A World War II veteran born on November 11, my dad was a man of few words. But in the right one-on-one moment, he delved deeply.
Decades ago, I studied one of the first death-and-dying courses offered in the Southeast. Point blank, I asked him about death. Dad was a surgeon and reflected on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ now famous emotional states experienced by terminally ill patients: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Science and God co-existed—no doubt
My father carried a deep faith in science and God. He adhered to the theory of evolution and marveled at the miracle of the Big Bang. At the same time, he could describe in infinite medical detail every moment of Christ’s suffering during the Crucifixion—which often left audiences weeping.
For him, Christ was not an abstract figure in a stained class window or an idealized Hollywood portrait gazing down from a Sunday School wall. Instead, he was a human being whose body was broken over excruciating hours. Yet he forgave those who inflicted pain.
Dad was a damn good surgeon—and knew it. Yet before every operation, he met with the patient’s family and offered to pray with them. Christ’s suffering humbled him.
Mystical in medicine’s modern world
Having been at death’s door with patients, he carried a deep spiritual connection to a world beyond us. He rarely spoke of such things.
However, one day, Dad said, “I had the most unusual experience. On the commute home, my car suddenly took an exit. I cannot describe it fully—but it was as if an invisible hand took the wheel of my car and guided it off the exit and into a neighborhood. I had no idea where I was going.
“Suddenly, I recognized the streets. My car headed straight for the home of an elderly patient where I had made house calls. Then the experience seemed as if a slow-motion dream. Neighbors and relatives crowded the front yard and porch. They waved me forward, calling, ‘Hurry! Hurry!’”
Dad rushed into the house where his patient lay in bed, surrounded by family. She saw him, and her face shone. He took her hand; she grasped it firmly and serenely said, “I knew you would come.”
And then she died.
The mantra of my dad’s practice
In my dad’s office, a floral watercolor with the words from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 hung on his wall—directly behind every patient he saw. An artist whom he treated for cancer—after he treated her husband for the same terminal disease—bestowed it as a gift.
“4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. . . .
“13 And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Happy birthday, Papaw.
Daily Post Prompt: “Or“—we each have a choice as to the life we will lead. The either/or is up to the individual.