Proper endings like this feel right

He was a logical man. A northeast Ohio man. Who worked all his life and worked hard. I can see it in his hands. They are entirely calloused with traces of grease impervious even to pumice soap.

A family man. His wife and sons and daughters are at bedside. And proud grandson, just a man, not dry-eyed, stands in the corner, in his college jacket, the spitting image of his bedridden elder.

A self-made man. From the pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps school-of-hard-knocks cohort. Grew up working the steel mines near Vermillion. A boxer back in the day. And a faithful churchgoer, slipping into the back, 8 minutes late, twice a year, at Easter and Christmas, and leaving during the closing prayer.

But now things are different. Experts gather, having analyzed data, to inform the family. We shroud ourselves in white coats and formal trappings to mask our ignorance of the bigger picture.

The stroke is significant, our team tells the family. They stare back with bloodshot eyes from overnights with dad, holding his hand and watching his every move, and from tears, shed quietly in private. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do at this time. It’s too late for any of the usual medications, and the stroke is too large to survive for long. He may have only days to weeks. 

Dad wouldn’t have wanted any aggressive measures, they say. He never did any of that paperwork, but he made it clear what he would have wanted. We understand. He knows you’re here, he recognizes your voice, and he’s comforted by you being here. This we give the family a sense that they can do something. But this they naturally know. Their common sense is a wisdom under-appreciated and wise beyond our measure.

And now we watch the family, having come together, care for their own. And we learn from them. And if we were meek, we would sit at their feet, and learn from the wisdom of the common man.

The next morning a hand-knit blanket appears over the hospital bedding. The man’s worn hands hold a small wooden cross. A framed copy of Dϋrer’s Praying Hands sits on a back shelf. Even the college-aged grandson does not blush at these religious signs and symbols.

The old man moves from the ICU to the floor, accompanied by a train of relatives.

And in the days that follow, as the man stays on our floor, we observe from afar with side-glances cast through the old man’s half-opened door. Days like these are instructive, if you will be instructed.

Family gathers. Family moves in. Estranged relatives arrive. Hugs are exchanged outside the room. Petty differences are resolved. Hearts of stone turn to hearts of flesh. The room walls are filled, nay, plastered with photos. Family gathers in semi-circles around the bed. Memories are shared as they gaze toward their loved one. Even laughter is occasionally heard from the room.

It is endings like this that touch something deep inside of you. Endings like this feel right.

The author is an anonymous physician.

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