With Each November, I Celebrate 3 Lives That Have Passed

The loss of family brings grief — but as the years go by, happier thoughts as well

Samuel Kirton avatar

by Samuel Kirton |

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The holiday season is upon us! Here in the United States, Thanksgiving was last week, and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade heralded the arrival of Santa Claus.

But November, for the past two years, has been a month of loss for me.

COVID-19 and transplant

In March 2020, the reality of COVID-19 was becoming part of all the news cycles. The strain on healthcare workers and systems was a concern. As a pre-transplant patient diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) in January 2017, I was having more severe health problems. My case was presented to the lung transplant committee, and I was approved for the procedure — but the date of it was deferred.

By March 2021, my condition was worsening rapidly. I was using supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day at a flow rate of 7 liters per minute. I was put on the transplant list and received the call on July 9, 2021. The following day, July 10, I received a bilateral lung transplant at Inova Fairfax Hospital in northern Virginia.

Meanwhile, over a period of a year and one day, I grieved the loss of three significant people in my life.

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Loss is difficult.

On Nov. 18, 2020, my stepsister Judy passed away from spinocerebellar ataxia type 3. Judy was one of four stepsiblings; two of her older brothers had passed away years earlier. All three had the same diagnosis.

On Nov. 26, 2020, Thanksgiving Day that year, my mother, Betty, passed away. A cancer survivor, she’d stood on a chair to reach something in a high cabinet, but fell and injured her back. While her doctors were developing a treatment plan for her injury, they noticed spots on her lung. The cancer had returned.

On Nov. 19, 2021, a little over four months after my transplant, my stepfather, Harold, passed away. Harold was in his late 80s, but I believe he was heartbroken over the passing of his baby girl and his wife.

Grief from a distance

The hardest part for me was that I couldn’t be there to grieve these losses in person. The COVID-19 pandemic had limited what I and many other IPF patients could do, including travel.

I watched Judy’s funeral service via Zoom.

I attended my mother’s funeral and delivered her eulogy via a streaming service at the funeral home.

I attended my stepfather’s funeral and delivered his eulogy via the same streaming service.

These losses amplified the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic. Grief is a personal experience, but my wife, Susan, and I were able to support each other through each of these losses. We were able to channel our grief into a celebration of each of their lives. I even imagined Judy telling everyone to dance.

November means remember

Grief marked those losses, while the celebrations marked the impact of each of their lives on everyone they’d come across.

My mother had passed when I received my lung transplant. She wouldn’t have wanted me to put myself at risk. When I was diagnosed, in fact, my mother wanted me to have her lungs. I was 59 years old when I was diagnosed, but I was still her baby, and she wanted to fix this for me.

While the passing of all three members of my family had a significant impact on my life, my mother passing on Thanksgiving marked that day with a special sadness. But she wouldn’t want that sadness to continue. The day each of them passed is a day to remember, to celebrate all the richness they imparted upon me. Celebrating each of their lives during November helps me make every breath count.

Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.


Jeanne Carlson avatar

Jeanne Carlson

Thank you for your words Sam. I’m sad for you in the losses in your family. It is good to reach the stage in grieving where you can celebrate the lives of your deceased loved ones. November is also sad for me. My husband Marcus, passed away Jan.21, 2022, not surviving complications of his double lung transplant for IPF. Marcus’s birthday was over the Thanksgiving weekend so it was doubly sad. These first holidays and special anniversaries without our loved ones are difficult. You have given me encouragement however, to think about and try to celebrate my husband’s life and the love he gave our children and me. Thanks again. Jeanne Carlson

Samuel Kirton avatar

Samuel Kirton

Thanks for reading my column. Prayers for peace and light as you find a way to celebrate Marcus!

Jeanne avatar


Thank you Sam. I’m sending my prayers for your continued good health. Peace to you and your family.


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