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A Piece of My Mind
May 19, 1999

Saying Good-bye

JAMA. 1999;281(19):1778. doi:10.1001/jama.281.19.1778

Today I attended the funeral of a 3-year-old boy. The bumpy gravel parking lot was overflowing at the Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, a one-room clapboard chapel nestled among gently rolling hills deep in upstate New York. It was a cold, gray, raw day, but a fresh coat of wet snow whitened and cheered the landscape. Perhaps it was signaling the arrival of a very sick little boy in a better place.

Six months ago he was like any other 3-year-old: wild and seemingly untamable, scattering toys all over the house, joyously bullying his little brother. Then came headaches, vomiting, and lethargy. An MRI scan of his head revealed a huge tumor, and the boy and his family were swiftly ushered into a brave new world of high technology, operating suites, radiation, and intensive chemotherapy. The boy persevered, but the tumor was relentless. It grew after every treatment. Eventually the exhausted little boy said good-bye to his parents. And now in this tiny rural church, it was our turn to say good-bye to him.