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A Piece of My Mind
June 17, 1998


JAMA. 1998;279(23):1852. doi:10.1001/jama.279.23.1852

Dear Dad,

I have been told that writing to the dead offers some sense of closure to those left behind. One would think that in the 17 years since you have been gone I would not find this task necessary, much less beneficial, but I was only 16 years old when you died. Sons are not supposed to bury their fathers at that age. To let go of the grief would mean letting go of any memory of you. I cannot do that yet.

You had barely begun your internal medicine practice when your 12-year war with cancer began. Your dignity and pride would not allow you to tell your three children that you were mortal. You would leave home for weeks on end to a faraway medical center for treatment, only to return a bit weaker and weary. We only had clues of your illness during this conspiracy of silence. We saw alopecia, cord compression, and zoster before we ever knew what they were or what they meant. You had good days and bad days. You tired easily. We never saw you run, much less walk briskly. On the bad days you would come home from work only to retire early to bed, recovering from your day. We would take advantage of your good days. We remember long Sunday afternoon dinners where we could always find a way to make you laugh with our stupid jokes. Your little girl remembers dancing with you in the kitchen. Those times helped maintain our denial of your illness and that our lives as a family were normal, when in reality they were not.

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