The Enigma Of Death – a Physician’s Perspective

I promised myself when I started that I would write when the spirit moved me and not feel guilty when it didn’t. I have kept to my word, mostly.

Lately, it seems as though there are a large number of people in my life who are facing death…head-on. Some are staring it down, and others are anxious and fearful.

Physicians are frequently asked about death : how long do I have (I never answer this one because I prefer not to look like a complete idiot.), will I experience pain, what happens next, will you be there, and how do physician’s experience the death of a patient. Do they mourn? Do they cry? Do they miss their patient?

I have decided to answer two of the questions…

“Will you be there?”…Yes, I have always been in for the duration. When occasionally questioned on how long I might be staying, I respond that I will depart with Jesus and my patient.

I believe it is equally important to help a dying patient as it is to help one survive a serious illness. (My comment is in no way referring to or commenting on physician assisted suicide.)

How do Physician’s experience the death of a patient? I can only answer for myself…

Two years spent as a Hospice Medical Director, one who attended deaths on request, and 7 years spent on my own personal walk with Jesus have left me with what I think are some unusual perspectives on death.

To start with, I am not afraid to die. And I do not view death as a bad event. It is expected. The only real questions are when will it happen, and how can I contribute to making it a positive experience for the patient, family, and friends.

There is a prerequisite to the “meaningful, dignified” experience. And it is simply acceptance. Acceptance of what is to come…

I do mourn the loss of every patient I have had the privilege of caring for over the years. As I gaze around my office wiping back tears there are so, so many reminders: an old ornate perfume bottle, 2 beautiful shells, a military insignia, a pair of handmade earrings, blown glass from one last trip to Europe, a well-worn afghan knit at the bedside, many pictures, a small anchor, and the poem “The Parting Glass”.

I look around and remember and smile in celebration of the people I have had the privilege of knowing and all that they taught me along the way.

At the end of the day, there is one simple truth: it is God’s will, God’s way. He has merely gifted me with the experience of being an observer.

"May you find God’s Grace in every day!"


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