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.
Love your work Dr. Anne, and often experience confirmation of its value to us all, when sharing what you bring with others.
Thank you Theresa, it is a joy to share it with you.
I am so glad you have written this post. A dear friend of mine passed away last month from a stroke who had only just turned 50. It was totally out of the blue and even now I find it very hard to accept she’s gone. I still feel like I can pick up the phone and call her for a chat and that she’s still around. With the COVID situation and not being able to visit her in hospital it was even worse and I feel like I have let her and her family down by not being able to visit her even though it was in one of the hospitals I’m a VMO at. I have seen death and bodies throughout my career but when it is someone so emotionally close it is never easy and the only comfort I have is in knowing that the deeds she did whilst alive were amazing and she will live on in our memories forever. I keep focusing on the good stuff that has happened not the bad things and that keeps me going. Regarding who you are referring to in your post I was also completely shocked at their passing and find it difficult to accept also but I have also come to realise that life is not fair at times and yes people do pass away well before we think their time is up but it is pointless to think about the inevitable passing of someone but rather to cherish who we are, cherish our loved ones and hug them even more and say you love them before it is too late. I can feel peaceful now knowing that death is not something to be feared and that we are celebrating all the achievements someone has made in their life- whether small or great, everyone has something to give to life and everyone’s life is worthwhile no matter what the circumstances and how they pass.
It is lovely to hear from you and I am so glad this post resonated with you. Even if we have a bigger picture view of life it is tough on a human level when we lose someone we love and we have to be so loving with ourselves in the process of letting go…as you say, it is a reminder to treasure our every relationship and our every moment together, for we never know when it will be our last…
with love, Anne
This has come at the perfect moment as all things do, as I am about to have to say good bye to a very very dear friend of 20 years. He has been a strong anchor throughout these years and I would say the most dearest, trusted and best male friend I have had in my life.
Thank you for reminding me of the essence we all are and all are part of… and in that we can celebrate our loved ones lives by living that what we loved them for.
Thank you Karina,
we are always together, in essence, for in essence we are always One,
Dear Dr Anne,
I was so heartened to read your ideas of a transcendent quality after our energies depart from us. I had these similar experiences when my Mother passed and had never discussed my experience except in my book I wrote. Life is so expansive and we’ve been teetering on its borders without realising our sorrow has a place after all and can be transmuted into joy. Thankyou so much 😇🙏
Thank you Elizabeth,
so joyful to hear this post resonated with you,
with love, Anne❤️