How To Help People Grieve

Photo: Beverly

After a prolonged, debilitating illness, two weeks ago my father–at long last–died. As a physician, I’ve observed many people experience loss, but this is the first time I’ve lost someone close to me. This has, not surprisingly, put me on the receiving end of many condolences. Yet unable to rid myself of […]

My Father Is Dying

Somewhere around 2004 or so—I no longer remember the exact year—my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. We’d been wondering why his legs had been feeling weak, and at first had thought he might have cervical spinal stenosis (a condition in which the spinal cord becomes compressed in the neck). But when the tell-tale cogwheel […]

The Best Disease From Which To Die

Photo: Pink Sherbet Photography

We can’t, of course, plan the way we’re going to die (with the obvious exception of suicide). We can, however, live in such a way that reduces the likelihood of our dying from certain diseases. Which is why it’s now almost universally accepted that we should exercise regularly, not smoke, […]

The Exact Date Of Your Demise

Photo: beatplusmelody

Human beings are the only living creatures endowed with a full awareness of their mortality, a wound so painful that they’re driven to pull every cognitive trick in the book to deny it. As with any skill, some of us are far better at this than others, yielding a wide range of […]


Photo: The U.S. Army

A relative of mine recently died, so my parents, my brothers, and I went to his funeral. The rabbi was appropriately somber and talked about him fondly, as if she’d known him (though she hadn’t). His sister and brother stood up and told us all how much they loved him […]

Pronouncing Someone Dead

Photo: Tim Green

When I was an intern in internal medicine, I admitted a patient to my service with pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer is a bad one; back then, only ten percent of patients with it would be alive within five years after being diagnosed. My patient was a farmer in the full bloom […]

Tribute To A Patient

Photo: Richard0

For a doctor, every patient death is unpleasant. My first thought when it happens to me is always, “What mistakes did I make?” I go back through the sequence of events that led up to my patient’s death and ask myself if, given what I knew at each point along the way, […]

Only Three Ways To Die

Photo: DerrickT

“The absolute truth, Dr. Lickerman?” Emily (not her real name) said to me, tears sliding down her red, swollen cheeks. “It was a relief.”

She wasn’t referring to being fired from a job she secretly despised or having a divorce finalized from a husband she no longer loved. She was describing instead […]

Overcoming The Fear Of Death

Photo: Fiona MacGinty

In January of 2007, I developed a mild stomach ache and general feeling of being unwell while at a Sunday brunch. Initially, the pain sat in the center of my abdomen just above my belly button, but gradually over the course of the day inched its way down into my right […]