. But all I needed were those quoted words to know he was going to Calvary. It's the only place of its kind in the country, and it's where I spent so much time with Susan Palermo last year. I still can't leave benyalow's place for the drive home without wanting to go straight, up the hill, and on in that direction instead of turning left onto I-87 North, as I'd previously done for years and years, as I've done ever since my last visit with Susan in November 2011.

Back to this past week. I immediately sent email off to Catelynn offering to help, then talked with both Mark Richards and Danny on Monday evening (the New York Mark Richards, not the Minneapolis one). Catelynn had already reminded Danny I knew my way around Calvary. Yes, my providing some caregiving support and patient advocacy sounded good to him. He wanted me to wait until he was at Calvary to come down; we discussed that it would likely be Sunday given his expected schedule and mine. Yep. Good.

During our conversation Monday evening, I asked Danny if sushi was now okay. It had been on the restricted list following the bone marrow transplant, along with many other things that would be a threat to his utterly compromised...well, non-existent...immune system. "I don't see why not," Danny responded, his voice suddenly becoming more animated. He didn't have much appetite right then, but the prospect of sushi sure sounded like a good one. We talked about the importance of, as my Dad always called it, "the joy of the day." And we laughed. I'm holding tightly to the memory of that shared laughter right now; I can still hear and feel it resonating in my hind brain, in my heart.

Danny called Wednesday afternoon; he'd moved to Calvary a day sooner than expected. While I needed to be in Massachusetts on Friday afternoon, I could hypothetically run down to Calvary for 24 hours or so right then. I offered -- the tone of Danny's voice told me it had been a rough transition. There wasn't any wifi in the room; he'd have to use his mobile hotspot to get to the net. The room was small, with no fridge, and he couldn't bring one in. He'd had lunch; the food was okay, and he'd had a nap after they'd done their initial assessment, but overall, it just plain sounded hard.

Danny told me not to come down until Sunday, that he had a Wednesday evening commitment. We talked a bit more, not for long. No surprise.

On Thursday, Ed Pino, a friend of Danny's from high school IIUC, posted the news that Danny was in hospice on Danny's Facebook account. I'm not on Facebook, but by the time I saw it posted to another list, 150 people had responded to the Facebook post. I hope Danny saw or heard at least some of the love and support pouring his way from there.

I'm still in those early, shocky hours of grief. For the first time...or at least the first time I can remember right now, I'm hit hard by the super-selfish reality that I didn't get what I needed, that time at Calvary, being present, bringing him some sushi, or just anything of comfort. Helping. We had it set up. I knew his time was likely short. I'm glad for his sake that he's no longer suffering in any way. I'm glad he was as competent as he was earlier in the week as he worked with a lawyer putting his affairs in order. It sounds like that all got dealt with. But me? I needed to help. I know rationally that I did help, in smaller ways than I anticipated, but important ways nonetheless. The bottom line is that I'm hard-wired for being there, plans were in place to be there, and now there's no there to be.

Grief sucks.

Yeah, like none of us possibly knew that, right?

It's not that Danny and I were so very close or anything. Like so many fannish friends, we ran into each other at conventions, at Joe & Edie's parties, at Clearwater music festival, last year at Mt. Sinai Hospital, when Susan Palermo was a patient there. We had a shared cheerfulness. I don't know that we ever had a meal at a restaurant together before this past July after I gave him a ride and accompanied him on one of his weekly hospital appointments following the bone marrow transplant.

But he was here, just a few hours away. The hospice he was in was one I most likely know better than anyone else he's known for a decade and more. The great advantage and disadvantage of fandom is that we have friends and loved ones around the world. I can't be in Seattle, visiting Stu Shiffman during his long recovery from a stroke, a recovery filled with ups and downs, more even than most such long medical rollercoaster rides. I couldn't be at Jim Young's side during those hard, hard days post-surgery when he wasn't waking up. There are so many people I can't be there for. Danny was someone I could. Right up until he was gone before I got there.

