We don’t talk about it in Medicine much, when we lose someone we love. Doctors are no strangers to death and as part of our training, we are taught to toughen up, take things in our stride and become seemingly inured to death, whether it be of a patient, a colleague or a family member or friend. There is little space given to sharing our feelings when someone dies and to taking time off, if it is needed for us to heal.
We recently lost one of our wonderful colleagues, who was dearly loved. Whether we know them personally or not, losing one of ‘our own’ always strikes a chord on our heartstrings. And when we knew and loved them well, their passing can leave a love-sized hole in our hearts. The more we loved them, the bigger the seeming hole.
So what do we fill this hole with? There is no doubt that on a personal level we miss their physical presence and their absence leaves a void where the person used to be. We can no longer see them, hear them, touch them, and be touched by them and this can be a tough time; we may pass through the various stages of grief – the denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance (1) – before we move on with our lives.
And we can turn to our old behaviours to try and cope: eating more, drinking more, working harder, checking out on various media, taking up causes … all of which is understandable and sometimes it feels like the only way we can get through to the other side of our grief. There is no right or wrong way to grieve and we all have to do it in our own way and in our own time. It is important to honour our feelings and the process we go through and not to think we are ‘weak’ or we have to ‘get over it’ and move on in a certain way or by a certain time.
But there is another way of looking at grief. That love-sized hole that is left after loss is a space, and it is up to us what we choose to fill that space with. The greatest way we can show our love for someone is to share the inspiration of that life with others. And that does not mean just talking about the person, but sharing it in the way we live our lives. If they inspired us with their depth of love and care for people, then be that love and care for others. If they mentored us and made a difference during our training years, then be that mentor for others. If they lived a big life without holding back and brought their all, then let’s live a grand life ourselves.
If we miss them and their passing leaves a hole in our lives, then let’s fill that hole with the qualities that person inspired us with. And in that way they live on, in us.
Whether we think there is only one life and we have to make the most of it before it ends, or whether we believe there is life after death, or we sense that we live eternally and dip in and out of this plane of life to learn the lessons we are here to learn, we can live a great life while we are here, making the most of every moment, of our relationship with every person, of our every movement, so that we too can serve as a point of inspiration, of guidance, and be a shining light in our profession and in the world.
I have come to know that whilst we die in terms of our physical body and our personal identity, the particles of which we are made live on, for they are eternal. They dissolve back into the universe from whence they came and from there are reconstellated into other forms, other beings, other people. And the true nature of us – our essence – lives on in the universe while we come in and out of existence on this plane of life.
The more we are in tune with the particles of our own body, the more we resonate with them, the more we may feel the truth of this. We may have a sense of having lived before, or of there being more to us than this physical form and this physical life. We may have a sense of life making no sense, until we make it about the energy that underlies all life, an energy that is eternal, that we may call Soul, or God, or the Universe, whatever resonates with us.
There is more to us than being human, and far more than we may ever know, but while we are in a human body, we need to deeply honour the body and the particles it is made of, by caring deeply for our body and our being. And in and through that deep care, we restore our true senses and the knowing that comes from the truth of the body and the particles it enhouses, until we realise we come from something grand and wonderful and that life here on earth is but a part of the whole of who we are.
If you are struggling with your feelings after losing someone you love or any other loss, there are resources available. Here are some:
And we can be that support for each other: if you feel you need help, phone someone you know and love or a trusted health professional who cares deeply. We are not designed to live life alone and we all need help from time to time, especially at times such as this.