• Gratitude in Death – 5 Things I’m Thankful for After My Brother Died

    smallbrothergrave

    Most people dont know this about me, but I feel compelled to write this after thinking about a dear friend and their sudden loss of a loved one.

    Im the oldest of 3 boys.  When I was 16 years old, my middle brother, Richard, died.  He was 14 years old.

    Richard was a quiet, sweet, and very nerdy kid.  He was an academic genius, and Im confident that he would have been a great researcher and intellectual giant if he had survived.

    Richard caught “non-A, non-B” hepatitis when he was 12 years old, and we dont totally know why.  Today its called Hepatitis C, and he doesnt fit into any of the demographics to catch this disease.  He sort of recovered, but then he developed aplastic anemia, a medical condition that causes your bone marrow to shut down.  Your body no longer produces any red or white blood cells, causing anemia and no immune system to function.

    We were fortunate.  Richard was able to be transferred to Johns Hopkins for a bone marrow transplant.  Although the transplant was beginning to work, he became septic, and died on August 22.

    I don’t think about him all the time.  I used to feel guilty about that.

    I no longer feel guilty-  because even though Richard is my brother, I know that life goes on, and he would not want me to dwell on the past.

    Today, I wanted to share with you 5 facts that make me grateful about his death.  I could probably list 100+ things that are horrible about his death, but in the end, its better to push through and be optimistic for the future.  Dwelling on past sad events makes me miss the good things that are happening in my life and in the world.

    Carpe Diem/ Seize the Day

    Life is Short

    Dont Be Afraid of Anything

    Live in the Present

    Able to Comfort a Friend

    Carpe Diem/ Seize the Day

    Carpe Diem: Latin for “Seize the Day.”  So it’s a cliché, sue me.  It still applies.

    At BEST, you can only control what youre doing right now, on this day.  The past is gone, and the future may not go as planned.  I sometimes forget this truth, which is too bad, because I function better when I concentrate on today.

    Have gratitude for today, and work on what you need to accomplish as efficiently as possible.

    Life is Short

    We live in the most affluent, most advanced society in the history of the world.  As a doctor, I know the amazing medical advances weve made in the past 100 years.  Yet, friends, we still die. Most likely in our 70s or 80s.

    I have definitely put off too many things in life.  Then again, for all that procrastination, I have also had some pretty cool and interesting experiences by the sheer force of my desire NOT to just shuffle through the years, retire, and die.

    I always felt that my brother Richard lived a great life, even though he died after a mere 14 years.  Look.  We all know in our hearts that we may die tomorrow, so its important to live a little NOW.  Do whatever it is that you have postponed, and do it as soon as possible.

    Dont Be Afraid of Anything

    Richards death emboldened me to take some occasional chances.  Risk.  If youre not willing to take some, then youre not really truly living; youre just sort of existing.

    I mean, come on guys.  Whats the worst thing that can happen in todays modern world?  Especially if you live in the US.  Maybe someone will look at you funny, or worst case scenario, youll fail.  So what?  It’s win/win.  Youll learn from your experiences, move on, and improve on your situation.

    After taking on some risks in my personal and professional life, I wound up a plastic surgeon, in business for myself.  When I moved to San Francisco I had no connections.  But so far? its all working out.

    Live in the Present

    My personality and profession have made me a planner for the future, and not an enjoyer of the present.  I dont usually stop and smell the roses.  If the roses arent a blur, Im not going fast enough.

    Nevertheless, even if I seem like a hummingbird, Richards death taught me that holding your childs hand, hearing the thanks from a grateful patient, and knowing that you did a great job in surgery may be a fleeting moment, but its still a great feeling.

    When I work in remote areas of the world, Im missing time and money from my practice in California.  I’m also paying my own way to operate for free.

    But the gratitude of my patients and the tears Ive cried have made it priceless.  Words and pictures can only capture maybe 1% of what it feels like to go on a plastic surgery mission.

    Without Richard, I dont know that I would have dreamed of going abroad to operate for “nothing.”  But I not only dream about it.  I do it.  And the experience is way more satisfying than just doing well at work.

    Able to Comfort a Friend

    A dear friend of mine recently suffered the unexpected loss of a loved one.  I can’t explain how, but I know that the story of Richard’s death was meant to be shared with her, so that she didn’t feel alone.  I know from experience, that her loved ones life was not a waste, and was not in vain.  Even more importantly, I tried at least, to communicate the lasting impact of my brother-  Life doesnt just go on,  it gets better. 

    Conclusion:  LIVE

    If this is TMI well, Im not going to apologize.  It’s my blog, after all.  The best memorial I can give Richard is to enjoy life, reflect on what profound insight his early death has given me, and to try to pass it along to my kids, family, friends, and patients.

    Everyone will eventually die.

    Everyone – and I mean everyone – has felt personal loss.  Your parents, siblings, friends, and your neighbors, every human person is dealing with sorrow and loss.  It’s true, don’t kid yourself.  Ive realized over time that the loss of my brother as a teenager is sad, but not as rare as I used to think.

    So please.  Close the laptop.  Realize life can become better than you envisioned a couple of minutes ago.  You have to choose to allow yourself to enjoy life.  Dare yourself to do things you really want to do.  Then accept the dare.

    What are you waiting for?  Your time is running out.

     

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