Whine, whine, agony, whine. This is sometimes just plain how it goes. There are still blessings all around. Danny wasn't alone. People close to him were there. People close to me were a comfort tonight, as was one of those fannish friends I'm just starting to get to know. Ann Marie Rudolph visited Danny last July, about a week after I took him to that appointment. She told me how pleased Danny had been, how much he appreciated it. I made things easier for him that day, and we had the joy of each other's company in ways that neither of us ever would have wanted or anticipated a year earlier. Danny, being Danny, was fine with me coming along with him to all aspects of the appointment. While I would have been happy to sit in a lobby or waiting area somewhere, me, being me, was happy to follow along, being introduced to and meeting every single member of his medical team along the way, up to and including his doctor.

She was from Winnipeg. She didn't remember the name of that grocery store in Minneapolis, but I knew to ask, "Byerly's?" Yes, indeed.

Other patients in the waiting room and in the lab were clearly frequent flyers just like Danny was. But Danny, being Danny, was the one all of the staff knew by name, had heard how the blood draw got screwed up the week before, stopped to see how he was doing or just to say hi when they passed him in the hall.

He wore one of his biking caps that day, and an artistic, biking-oriented T-shirt a friend of his had made. I commented on his apparel, how he was wearing an important part of his identity, reminding his caregivers that there was more to him than Danny Lieberman, patient. Yep, it was a deliberate choice on his part, done both to remind them, and to help remind himself. It was his comfort armor.

During the various waiting times (before the labs and after, until seeing his doctor), we looked at pictures on my laptop, we talked, we sat together companionably. When I fretted over how long it was taking for the valet to bring my car up when we left at a busy time, encouraging Danny to sit down at the beginning of the wait and again later, he did as good a job advocating for himself with me as he had with his medical team. He was a big boy; he'd sit down when he needed or wanted to. Then he clearly appreciated it when I replied, "gotcha" and let it go.

After we finally escaped from New York Presbyterian, we stopped for a late lunch/early dinner at the noodle shop next to the Apple store on the Upper West Side. Danny chose the restaurant with care, picking one he knew to be spacious and unlikely to be crowded that time of day, all with an eye to minimizing his exposure risk in his immuno-suppressed state.

That was early July. I haven't been back down to New York since. A year ago at the beginning of October, I visited Danny when he was first hospitalized following diagnosis after his return from Renovation. I didn't name him in my LJ report at the time. I'd first seen the bad news about his on his Google+ account, but for most of the time he spent fighting the leukemia, to the best of my knowledge, he didn't talk about it via social media. (There may have been some on FB, but if there was any before Thursday, I don't think there was much.)

There's more to talk about, of course. Snippets of Danny memories. The G Line NYC Subway T-shirt he gave me at the party Joe & Edie hosted welcoming me to New York. The things we never talked about. I learned more about Danny's personal life in its last 5 days than in the previous 15+ years combined. Nothing beyond the basics, just the basics we'd never gotten 'round to talking about before. Funny how it can take someone dying to realize how little and yet how much we know about them. There are plenty of people in my life, people in and out of fandom where offering caregiving help at Calvary or in any similar circumstance would most likely leave them wondering what color the sky was on my planet, or where I'd simply know better than to attempt anything more than a brief visit or two. While my boundaries in this arena are clearly different from most, they do exist. I can't even articulate why Danny fell within them, but he did. It was somehow so important that I be there for him at Calvary that my initial grief leaves me hyper-aware of just how much it hurts that I wasn't. The anger at plans left unfinished, unfulfilled, all mixed in with my relief that he's no longer burdened with a body that could no longer bike all over the 5 boroughs or even live in his own apartment. He no longer has to experience the disappointments of not making it to his 35th high school reunion (just a few weeks ago), or to the upcoming Smofcon, as was his goal back in July.

Then there are the thoughts about how and when people chose to communicate with friends and loved ones about serious illness. Our public selves, our private selves, and the various forms of burdens that go with each. Thinking through my own sensibilities on that, leaving myself open to reconsideration and changes as time continues to fly by.

It's all still fragmented, it's all (of course) still grief. I hope I've downloaded enough of it from my brain, heart, and fingertips to sleep oh, so soundly, and then take the morrow as it comes.

Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
ceemage
Oct. 20th, 2012 09:09 am (UTC)
So sorry, Geri. But a lovely tribute to a lovely man.
kalimac
Oct. 20th, 2012 10:14 am (UTC)
Thanks for the news. I hadn't heard anything of Danny in some years. But I first encountered him in an apa, and when we met in person it was my first and most striking example of how meeting someone sometimes suddenly makes his writing voice suddenly click and make sense in a way I might have had difficulty parsing before. I enjoyed his company, and I'm sorry there wasn't more of it. I get some more of a sense of a visit with him from your post, for which thanks again.
sdn
Oct. 20th, 2012 10:39 am (UTC)
Oh, love and a huge hug to you. I knew Danny initially through Echo, and then of course through fandom when I got involved. He was a truly lovely guy -- just pure sweetness. So many people are missing him, me included. He knew you wanted to be there, which I know isn't nearly enough, but he knew.
papersky
Oct. 20th, 2012 12:06 pm (UTC)
The conversation snatched away, the care
Left hanging, because dying is the pits
But death's the slammed shut door, the end of it.
Chopped short like sushi that you'll never share.

Death pure and simply sucks, too much by half,
It's rotten that we have to end and die
Cut off like that -- I barely knew the guy,
But saw his face and heard again his laugh...

Which now I know we'll never hear again.
And OK, death can be an end of pain
But why should pain be either? Not Resigned.
It shouldn't work this way, this is unkind.

I've got no comfort. Life goes on, it's tough
And new people get born -- is that enough?


gerisullivan
Oct. 21st, 2012 05:59 am (UTC)
Your poem is a blessing. Thank you.

New people get born, and sometimes mama, papa, and a toddler land in the toddler's new country, adoption finalized, a family 10 years and a lifetime in the making, sometimes that family finally arrives home on the very same day, within the very same hour, that another friend dies. Sometimes like yesterday.

I cannot speak of sufficiencies, only of full-spectrum emotion and the knowledge that if joy isn't everything, at least grief isn't, either.
glenn_glazer
Oct. 20th, 2012 02:59 pm (UTC)
Danny
Nicely put, Geri. If it is any comfort, while I understand your regretting not being able to spend more time with Danny, you got far more time than I did, for which I will remain eternally jealous.
athenais
Oct. 20th, 2012 03:33 pm (UTC)
I am so sorry for your loss.
ckd
Oct. 20th, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
I didn't really know Danny; we met in passing at cons, like you do, but were at best friendly acquaintances. Still, his smile was instantly recognizable and shines brightly in my memory.

Thank you so very much for sharing your experience of Danny with the rest of us. Shared memories and shared stories are how fandom preserves the past, whether that be cities-as-they-were or hotels long gone...or fans no longer with us.
le_trombone
Oct. 20th, 2012 04:49 pm (UTC)
I'm very sorry.
readsalot
Oct. 20th, 2012 05:00 pm (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this, Geri.
tigerbright
Oct. 20th, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
I've been wandering around LiveJournal following links to stories about Danny. Thank you for this one.

When he lived with Wrenn and Keith, he was four short blocks from my parents, but I couldn't get time and energy to come home for a visit...
randy_byers
Oct. 20th, 2012 06:58 pm (UTC)
Although I didn't know him well (met him for the first time at the Montreal Worldcon), saw him again at Renovation), I was very sorry to hear of his death this morning. Now I'm finding out how many friends we had in common.
kip_w
Oct. 20th, 2012 07:28 pm (UTC)
Because of you, Geri, he had the thought in his head that there was a possibility of having sushi. The thought wasn't there before. You know how that brightened his day.

You didn't have time to get there and give him real sushi, but thanks to you, he had the word "sushi" that sent a message, remember how great sushi is? you're gonna have sushi!, that might have been just about as good for him at that time. You added to his happiness with that.

You couldn't be there, but you gave him virtual sushi. May blessings be on you.
gerisullivan
Oct. 21st, 2012 06:00 am (UTC)
Thank you so very much. I treasure your insight.
bschilli
Oct. 20th, 2012 07:38 pm (UTC)
Very sorry to hear this
jcbemis
Oct. 21st, 2012 01:31 am (UTC)
you make me sorry again that I didn't take time to try to call him the last week he was alive (his number was in my cell), though everything I was seeing online was discouraging people from calling. I'm glad I got to spend as much time with him as I did when we were in Reno (we'd been friends since NYUSFS in 1979 or maybe earlier, and had had sushi dates on several occasions, including once when he took the Acela to Philly to meet me at Morimoto), and glad I'm one of several that encouraged him to get his "stamina issues" checked out.
gerisullivan
Oct. 21st, 2012 06:13 am (UTC)
Sympathy, Judy. I'm so very glad you were among those encouraging him to get things checked out back. He could have so easily died completely unexpectedly a year ago without that.

