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Death is only a Door

By Lavjay Butani

‘I believe death is only a door. One closes, and another opens. If I were to imagine heaven, I would imagine a door opening. And he would be waiting for me there.’ David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas.

The sadness seems so much more intense these past few times. It’s made me wonder for sure…no, never has it led me to question my chosen path or my love of medicine, but a prompting to reflect on what is different now, compared to before. Each loss seems emotionally less tolerable at least in the immediacy of the events and seemingly overwhelming in the moment. Could it be that it’s a reminder of my own mortality-an awareness that I believe we are conditioned by Society to increasingly address as we grow older? I think not. Could it be the fact that there have been so many losses in my life recently…yes, another possibility, but again my inner sense tells me that this is not the case. I think it all stems from that one pivotal moment. The trigger for it all, still vivid in my mind, after all these years, was being witness to the suffering (perhaps) experienced by my mother in the last few days before she died and that has replayed itself many time since. I say perhaps, because that is the part that has haunted me then and continues to do so now…what were her thoughts, emotions and feelings…and was she suffering and in pain…its that unknowability that, for the first time, revealed itself to me and hit me in the face. A cataclysmic moment: that no matter how much and how hard I tried, I could never ever know the answer to those questions. A realization that was simultaneously beautiful (in that it reminded me of the enigma and enchantment of life, as my good friend calls it) and terrifying. The uncertainty and ambiguity about the opening of that door…and the hope that the journey was painless and without suffering or loneliness.

Equally painful has been the realization that I am not ever going to be privy to the suffering of those who have been left behind, either. Those that grieve and perhaps do not have the capacity, as I do, to intellectualize the loss or process it cognitively, like we as physicians are asked and taught to do. Those who, perhaps, are not required to ‘move on’ and keep going in spite of the grief, such as we are so that we can provide care and comfort to the next patient. Those, whose lives perhaps were anchored solely around the existence of the now departed and who are now stuck in grief. Try I must, but I do so with a heavy heart and with seemingly hollow sounding words, at least to me the same words repeated each time so that they seem to have lost their true meaning.

Each death seems like a bowling pin that has been struck down in a game, until all are fallen and the game is over. 

And so, I must plod on, asking no questions and seeking no answers, for there are none…there is no meaning, perhaps to life, expect to do good and live a good life, following ones principles and hoping for nothing more and nothing less. Perhaps that is life…and that is the meaning of our sojourn on Earth.