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The Dear Friend

by Lucky Garvin

From years ago . . .

Most physicians become acquainted with death in late medical school; the clinical years. For ER physicians, at least, we’ve seen a lot of ‘good-byes.’ For my youngest son, however, he participated in his first good-bye when he was too young to understand, too young to cope.

My son Cailan made a puppet to entertain his new friend – an orphaned baby beaver recently dropped off at a local wildlife rescue center where Cailan sometimes volunteers.  Cailan fed and burped him, loved and stroked him, watched him swim in a small vinyl pool. His friend had little bucky teeth and a wonderful flat tail.

He would call the center and check up on the little beaver on those days he could not visit. Then, one day, his friend got sick; inexplicably and irretrievably sick; and had to be put to sleep.

Cailan cried. He had lost a friend, you see.

But he gained something.  He gained the knowledge that sometimes mercy is bestowed with a fatal hand; and that loving neither protects nor preserves. Necessary lessons.

I must go to my son; go to him in that deep, secret place where he is trying to make sense of this loss.

I cannot get there by being me; I must leave myself to see this as he sees it.  I already know of cycles and death and the often hard face of mercy. I am only to well aware that life hangs like a leaf, suspended for a catch of time by some invisible thing; and sometimes the leaf falls before we think it should. This was true when the winds were young and I can do nothing to change it; not for me; not for him.  There is a deep mystery here I cannot begin to fathom.

I, now an adult, am left to wonder what it must be like to learn of death; to experience it close in for the first time. What was it like for me … the first time?  Ahhh … I have forgotten.

I am so sad for this necessary lesson that the young, the helpless, the innocent sometimes die. How do I explain it to him when no one has yet explained it to me?

I can only tell my son – conscious of how little help it is to know – that this is the way of our life here; and with that thin explanation, the world becomes a little colder place to him; still a happy place withal; but now one where shadows lurk… Cast by objects and moments between us and the light.

Look for Lucky’s books locally and on-line: The Oath of Hippocrates; The Cotillian; A Journey Long Delayed.

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