Bryson City Seasons — Death by Emotion (Part 4)

This is from the sixth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Seasons, which is the sequel to Bryson City TalesI hope that you’ll enjoy going back to Bryson City with me each week, and that if you do, you’ll be sure to invite your friends and family to join us.


That night, after the kids were asleep, Barb and I sat out on the bench. The moon was nearly full, and Deep Creek Valley was an iridescent, shimmering silver. I shared with Barb about Mrs. Smith and Mr. Cunningham. I told her about my discussion with Pastor Hicks.

“I’m not sure which is worse,” I commented, “loneliness or anger. But I think they both can kill.”

“Walt,” Barb asked, “when it comes to loneliness, what do you think about people who are introverts—those who seem to enjoy being alone? Is being alone the same as loneliness? I mean, I’m kinda introverted, you know.”

I thought for a moment. “Barb, I’m not talking about people who are natural introverts—who get recharged from being able to spend time thinking and reading alone. By and large, I think healthy introverts understand, enjoy, and appreciate close relationships. You do, don’t you?”

She laughed and moved closer. I put my arm around her shoulder and gave her a hug.

“I think I do!” she said. We were quiet for a few moments—just enjoying the cool and beautiful summer evening. Barb sighed.

“Penny for your thoughts,” I commented.

“Well, I guess to stay healthy we’ll just have to stay married, eh?”

It was my turn to laugh. “That’s a prescription I’ll be happy to take.”

I thought of our upcoming tenth anniversary in the fall. I had already begun meeting with Sally Jenkins to discuss the details. Sally was a part-time decorator and travel agent, and the full-time wife of R. P. Jenkins, a member of our hospital board of directors. They lived near us on Hospital Hill.

Barb had shared with me over the years her ideas about the ideal bedroom furniture. She wanted a four-poster rice bed—a replica of the type of bed common in the Charleston, South Carolina, area toward the end of the eighteenth century—along with a Philadelphia highboy armoire, a Philadelphia chest on chest, a couple of lowboy bedside tables, and a beautiful cherry lingerie cabinet.

There was just no way we could afford this furniture, unless we bought it one piece at a time over many years. However, Sally knew of furniture factories in western North Carolina that made this type of furniture, and she convinced me that, when ordered wholesale, it would be extremely affordable. Sally also wanted to draw up ideas on how to completely decorate Barb’s new bedroom. My job would be to pay for the whole affair.

I couldn’t wait!


When I filled out Sam’s death certificate a couple weeks later, I wrote that the cause of death was a heart arrhythmia exacerbated by obesity, hypertension, arteriosclerosis, tobacco abuse, alcoholism, diabetes, sepsis, and gangrene. But if the truth were told, Sam, like Anne, died of loneliness.

For whatever reasons, Sam had tended to be angry, hostile, and cynical. By choosing a life of isolation, he had cut himself off from others who could have brought balance and perspective to those deadly emotions.

By the age of twenty-nine, he was a pathological loner and an extreme example of the negative health effects of the loneliness that Pastor Hicks and I had talked about. Sam’s story drove home to me the point that loneliness, like anger, kills—unless the patient is willing to do something to quell the pain. Most don’t—but one did.


It was 2:00 a.m. when he called and woke me out of a deep sleep.

“Doc!” he almost shouted. “You won’t believe it. It’s gone!”

“Who is this? What are you talking about?” I asked, being roused from a deep sleep.

“This here’s Tim Johnson. I did it! I really did it! It worked! It really worked!”

“Tim, you did what?”

“Doc, I began seeing Dr. Dawson—you know, that psychologist over on Deep Creek. Anyway, he told me to follow your advice—about keeping a journal. So I began writing about the war. And I began writing letters. I wrote Sarge and Binky. I wrote the Vietcong. I even wrote Johnson and Nixon. I tell you, I was one angry guy. I had no idea how angry! But, Doc, it’s gone! It’s really gone!”

He then broke into sobs for what seemed like several minutes.

As he composed himself, I asked, “Tim, are you okay?”

“Doc, I’ve never been better. The pain’s gone. I feel so much better. I want to bury these memories. Will you come over and help me?”

I paused for a second. I was extremely tired, but I knew what was right to do. “You bet, Tim. I’ll be right there.”

I rolled out of bed. Barb didn’t move. Over the years she had grown used to my leaving during the night to attend a hospital admission or a birth.

The early morning air was still warm. Tim’s house was just a few miles away, nestled in a small hollow. When I drove up, he met me on the front porch. He looked very serious—not angry, but grave and solemn.

“Follow me,” he whispered.

We walked to the edge of the backyard. He had dug a hole, and I could see the shovel and a pile of dirt in the moonlight. He pulled a roll of papers from his belt, knelt down, and gently placed them in the bottom of the hole.

He struck a match, and we watched his hatred flame and then cool into ash.

“Doc, I know you’re a man of prayer. Would you say one for me—and Sarge and Binky?”

So I prayed. Then, together, we filled that hole with dirt.

Tim buried that pain. It was gone! And so was a bunch of Tim’s distress.

Researchers have now found that loneliness and anger are two of the leading causes of death—primarily by dramatically increasing the risk for heart disease. Even in the 1980s, an increasing number of well-designed studies involving hundreds of thousands of people around the world concluded that loneliness and anger not only hurt people physically, emotionally, and spiritually but could actually kill.

Love, social support, intimacy, security, safety, satisfaction, and community—these terms all relate to a common theme found not only in romance novels and popular fiction but also in the medical literature.

It was even true way out in Bryson City, North Carolina.



  1. The Murder (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  2. The Arrival (Part 1)(Part 2)
  3. The Hemlock Inn (Part 1)(Part 2)
  4. The Grand Tour (Part 1)(Part 2)
  5. The Interview (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  6. Settling In (Part 1)(Part 2)
  7. First-Day Jitters (Part 1)(Part 2)
  8. Emergency (Part 1)(Part 2)
  9. The Delivery (Part 1)(Part 2)
  10. The “Expert” (Part 1)(Part 2)
  11. The Trial (Part 1)(Part 2)
  12. Shiitake Sam (Part 1)(Part 2)
  13. Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1)(Part 2)(Part 3)
  14. Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina(Part 2)(Part 3)(Part 4)
  15. White Lies
  16. The Epiphany (Part 1)(Part 2)
  17. Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1)(Part 2)
  18. Monuments (Part 1)(Part 2)
  19. My First Home Victory (Part 1)(Part 2)
  20. Fisher of Men (Part 1)(Part 2)
  21. Fly-Fishing (Part 1); (Part 2)
  22. Something Fishy (Part 1)(Part 2)
  23. A Good Day at the Office
  24. An Evening to Remember
  25. Another New Doc Comes to Town
  26. ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (Part 1)(Part 2)
  27. A Surprising Gift
  28. The New Year (Part 1)(Part 2)
  29. The Home Birth (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  30. The Showdown (Part1)(Part 2); (Part 3)
  31. The Initiation (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
  32. Home at Last (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)

© Copyright WLL, INC. 2017. This blog provides a wide variety of general health information only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from your regular physician. If you are concerned about your health, take what you learn from this blog and meet with your personal doctor to discuss your concerns.

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