This is from the twentieth chapter from my best-selling book, Bryson City Tales. I 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.
FISHER OF MEN (PART 2)
I introduced myself to the family. “I’m afraid I’ve got some bad news for you.”
Then I paused. This was what the family had been dreading. Now their worst fears had been confirmed. Some cried. Others just looked numb. All were quiet—overcome by shock. I waited for any questions. None came—which isn’t unusual at such a dramatic moment.
“I want you to know that he did not suffer. He didn’t have any pain when he went to sleep. We did everything we could have done.”
James’s wife, Grace, smiled. Softly she said, “Doctor, thank you. Thank you for trying.”
I briefly explained what had happened and how hard we had tried to save his life. I suspect that this part of the conversation was almost always one-sided—more for the doctor’s benefit than for the family’s. It was the doctor’s way of confessing, of emoting, of rationalizing to himself and to the deceased’s loved ones that the doctor had done all he could do, all he knew to do—that the passing was not at his hands, but out of his hands. It also gave the family some time to get ready for what would come next.
I then explained the legal and practical details. Under North Carolina law an autopsy would have to be performed, but it could be done, most of the time, without removing the brain. Grace seemed to accept this. Louise and I answered her and the family’s questions.
Then Grace asked, “Can I see him? Be with him a moment?”
“Of course,” I said. “Of course. If you would allow us a few moments, Louise will come back and get you. Is that OK?”
Louise and I walked back to the ER. James was covered with a blanket to his neck. He looked peaceful. The nursing staff had cleaned him up and replaced his cover sheet with a fresh, clean one. Don and Billy were doing paperwork. John was sitting by the outside door. After checking to see that all was in order, Louise announced that it was OK for the family to see James.
“Louise, if it’s OK, I’ll go escort them.”
“Of course,” she said.
I went back to the lobby to escort them in. Like most families, they wept. They gently stroked James’s cheeks and touched his head. His boys—he had two of them—bent over to kiss him good-bye. It was my custom to stay with the family during these private moments. To be still and respectful and available. Often families will use this time to share a story or two. Sometimes they’ll ask more questions. Sometimes they’ll be very quiet. I would be there with them and, if possible, try to bring some solace into a dreadful situation.
The last thing I was expecting was for James’s wife to comfort me.
After she kissed his cheek and held his hand, Grace looked at me. Her eyes were puffy, but she seemed unusually calm and peaceful.
“Doctor,” she explained softly, “my James has had several heart attacks. His father died at the age of forty-five of a massive MI. His dad’s dad and granddad both died before the age of fifty from heart attacks. He’s sixty-four and has lived longer than any other man in his family. He was a great dad to our five kids and a wonderful husband to me—my best friend.”
She stopped to wipe away the tears. Then she went on. “I am so grateful to have known and loved and lived with this beautiful man. And the Lord has given us so many more years than I ever expected. But, Doctor, best of all, because of his faith in the Lord, I know for sure that he’s in heaven. I know for sure that he’ll never feel pain again. And I know for sure that I and the kids will see him again.”
She paused. I was overwhelmed by her faith, her peace, and her gentleness. Even in my short career, I had seen many grieving families. Yet, in my experience, it only seemed to be those with a deep and unshakable faith in God who were able to face death with such grace and assurance.
“Doctor,” she continued, “although professionally he was an attorney, he really called himself a ‘fisher of men.’ He didn’t really lead people to God, like so many clergy or missionaries try to do. James just loved people wherever they were at—warts and all. He didn’t try to force them to God; he just gently and lovingly introduced people to his Lord. And more often than not, they would see his life and his example and his character and his giving spirit, and they would want a relationship like he had. He saw so many begin a personal relationship with God because of what God did through him. Now it’s time for him to go home to the Lord he loved and served. I’ll miss him so much, but he loved me so much. He loved others so much.”
She bowed her head and gently wept. I found myself having some very selfish thoughts. Instead of thinking about James or about Grace, I found myself thinking about me. I wondered what others would say about me when I would walk the same path that James walked. I felt that I knew God. I’d had a personal relationship with him for nearly ten years. But did I know God the way James knew God? And could others see God’s love at work in my life? I didn’t know.
I walked over to Grace’s side and reached down to take her and James’s hand in mine. My tears were now as obvious as hers were. I wanted in some way to return to this kind woman the same kind of gift I sensed she had just given me. I thought back to my prayer with Harold and Doreen, and how they had appreciated a doctor praying with them. I felt compelled to offer the same to this precious woman.
“May I pray with you?” I asked, with slightly trembling lips. She gently, almost imperceptibly, nodded her affirmation.
I said a prayer of thanks for James and for his rich life. I prayed for his wife and his children. I prayed for myself—that my love for God and for others might someday look a bit like James’s.
After the prayer, Grace gave me a hug and looked into my eyes. “James would tell you to be strong in the Lord. He would have encouraged you to come to know the Lord more deeply, to spend time with him every day, and to make him known to others. He would have been thankful for all you did. I know I am. Thank you, Doctor.” Then she and the family turned to go. Their last family outing with James was over. But his impact on me would be eternal.
I whispered, “No, thank you.”
After the family left, I walked over to the nurses’ station and started to do my paperwork, but I paused and put my head in my hands—my tears and silent sobs obvious. I had witnessed death before—many times—but had never been touched by a death like I had been by this one. I cried for my own inability to save James—and for my own lack of faith, compared to this man’s. I knew I wanted to make a difference with the patients I saw and cared for. I was learning that this would be possible only if I could be competent both clinically and spiritually. I wanted to be able to care for the body, mind, and spirit—to care for the whole person as part of a family and as part of a community.
I felt a hand rest softly on my shoulder. Louise whispered, “What you just did, Dr. Larimore, it was . . . beautiful.” I felt her lean over to kiss the back of my head.
“Thanks, Louie,” was all I could say. But no words could reflect the depth of my appreciation for her at that moment. From that moment on, to me she wasn’t “Louise,” she was “Louie.” But never in public.
I finished dictating my notes on James. The report contained all the necessary clinical details. It began, “This sixty-four-year- old married white male . . .” This was the usual and customary dictation technique, yet this was not the usual and customary case. I had been deeply and indelibly marked by this man whom I had never really met, had never known. Yet, to this day I carry his imprint on my soul.
My involvement in the ministry of medicine—incorporating faith into medical practice—in many ways began with this man, a loving man I never knew.
- The Murder (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- The Arrival (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Hemlock Inn (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Grand Tour (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Interview (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Settling In (Part 1); (Part 2)
- First-Day Jitters (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Emergency (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Delivery (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The “Expert” (Part 1); (Part 2)
- The Trial (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Shiitake Sam (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Wet Behind the Ears (Part 1); (Part 2); (Part 3)
- Lessons in Daily Practice (Part 1) — Anal Angina; (Part 2); (Part 3); (Part 4)
- White Lies
- The Epiphany (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Becoming Part of the Team (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Monuments (Part 1); (Part 2)
- My First Home Victory (Part 1); (Part 2)
- Fisher of Men (Part 1); (Part 2)
© Copyright Walter L. Larimore, M.D. 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.