This second group of responses, submitted from a variety of individuals I personally know and respect, touch upon a common theme of death in various ways. These experiences have led to the growth and molding of perspectives about the environment around them, the individuals surrounding them, and their own selves. I hope you’ll enjoy reading these as much as I did. Maybe it will give you perspective in your own lives in some way…
Practicing in Pediatric Oncology
Spish, splish, splish. The waves gently hit the dock as I stare at the light’s reflection in the harbour, random thoughts floating through my mind. “I should drop off my dry-cleaning. Is newspaper compostable?” My eyes wander to the starry night sky and my thoughts turn to the brave young ones I have known and loved the last six years.
I have been a part of many lives; birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, graduations, and I have been a part of many deaths. Many of my most poignant memories are the death of patients who were dear to me.
My very first primary patient was a sweet young woman only one year younger than myself. I cared for her 18 months, then, when she was gone I joined her family in a prayer circle around her bed and took her body to the morgue. I held a screaming mother in my arms while the code team attempted to resuscitate her beloved son, her husband looking on and wringing his son’s blanket in his hands. I have seen the death of great potential; one young man we treated, I am sure, could have changed the world if he had the chance. I recited The Lord’s Prayer with a patient’s family as the minister blessed her one last time before the breathing tube was removed from her beleaguered body. I have wept with parents as they watched the life slowly draining from their daughter as the tumour in her brain grew.
Our society doesn’t deal well with death. Particularly the death of a child. Most people that I encounter have come to view death as a failure-failure as a parent to do enough, failure as a physician to prevent death, failure as a researcher to invent a solution.
I view things differently. When my patients die, I know I have given them the love in my heart, I have cared for them to the best of my ability, and I, like them, am limited. We are all subject to the human curse of fragility; each of us has one life to live whether it lasts one day or 100 years. And we, the living, are responsible to carry the spirit of those who have gone. We must change the world, we must fight the good fight. We must, because there will be a day when “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Rev. 21:4
Landmarks. I’m the type of person who knows my way around via geographic features such as trees, buildings, fences, or even random lampposts. If I’ve been to a place once, I can lead anyone there the second time with no map or compass. The interesting thing about landmarks is that I remember them for a reason. Each one sticks to my memory because of a unique characteristic in its color, shape, complexity, or even simplicity.
I notice this tendency of remembering landmarks in my personal life. During the day, I often find myself racing past landmarks of my past 22 years. There are the good and the bad, and then there are others I still can’t decide what I should label them. The one I find myself most frequently revisiting is the one that stands on the intersection of April 24, 2004 and my road to Heaven.
My Dad passed away at this place, and as one would expect, the chunk of life since then has never been the same. I used to be so angry that I could do absolutely nothing in my power to see or hang out with him. We used to spend most of our time playing basketball on our driveway or playing golf at the crack of dawn on Saturdays. To this day, I miss him so much and wish he could come back to see that I’ve graduated high school and college. I wish he could come back to see how much I have grown as a person.
I always used to debate whether this landmark represented good or missed opportunities due to the lack of a father figure. More often than not, I thought the latter. I would always observe this place as a bystander, and run away from it to find “better” landmarks. However, I would always find myself back at the same place again, staring at the rusty basketball hoop outside and the empty golf course around it. It was until a few years ago that I developed enough courage to open the door and walk inside. On the walls inside were hundreds of pictures of me and Dad playing around and having a great time. There were also pictures that showed how he influenced me into being the person I am today. As I walked out of the house, I noticed that the outside of the house still looked old and gloomy. However, because I knew what was inside, I wasn’t scared of the place anymore.
Now, I kind of enjoy going back to this place. I don’t feel that I’ve missed out on life because he left early. I feel that as much as I would have enjoyed still having him here today, I acknowledge that this landmark itself has influenced me into becoming who I am today. Maybe I would have been too spoiled if he were still here. Maybe not, but why debate these things when it’s already happened? In some ways, I feel that although he left early, his love continues on through memories and through what this landmark represents every time I return to it.
