Death and loss: Oliver Sacks and Uncle Louis

My mother called me one morning to tell me that my uncle Louis has died. A couple of hours later I check my twitter stream and received the second bad news of the day: Oliver Sacks has died.

My uncle Louis was a phycisist, a high-school teacher and an eccentric and a technocrat. Oliver Sacks was a medical doctor, a neuroscientist and a writer.

Upon hearing the news about Uncle Louis on the phone I was not shocked, I knew he was seriously ill — without knowing exactly what — he was hospitalized several times and declined any treatment he was offered even got kicked out of one hospital for not collaborating with the staff. We knew it could only go one way.

When I read the twitter news about Oliver Sacks, I felt immediately sad and shocked although I knew from newspaper articles that he was diagnosed with cancer and it had gone metastatic some time ago. I knew no details about his treatment, but I had an insight into his thoughts of life and death thanks to his productive writing even during his illness.

Uncle Louis had always been an anectdotal figure in my childhood. Just one of many (six) uncles and aunts on my mothers side, he stood out by being mostly absent (presumably busy) and absent-minded when he was present. He used to applaud my choice of a scientific study, I know he used to organise physics events in the connection with Science Festivals and similar.

Oliver Sacks is one of few authors who claims a top place among authors from which I have read, rivalled only by Neil Gaiman. I have his books on my shelf and I regularly recommend his books (“The man who mistook his wife for a hat”, “Musicophilia” and “The minds I”) to friends and family. You can find all his books and articles by a quick search online.

My Uncle Louis wrote a theory of the expansion of the universe. He developed his own theory and wrote it down. My grandfather was his biggest fan — I do not know if anyone else ever read his theory. I once tried to read the summary of the theories of Uncle Louis, but I never made it through. I have no idea whether his theories are sound, but I happily tell anyone that cares to listen that my Uncle Louis developed a theory of the expansion of the universe.

My sadness of the loss of Oliver Sacks hinges mainly on the realisation that he will no longer enrich the world with his honest and compassionate observations of fellow human beings in the form of his patient stories and stories of himself that he shared in his writings.

I wil be mourning my Uncle Louis because I never took the chance of asking him about his work and I never developed an interest or an understanding of the topics of physics he worked on. Now it is too late for me to ask him, but I hope that others with the ability and the interest will find inspiration by reading his work.

His writings are still online at and you can find an English summary at

Rest in peace Oliver Sacks and Uncle Louis.

I was once an academic, then I left academia, went to work, then left work to start first and then

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