When my brother Michael Kronenberg was diagnosed with liver cancer in September, and given a four-month life expectancy, our family was shocked. He seemed to be healthy at a reunion in Westbury in July. Mike, 58, a carpenter, lived alone in Virginia, and I am the only one among 11 siblings raised in Lynbrook who stayed on Long Island. Mike said he wanted to spend his final months on "the Island."
My husband, Bill, and I got a bedroom ready at our home in Westbury with a recliner facing a window and a flat screen TV.
"Can we really do this?" I thought to myself. I didn't know if could properly care for a dying man.
We drove Mike up from Virginia in early October. How much different he looked since July, more frail, his eyes hollow.
Long Island friends from his youth came to visit. There was Tim Harrigan, who Mike met in Boy Scouts at age 12. And Craig Thorsan, another friend from high school.
Our youngest sister, MaryAnn, came from California. We drove Mike around the Island, back to our childhood home in Lynbrook, and to Malverne High School, where he graduated in 1972. We went to White Castle in Lynbrook, an old hangout from our teen days, and ate a sack of belly bombers while we laughed and reminisced.
We were establishing a routine of meals, meds, naps and walks. Afternoon TV, especially police-drama reruns, were his favorite escape.
Then superstorm Sandy hit. Seven days without power, heat, TV. Mike had been receiving oxygen from an electric-powered unit. I switched him to a nonelectric tank. I called the Long Island Power Authority and was told to put him in the hospital. Michael hated the institutional feel of hospitals, so I promised to keep him home with us.
On the radio, we heard about the devastation of our beautiful Island. I knew my Long Island would recover, but my brother would not.
Without power, and with the sun setting so early each night, he spent too much time in the dark and cold. We tried conversation and board games, but he had lots of empty time to ponder his end.
When the power came back on Nov. 4, he seemed to have lost more than a week in those seven days. He was more frail. He was slipping away.
Our sister Cathy, who also came from California, said there was no way Mike would make it to Christmas, so we scheduled a family Thanksgiving-Christmas dinner for Nov. 14.
Mike's daughter, Katie, 26, arrived on Nov. 13 from Virginia. Our brother Kevin would fly up from Florida the next day. Cathy and I decorated the house with wreaths, a Nativity scene, garland. We took turns sitting with Mike.
Then with Katie, Cathy and me by his side, Mike passed away on Nov. 13 at 6:25 p.m.
We still had our family dinner the next day. Mike would have liked that.
I know most of Long Island will remember Sandy for the terrible flooding, downed trees and power outages. I, however, won't get over the feeling that Sandy took him from us too soon.