By Elof Axel Carlson
I learned from my daughter-in-law, Dawn Allen Carlson, that my son John died as he was recovering at home from pneumonia treated with antibiotics. John (1962-2016) could not be revived by the EMT or after being taken to the hospital in Swampscott, Massachusetts, where he lived.
John was a happy child and had many friends at Ward Melville High School. He went to Yale for his bachelor’s degree and loved volleyball, serving as captain of his team. He switched from engineering to mathematics and got his master’s in applied mathematics at Stony Brook University.
John loved history and read widely. He treasured the Civil War narrative histories that he inherited from my brother Roland. I had seen John last at the memorial service for my daughter Claudia. After I finished my presentation on the stage of the Hotel Roger Smith in Manhattan, my son John scooped me off the high platform and gently brought me down to the floor.
John used his skills as an actuary and as a designer of computer software for corporate health and retirement programs. When he was a child, I marveled at his gift for playing Monopoly, where instead of counting out each spot for landing a marker, he just lifted it from the board and placed it where it should be. He was invariably the banker for the game. John was gentle in his personality. During Claudia’s last month of life, he helped move in a hospital bed and rearrange her furniture so she could see people who came by.
I have learned that the hardest psychological impact of aging is being alive to see family members, students and friends younger than me die. It is so unfair that Claudia will not experience holding a grandchild and John will not experience the weddings for his two adult children. But this is characteristic of life. It does not abide by our wishes or logic.
While I know this from my immersion in the life sciences, the injustice of it is hard to rationalize by science or faith. I can hear John’s resonant baritone voice in my head and savor the rational, sympathetic way he handled crises. I shall miss his telephone calls and the delight of discussing history and current events with him filled with wit and insight.
Elof Axel Carlson is a distinguished teaching professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook University.