D Day +1 +1

D Day has come and gone once again, and we have remembered. It is a time to look forward as well as backward, as I wrote about this morning on my other blog, Musings.

I have another personal anniversary that I do not celebrate every year, but I do pause to remember and honor. My father died one year and one day after the fiftieth anniversary of D Day. Now, you might think this is an odd way to remember the date of your father’s death, but I love history, and the two just sort of go hand in hand for me.

My dad was sixty two when he died of a sudden cerebral aneurysm. He would have been sixty three on July 30th, had he lived. As I have previously written, I will celebrate my sixty second birthday this October 24th. Lord willing.

This year will prove to be a challenging one for me emotionally. It is hard to explain what it feels like to outlive one’s parent. (Again, I am being very optimistic and taking liberties here, assuming that I will!) I remember vividly seeing my grandmother sitting down at the funeral home at my dad’s service, making the statement that it was very unnatural to outlive one’s own child. There is a natural order to the world and to the greater universe that we all take for granted. You are born, you live, you may be blessed with children and grandchildren, you teach them to care for themselves and the planet, and then one day you make your exit in good time, as it should be. None of us, so far, has escaped that ultimate fate.

I fully expected to see my parents live to ripe old ages, well into their nineties and beyond. My mother is still working on that, thank God. She will be eighty four next month, and she is a young octogenarian at that! My father’s fate was different. He was cut down by a physical abnormality that no one saw coming, at a very early age. He had just retired, was trying to do other things to stay active and busy and was trying to find a “new groove”. It was not fair, of course, but what about life is, really?

I am happy, busy, working, writing, reading, hiking, traveling, driving, visiting with family and friends, planning vacations (Japan in October!) and assuming that life will go on, if not forever, then for a few decades to come. My wife adamantly and confidently predicts, no, commands, that I will live until I am ninety six. She also commands that she will exit this life first, but I think we both know that the odds of that are slim to none. I am reminded of that scene in the John Adams miniseries when President Adams is at his wife’s bedside in her last moments. “I can’t believe I am going first”, she says, resigned to the fact that she will leave her husband, who loved her dearly, behind.

I do not want to merely be somber and sad as I think on these things in this space in the coming year. No, I am realistic as I grow older, but I am also wishing with all my might that I might have the thirty four more years that my dear wife promises me (maybe she has God’s ear or some other inside track not known to me?) so that I can love her, my children and grandchildren and this life that I have been blessed with with all my heart and soul and mind and body.

Yes, that is the goal, my friends.

To live long, if that is possible.

To live and love well, as long as one is given to do so.

What the Funeral (Re)taught Me

In the liturgical tradition of the Episcopal church, a funeral is an Easter service. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. It is characterized by joy. This joy does not make the human grief we feel unChristian or wrong.

None of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

“Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.”

“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Rest In Peace, Reynolds Gracy Jarvis, M.D.

Death of a Mentor

My friend, teacher and mentor Reynolds Jarvis MD died on May 21, 2019, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gherig’s Disease.

Reynolds was a man who came into my life in that period of time between 1983 and 1987 when I was learning how to be a doctor, and more specifically, a psychiatrist. Yes, I had earned my MD degree in 1983, and I was licensed as a physician, but I had not clue one what I was doing. We were all struggling back then, all the folks in my small residency class at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia, to find our sea legs on the ocean of pathology that confronted us daily. Reynolds was one of the men and women who was entrusted to teach us how to be knowledgeable, compassionate, competent doctors.

He was one of those rare physicians who was proficient and comfortable with one foot in the world of mental illness and the other in the world of internal medicine. He was at ease when diagnosing cogestive heart failure, pancreatic disease, hypertension, as well as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If a patient had more than one illness, and one of each type, then bring it on. He would help us learn how to tease apart the pieces of history that we needed to make accurate and relevent diagnoses.

He liked to tell stories and especially liked to put things in the context of what real people needed and wanted, and how they went about seeking the goods and services that they needed to make their lives better. These concepts had been formulated and taught by another of our mutual mentors, Dr. E. J McCranie, several years before. We all loved to stand around a keg of beer in those heady days, waxing poetic and scientific about the ins and outs of human need and psychiatric pathology.

Reynolds would rotate as attending physician on both internal medicine services and psychiatric services. Rounding with him, talking over patient presentations with him, was a treat. He had the respect of both departments, and that was not lost on his charges.

Another physician friend of mine made me aware of his illness one day at church. I had not known that Reynolds had been ill, as I had not seen him in many years. He told me about his diagnosis, which room he was in at the hospital, and said that he had been by to visit. I might want to stop by to visit too, he offered. I thought about this, knowing that it would be the right thing to do, and promised myself that I would consider it.

I never went to visit my old friend and mentor.

I feel sad about his death, but now I feel even more guilty that I did not go to tell him thank you before he died. Why did I not make the effort to go to the hospital to say hello?

There are many reasons, some of which are merely excuses. I can tell myself that. It doesn’t help, but I tell myself that anyway. I remember Reynolds being large and in charge, in that soft, confident, smooth talking way that only he could. I remember him being smart, so much smarter than me, and thinking that one day it would be great if I could be half as proficient at my craft as he was at his. I remember him being one of my teachers, only seven years ahead of me in his graduation from medical school, but seemingly light years ahead of me in experience and confidence. I was so angry inside when I heard that ALS was going to cut his life short, in that cruel way that any progressive neurological disease does, robbing one of all dignity at the end, and not respecting race, color, creed, class, or MD after a name as it ruins another life.

I did not want to see him that way, could not see him that way. I did not want to confront his death, for in doing so, in saying goodbye to my teacher, I would now have to realize that I am closer to confronting my own. Each loss we bear brings us closer to our own loss of this life, and I was not in a place to do that. I feel ashamed, but it is the truth as I feel it right now. Diseases like ALS take away all our control, and I could not bear to see my old friend, once so easy going and confident, in that state. Forgive me, Reynolds.

His funeral is on Saturday at our church. I will be able to attend, just before I take the short drive to Aiken to work a long emergency room telepsychiatry shift until midnight that night. I will go to pay my respects, as I should.

Do we really lose people, their ideas, their skills, their emotional imprint on this world when they die? Do we really? Or do we carry part of them with us, always, imbedded in us just as surely and firmly as any of our own DNA?

I choose to believe that when they are gone physically that we keep some of them with us until we are gone, and by that time we have passed some of that wisdom and wit and energy and intelligence and competence along to someone else that we care about very much. As the wonderful animated movie Coco taught us, as long as someone has a picture of us, thinks about us, and holds us dear, we never really die. It’s only when there is not a soul who remembers us that we truly pass away.

Dr. Jarvis, I will go to your funeral on Saturday. I will smile when I think about the things you taught me that I use to this day. I will leave your funeral, go to my office and see people in the emergency rooms of South Carolina who are in need. And I will be very, very glad that our paths crossed as you taught me what it means to be a physician.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, friend.

Amen.

(Image of Dr. Jarvis via Platt’s Funeral Home obituary in the Augusta Chronicle)