Clarity in Confusion
When brought to the point of near death after a parasitical infection in Guatemala and subsequent complications after returning home to Florida, I was reminded of the fact that I am quite helpless. I had lost 35 pounds from my already skinny frame and pounding headaches coupled with extreme fatigue made my speech so slurred my mom had trouble understanding what I was saying. The doctors didn’t know what to do as they had already tried multiple rounds of antibiotics to no success. My health insurance only covered me abroad and dropped me as soon as I returned to the US, which compounded the situation even further as I had been sick for over 3 months.It was during this time that I came to understand that we were never meant to sustain ourselves, for it is not in our power. Whether we like to admit it or not, we are all rather helpless creatures who will eventually die. We go to great lengths to avoid the topic of death, yet all is done in foolishness. Seasons of pain and suffering wake us up to the real world…to the overarching questions of purpose and truth…almost like a subconscious realm beneath the surface of wasteful days filled with entertainment, idleness, and even work.
I think it was at this point of brokenness, both physically and spiritually, I had my first honest cry for “Thy Kingdom come” and “Thy will be done.” In the following three months I did a vegetables and water only diet followed by a one week fast of only water and amazingly my health was restored. I would never want to go through those 6 months ever again, but I still look back and regard that season of life as the most precious and vital for my own growth. It was then, near death and in weakness, that I found life and strength. I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the things that will fade away and the things that will really matter at the end of the road. I found that death only becomes feared when an individual holds something in this world more precious than what he shall find in the next.
Anticipation or Apathy?
I have never experienced something like death, yet I dread it because I haven’t tasted it. I could never grasp the loss of a life. The extent of my knowledge on death is from what I hear and see around me. I see death as a mysticism that I will never understand. A force that can fortify me or break me depending on how I perceive it. My family history has made it this way for me, because I’ve seen their brokenness and their helplessness as a child. It makes me wonder whether it represents what is to come… how broken and helpless I will be. And even more daunting, how much faith will I have to keep on keeping on?
It’s the anticipation of experiencing something I have never experienced. And by extension, I suppose a loss that seems so daunting. I know the day will come when I or someone I love, dies or has a brush with death. I wouldn’t know how to act.
The end of eras, and relationships, friendships and things like that… are still deaths to me in some sense. The only deaths I’m familiar with at least. I guess this would be because I’m a poetic and dramatic soul. And I see the smallest happenings of life as something grand and magnificent. Am I the only one? Death to me is not locked in yet. I imagine that once one has truly experienced the death of a person or even a pet, one has already locked in a feeling about it and formed a strong opinion about it. My ideas of death are….in the air… yet to be formed. A limbo of some sort…
A part of me has died. Dead. You were that part. I, the other part, am slowly dying too and I don’t know what to do now. What happens when death is complete? At one point we loved each other. And while I don’t want to believe that there is this concept of “the one,” I can’t help but think otherwise. I don’t want to find another “one.” You were the one. No, to me, you still are the one. But yet, if you were, we’d still be in love. We’d still have everything we had. I saw you with another girl the other day. Is she your “one”? Does she make you feel the way you felt? Do you spend your days making her feel the same way you feel about her? My heartbeat seems to dull with every passing day.
It’s getting to be autumn soon. I’m glad. The weather will slowly begin to reflect the temperature of my heart. And then winter, which is most fitting. They say with every death is a rebirth. I’m trying to cling to this, as some sort of hope. If only hope. And until then, I assume this is how it feels to have lost someone. Maybe that’s insensitive to those who have actually lost someone. I don’t know. It sure feels like it. I had a tough time deciding between trying to figure out whether this is about love or about death. For now, I’ll choose death. And maybe later, just maybe… it’ll be life.
Next Post: Perspectives: A Series (Vol. 3- Love)