I spoke to a patient today in his mid 70s. Depressed. Denies suicidal ideation. No plans. The holidays trigger memories of his son, who died at the age of 30. The pain in his voice is as palpable as a pulse. I try to maintain professional composure and not allow my emotions to show. It’s hard to keep the tears from my eyes, but I believe I’m successful. I picture my little ones for a nanosecond and I can’t imagine. I don’t want to imagine. Burying one’s child is the worst emotional trauma a person can undergo.
I’m agnostic, but I also believe in respecting my patient’s beliefs. It’s not about me and my personal opinions. “Are you spiritual, sir?” I ask.
“Yes, I go to church every week. I like my church, and the people there are really nice.”
“Where do you think your son is?”
“He’s watching out for you?”
“Would he want his father to be sad?”
“No, no, no.”
I start feeling like Ricky Gervais in the Invention of Lying (good movie, although if you’re the religious sort, I don’t recommend it. You will be deeply offended, more so than you are right now.) I don’t believe what I’m saying, but if it makes my patient feel better, what’s the harm?
“Someday, you’ll be reunited in heaven, won’t you?”
“That’s something to look forward to, isn’t it? Let’s just not make it today, alright?”
He laughs. “No, not today.”
“Good, “ I reply warmly. “You can call us anytime, alright? If these feelings return, we’re for you. There’s always someone on call.”
“I guess I need a lot of people watching out for me, “ he says wistfully.
“That’s why we’re here.”