I checked with Mark before calling, then started with a text message to minimize the risk of intruding at a bad time. Danny called in response Monday night, then called again Wednesday after the move to Calvary. I don't think he was placing many calls, and everything went so quickly that I never did get a sense of how much energy he had for phone calls beyond the basic, immediate needs. He called me 'cause I was the Calvary expert in his cell. I sent him another text message Thursday afternoon; that one went unanswered. Then Friday night, the horrible news.
jcbemis
Oct. 21st, 2012 12:36 pm (UTC)
it occurred to me as I was waking up this AM that it was probably me that suggested you see Danny in the hospital because you were seeing Susan in the same hospital at the time

Edited at 2012-10-21 12:45 pm (UTC)
gerisullivan
Nov. 1st, 2012 03:52 am (UTC)
You may well have mentioned it in a phone call around that time. Different hospitals, but in NYC when I was. I've learned my way around way too many of them of late.

It was well worth the trip from Calvary in the Bronx, where I was spending time with Susan, down to New York Presbyterian to see Danny. It made the place downright familiar when I returned there with him for his July 5th appointment.
netmouse
Oct. 21st, 2012 03:40 am (UTC)
Sorry you to hear you weren't the comfort that you wanted to be, but glad you know you were of significant help and comfort anyway.

You are one of the most big-hearted people I know, and I love how your voice and thoughts come through in your writing. Thank you for sharing this all.

I didn't really know Danny, though when I clicked on the link to the picture, I thought, "Oh, him," so I know our paths had crossed. With calves like that, he must have been a biker, indeed. :)

My sympathy to all of those who really did know him, and are missing him already.
shelleybear
Oct. 21st, 2012 04:36 am (UTC)
The truth is, I'd known Danny for his first ten years in fandom.
When his nickname was "kid" (I'm not sure if he ever shook it, or if he wanted to).
It's almost as if there was a "Danny Mark I" and a "Danny Mark II".
It can certainly be said, that folks change over years.
I realize that I had little or no experience with the latter version.
Never the less, I will miss him.
tobor_1138
Oct. 21st, 2012 12:07 pm (UTC)
Ditto on the thanks for sharing this.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 21st, 2012 04:27 pm (UTC)
Thanks
Geri -

Thanks for writing this. You express so much of what I want to say. I wanted to be there yesterday, Saturday, but my call to him Friday night arrived just after he passed. He lasted long enough to put his affairs in order and then he went to his peace after this long and tiring fight. I am selfish to have wanted him to stick around for another day for me to come and visit. But I will always miss him. AnnR

lauriemann
Oct. 21st, 2012 05:27 pm (UTC)
Nice piece, Geri. I was up in Massachusetts last week (my mother wanted to visit her cousins, so I drove up to take her to Vermont). I got the news Danny was moved to hospice and wondered if I'd have time Saturday to stop by and visit.

Sadly, not.

Met Danny probably in the '80s, and we worked pretty closely on MilPhil in 2001. Got along very well. I was hoping he was well enough to get to Smofcon this year, or work on another Worldcon.

Sadly, not.

Instead, during the 10 1/2 hour drive home yesterday, I thought about Danny, my Mom, Jim's uncle and all the other people who've been diagnosed with cancer over the last couple of years. Way too many.

Sadly, so.
filkerdave
Oct. 21st, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
Lovely thoughts on a sad, sad occasion.

Thank you
pameladean
Oct. 22nd, 2012 04:28 am (UTC)
I'm sorry, Geri. It's hard to lose a friend, and hard to have a big package of kindness all wrapped up and nobody to hand it to.

P.
justeps
Oct. 24th, 2012 03:11 am (UTC)

Yeah, I knew Danny — probably longer than most of you: we went to high school together.

I wasn't expecting this.

womzilla
Nov. 1st, 2012 03:18 am (UTC)
For some reason, I feel compelled to point out that the noodle shop is called Ollie's. But Danny was a fan, and thus a joyful pedant, and I think he would appreciate it.

Fuck cancer.
gerisullivan
Nov. 1st, 2012 03:48 am (UTC)
AKICIF, and I thank you, thank you, thank you. You're absolutely right. Danny would appreciate it, and so do it.

Ollie's.
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )

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