It's been a very trying week for my extended family and for me. Some of it I'm still trying to process, I must admit. It's been said, there is a greater purpose to life than we mere mortals can intuit. We know we are all destined to die from the time we can understand the concept. Yet many of us deny the undeniable even when the spectre of death looms large and we face our own demise with a sense of dread that is all too brief. We then move on because to be absorbed with death and dying would be unproductive and could be seen (in as polite a way that can be expressed) as being largely egocentric. With an ironic sense of timing my brother-in-law, Russell Feran, passed away on Wednesday, only a few days after his nonagenarian father was buried here last Sunday. For the members of Russell's family it means an end to his suffering from Crohn's disease that first surfaced in 1970. With treatment and care he was free from any intrusion of Crohn's from 1978 until 1992, but as the doctors remind us, there is no cure for Crohn's disease. Often it can recur with no warning and its effects can be extremely debilitating. Russell's final bout with the disease began in 1992 and eventually led to years of nursing home care and numerous trips to various hospitals as his organs eventually shut down, kidneys first and finally his liver. I spoke with him in his hospital room just a few minutes after leaving his father's funeral last weekend. He was cogent and his mind as sharp as ever. When I returned to visit him two days later it was a different story. By then he was on pain medication and sedated to the point where he was not lucid. It was apparent he was in the last stages of his suffering, shriveled into a fetal position and striving to be comfortable as he fought as best he could the onset of his final release. We had been prepared for his transfer to hospice, but it became apparent that he was much too weak to even consider such a move. I would like to think that his last few days were mitigated by the pain medication, but it seemed he was quite uncomfortable and almost manic in the way he shook violently, touching his head and mumbling verbage that made no sense to onlookers. If there was one thing that kept him going throughout his ordeal, it was his strong heart, a heart that kept on beating as he addressed each medical setback through the last 18 years. At the same time as my brother-in-law's demise, I received word that Molly, a mixed breed dog my girlfriend owned had also peacefully passed away in her sleep. Molly was 12 years old and so it was understandable she would die sooner than later. Yet, my relationship with this sweet raven- and white-haired, part-border collie stretched over six years. She was in Winston-Salem, North Carolina when I first espied her, a spirited escape artist, who showed her incredible breakneck speed once she found her freedom. There were few fences she didn't climb over or under and few gates she was unable to squeeze by. When she was in Cleveland, I ended up walking her during snowfalls and rainfalls and I looked forward to many of these constitutionals even if it meant my having to pick up after her. She enjoyed her time in New Orleans too, although she was slowing down in these last few weeks. Recently diagnosed with congestive heart failure, Molly took her medicine religiously and seemed to be back in good health. Apparently, she didn't suffer any ill effects and simply didn't wake up last Wednesday morning. I know I will miss her sweet and charming character and the fact she is gone seems hard to fathom. It's a sad fact that the loss of both of these relationships will continue to reverberate in my life for some time to come. Rest in peace, Russell and to you, too, Molly.