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A Piece of My Mind
July 30, 2020

Non Sei Solo

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, UC Davis Medical Center, Sacramento, California
JAMA. Published online July 30, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.14420

In the wake of COVID-19, honoring the fallen brings unprecedented challenges. So many victims, yet we cannot gather. Will we remember them? As Churchill once warned, “There are vast numbers…in every land, who will render faithful service in this war but whose names will never be known.” Much has changed since World War II, but our fears have not. Becoming sick or injured, losing one’s life. Protecting our families.

I think of my own darkest hour. The monitor and ventilator turned off, the room got eerily quiet save for an occasional sob. Gathering around the bed, we kissed him one last time, staples still fresh above his brow. His beautiful brown skin faded to white. Tenderly wrapping him in a brightly colored quilt, we let them take his body away. John-John’s battle was over and the world I had known for 48 years, ended.

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    3 Comments for this article
    Empathy, Memories, Grief, and Honour
    Peter Shah, BSc MA FRCOphth FRCP Edin | University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust
    I am deeply moved by the breath-taking bravery of Marc Henderson in sharing the tragic story of John, and feel a deep empathic connection with his words. The individuals that lie in front of us are not what they seem. They are not individuals - but rather, complex living beings, anchored into the lives of many others. They form part of the memories and fabric of identity of many others. Their suffering and loss wrenches apart the minds of many others.

    We may have hours, minutes, perhaps only seconds sometimes, to show to others that we appreciate their anguish
    when loved ones are dying. If those few seconds are devoted only to compassion, then as physicians and surgeons we go some way to beginning the long journey of healing that many others will make.

    The primacy of memory enables us to exist and appreciate the miracle of life, a source of immeasurable joy, but can also be the source of unbearable pain. It takes so little to show that we care, and in doing so we honour and nurture the memories that others have of their loved ones they entrust to us.

    I read the essay with my seventeen year-old daughter, Natalie who wrote:

    "This is inspiring. I would like to extend the metaphor of memories of loved ones as anchors. Memories of loved ones, their mannerisms, their presence, are anchored into our minds, but these anchors extend and embed with the tenacity of barbed wire. 

    Once embedded we are unaware of these anchors, but as they are ripped out, part of our flesh is clawed out too. Our shared memories are no longer linked in time and space. We not only lose the physical bond of memories, we lose a part of ourselves as well."

    Mark has reached across a generation with his words - motivating others to carry the torch.

    'Non sei solo.'
    Wonderful Essay
    Andrew Wilner, MD | University of Tennessee
    As a writer, I'm impressed. As a parent, I am moved to tears. Thank you for bravely sharing your story.
    There is No Word
    Steven Reid, MD, FAANS | Doctor Lifeline
    "Orphan", a child who lost his parents to death. "Widow", a woman who lost her husband to death. These are common words for those who lost close family members in the "natural" scheme of things. But in English, as in most languages, there is no word for a parent who lost a child. It's as though the concept, the event, is so unnatural, so morally repugnant, it is psychologically impossible give it its own designation. We can say "parent who lost a child to death". Maybe it's simply too horrific to condense, to capture, in a single word.

    The article above comes close to capturing it. Thank you Doctor Henderson. You are not alone.