Monday, July 23, 2007

...the only funeral you can be sure your physician will attend will be that of his or her own.
--George Lundberg MD, Editor-in-Chief of MedGenMed

Not me. I try to attend all the funerals of my patients who die, every one. I not only love a good funeral, I need a good funeral to come to grips with the loss of these dear people who trusted me with their life...and death.

J was a fifty-something year old lady who had a chronic pain thing that defied explanation or treatment. A bright psychologist, she was her own best advocate. At the beginning of each visit, she would hand me a typed agenda for the appointment. We often covered her latest round of specialist visits which ultimately included a complete evaluation at the Mayo Clinic. A dear woman, but I dreaded her visits, in part due to our mutual frustration over the lack of progress.

She died suddenly and unexpectedly one day while napping in her rocker. Her funeral was packed with people from varied walks of life. The music? J's own recordings, her voice so beautiful it makes me shiver still to recall its full-bodied beauty. Did I know she sang? Sadly, I did not.

E, who struggled in the end with a vicious cancer after years of diabetes and congestive heart failure, was stunning in her pictures displayed at the funeral, pictures from a much younger time before I ever knew her. At K's funeral, a poster board displayed the glorious sunrise pictures shot by her young nephew on the day of her death BEFORE he even knew she was gone. At D's funeral, I met her baby granddaughter whom D met briefly at the end of her life. At MJ's funeral, his family came back to where I sat and insisted I move up to the family row. R's funeral was hardest of all--she had died of an overdose of medication I gave her to ease her intractable pain.

I would have missed an important part of my patient's journey here on earth if I'd missed a single one of these and other sad good-byes.


Mauigirl said...

That was a very moving post. It's good to know there are doctors who have that degree of caring and involvement with their patients, even at the end of their lives.

rlbates said...

I wish I could say the same. I am much better (even with family member deaths) at the "viewing" or family visitation at the funeral home the night before. I am not good at funerals. I attended my first at age 8 (my dad's) and have had a hard time with them since. I do send my patients cards/letters. I do not attend their funerals, but I might if I was a family doc as you are.

Donna said...

This piece brought tears to my eyes, Dr. Judy. It is very refreshing to hear that you care so deeply about your patients, you attend their funerals.

Indeed, for this and many other reasons, you are a very special doctor! I only wish I lived in Denver!!