Death echos through every minute of our existence and at the age of 18 its noticeable presence ramps up in medical school when you look into the eyes of your first cadaver in an anatomy class while cracking open the first ribs in forensic pathology and it becomes a fact of life that stares into your soul in the Emergency Department when you hand over every morning how many people died on your shift.
It's always there and you start to get numbed by it at some point and only when you are talking to your non-medical friends about your daily routine do you notice how different and rather morbid your view has become around the subject of life and death. When you casually share your day's doings over a coffee, you look up and you see their distorted facial expression that tells you to stop, you are no longer in their reality.
While only a few times do I break into pieces by witnessing death, every time it does touch me deeply, it floods me with the memories of the many I sat beside while they drew their last breath. Today I was reminded of this as I watched a beautiful 98 years old lady die. Her death was beautiful and peaceful, and her expression was calm and content. She was happy and ready. I told her partner of 70 years who was 92yrs that she is dying. He started wailing, his soul left him with hers and he tried to pull her back. He shouted “how could I live a day without you”, he sang her their favourite songs, and held her hand as if he was holding on to his own dear life, he loved this woman more than himself. I touched his shoulder gently to hold him up as he was experiencing an out of body feeling and with this moment they both will live with me forever.
They are the lucky ones.
They are the ones who are offered a life full of love and joy, and they lived it out to their best years without diseases crippling their last 10, 20 years. They had each other. While most of our elderly people report that they live alone, sadly I know too well that they die alone too, with only us present at their death beds and no one to care for their passing.
Loneliness and the current approach to nuclear families, isolation and decimation of big family units have resulted in so much sadness, lack of purpose and lack of satisfaction in life quality. So many are alone this Holiday season. Loneliness is as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Reduces life quality and life span.
We need to do what we can as health care professionals to reform communities just like we treat heart attacks with emergency stents, we must treat the pervasive loneliness that has penetrated the soul of our culture so everyone can live a long and fulfilling, wholesome life. So everyone can have someone singing a lullaby beside their beds when they die.
Note:Dates, time,age & sex have been changed for confidentiality reasons so patients cannot be identified.