I concentrated to distill all that I had learned about death

The recycling container was already full. But I had two more bags to stow before lugging the bin through the gate and into the front yard for pick up. My button down shirt untidy and bulging out from the waist. My long khaki pants felt like a fur coat in the ninety plus Chicago humidity. It was 4pm and I had just arrived home from work, dropped my computer in the doorway, gathered up the last bit of recycling, and headed for the door.

As I struggled to force the trash into the container my pager began to vibrate. I pulled the bin to the stairs and sat down on the steps. I fumbled with my phone and awkwardly punched in the numbers on the display. The sweat formed on my forehead and slowly waltzed down my face.

I recognized the number. An eighty year old woman with end stage lung cancer. Her care had been overseen by hospice for the last few weeks. But we still talked from time to time. And when she became too sick to talk her daughter would call.

The end was near. Her family huddled around her bedside and waited for her last breath. The inevitable conclusion to eighty years of constant motion.

Now her daughter was on the phone crying. Her mother had just passed. And we talked. The serenity and calm of my backyard a contrast to the turmoil of the conversation.

I concentrated to distill all that I had learned about death. All that I knew as an internal medicine physician who takes care of the aged and dying. How it always hurts to lose a parent. Even if you are expecting it. How when your second parent dies you feel lost, alone, disconnected. How the terrible pain will eventually abate. How one day the memories will make you smile instead of hurt.

But all that wouldn’t help now. So instead I told her that I was sorry. That it was both a pleasure and honor to take care of her mother. And that If there was anything I could do, she should call.

Then I hung up. Slipped the phone back into my pocket. Stood. Grabbed the trash bin and struggled toward the gate.

And continued on with my day, as if this wasn’t out of the ordinary.

As if this was something people do every day.

Jordan Grumet is an internal medicine physician who blogs at In My Humble Opinion.

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  • http://profiles.google.com/molly.ciliberti Molly Ciliberti

    Thank you for being there for her.

  • Mary Ruisi

    Thank you for this posting.  As a graduate of a pediatric hematology/oncology fellowship, I had similar reactions to the completion of my long, exhausting nights on call.  I would come home, hug my kids, and try to move the emotion to a recess of my brain so that I could sleep and go about the rest of my day.  I love the summary sentence: “And continued with my day, as if it wasn’t out of the ordinary.”