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Archive for the ‘Dealing with the loss of a loved one’ Category

Dealing with the loss of a loved one

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Today I read in the news that US actor Karl Malden, best known for his roles in films such as A Streetcar Named Desire and On the Waterfront, has died at the age of 97.  Above all else, I personally remember him fondly for his role as Lt Mike Stone in the long-running TV series, The Streets of San Francisco. The news of Karl Malden’s passing away after a long illness, coupled with the news last week that two other famous Hollywood icons Michael Jackson and Farah Fawcett also passed away, struck a chord in me and reminded me of the strong and powerful emotions that my wife and I went through a few weeks ago after we lost Jack, my father in law to a long illness. When someone whom we have loved and admired leaves us for good, we are left with no choice other than to stop and think about our own mortality, fallibility and hopefully, humility in the face of life’s events. I experienced these feelings for the first time when I lost my father almost 10 years ago and again a few weeks ago, as I stood in front of a crowd of over one hundred people and described what Jack’s life had taught me. I explained: “His life reminded me of a story I had read in a book recently of a man who lived in a very dry arid part of the world and who had nothing at all. Everyday this man used to dig a stick into the ground looking for water until eventually he found some moisture at the end of his stick. He persevered and dug deeper and deeper until eventually he found some water. He took the little water he had found and used it to cultivate a little bit of the land. He persevered further and further until eventually he cultivated the whole region in which he lived and ensured a fulfilled life for himself, but also benefited all others who passed through, such that even after he had died people continued to benefit from the goodness of his work.” Jack was born in a very small village in Eastern Europe in 1929, but unfortunately, by the age of 12, the political upheavals that had affected Europe also affected his life – he was driven from his home with his family before eventually losing his mother, father and siblings in a concentration camp.  As the only survivor of the camp, he often described the brutal conditions that existed there. Interestingly though, he also described how even within those incredibly harsh conditions, in which their lives were infused with cruelty, there were also elements of goodness.  He recalled how some of the young German soldiers, who had also been forced into fighting the war and guarding the camps, used to try their best to leave extra rations of food for inmates like him. These were all done in secret as the soldiers were taking an enormous personal risk. Had they been caught aiding the inmates, the SS would have punished them severely. After the war, he arrived as an immigrant in the United States, where unlike today, he faced a backdrop of severe prejudice. He and people like him were not welcomed. At the age of 16, without any schooling or even any knowledge of English, he realized that he had to persevere and work hard in order to make something of his life.  He went on to work many difficult day jobs while studying at night and eventually, he went to college and became an accountant.  After much hard work, he climbed the corporate ladder and towards the later part of his working life, he became a chief financial officer of a large company. Looking back on his life, I realized that he had successfully climbed a mountain that surely was hundreds of times steeper than Mount Everest.  How many of us would have given up at the age of 16, arriving into a new land, scarred by the memories of war, without the support and love of our parents, without any money and without any education or even the ability to speak the language of the land.  He never gave up and he persevered, but what was wonderful about Jack was that whatever he worked for, he saved in order to provide for his family. He worked not just for himself, but also to provide for others. He wasn’t driven by the excesses that would have been available to anyone working in the corporate world. In fact, quite the opposite, he lived a very modest life. My wife told me that when she was growing up, there were times when her father had lost his job for many months at a time, but even under those conditions, the family never felt the effects, as he had saved sufficiently to provide for them. Looking back, the hardships he had endured early in his life had taught and prepared him how to survive in the hardest and harshest of environments – not only did it help him climb out of what seemed at one time to be an impossible situation, but also it taught him how to prepare for any difficult time in one’s life. His life also reminded me of what I had read in a book of maxims: “Only that which is durable and permanent deserves to be the object of our attention, for things of this world are perishable, and this is certain; riches, youth, honour, and all the pleasures of this life are ephemeral” That day as I stood talking to people about Jack’s life, I realized that life is indeed transient as are all the hardships and pleasures that go with it. When we look back on our lives, we see that what eventually remains are our good deeds – those things we have done to help others, as well as the lessons we have learnt through life’s hardships, which although hard to endure at the time, can eventually turn an ordinary stone into a beautiful gem of a human being. Until later, Dr. Sam Parnia Dr Sam Parnia MD, PhD – One of the world’s leading experts on the scientific study of death, the state of the human mind- brain, and near-death experiences, Dr. Parnia currently divides his time between hospitals in the United Kingdom and Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York, where he is a Fellow in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. He is the founder and director of the Human Consciousness ProjectSM at the University of Southampton through which he leads the AWARE study. Dr Parnia is also the author of numerous scientific articles as well as the popular science book What Happens When We Die. Links:




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