I received a lot of sage advice during my Hopkins and Iowa training, most of it ‘medical pearls’ related to diagnosis and treatment, rarely was it related to deeper issues on death and dying. Of course, we experience a great deal of drama every day on the wards, but you learned through osmosis, not through any formal declarations by the house-staff or attending physicians. I do recall, however, when we were second year students and we had a talk given to us by Dr. Frank Oski, the new head of pediatrics at Hopkins, who was going to tell us how he deals with families who have a child with cancer who dies.
I was craving to learn exactly what to say in such a dramatic and difficult situation. There, in the classroom auditorium, with the revered Dr. Oski on the dais, he lectured for a bit…..and then told us: “When a family asks me why my child died from cancer….I tell them ” I do not know.”
At first….I was disappointed. He had failed to give me the deep wisdom I was yearning for…at least in the form of ‘an answer’, but soon I realized that he answered truthfully, honestly, and supportively. There was nothing trite about this answer, but when he spoke those words to a family, staying there with them to share their grief and loss, he was bridging the gap between himself and the family, being truthful and open and without pretense.
I was reminded of all of this when I read a recent article in the WSJ, written by a Dr. Forman from City of Hope, and his experiences of dealing with loss among his cancer patients. What he has learned is worth pondering. Read >>>HERE<<<<