Dearly Departed

I was standing in a small countryside cemetery. With me were seven other people, and we were hovering around a newly covered grave. It did not even have a tombstone or a headstone yet, just a temporary marker placed on its foot end.

It was a beautiful, warm summer day. Nice day to be out, though I’m not sure if there’s really a good day to visit a grave site. Near the cemetery was a small country church. Surrounding the graveyard which was on top of a small hill were endless fields of corn whose stalks were swaying gently with the breeze. Once in a while a car or a truck would whiz by the country road where the cemetery was located.

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Buried in the grave we were visiting was a work partner of mine. He was a little past the traditional retirement age but chose to continue working, although in a slower pace. Yes, he was working until the time of his sudden death.

Due to this age of COVID pandemic and physical distancing, we were not able to attend his wake nor his funeral, as his funeral was a family-only affair. Visiting his grave was the closest way to say goodbye to him formally.

I know he chose this small country cemetery which was off the beaten path because not too far from here was a farm that he bought. But instead of making it into an agricultural farm he planted trees and turned it into a little forest. He even had his colonies of honey bees in that patch of land. This is were he escaped to, which was about 45 minutes drive from the city, when he was not doing doctor duties.

He had a brilliant mind, and he delved into different interests. Besides being an arboculturist (forestry expert) and a bee keeper, he was also a certified scuba diver. These were among other endeavors that he had dabbled into. But most of all, he was a diligent and dedicated physician. His patients vouched for his passionate work and many of them claimed that they were literally “saved” by him when their lives were on the line. He was a great teacher too. He encouraged me to pursue my certification in Sleep Medicine.

He and I were the only Board-certified sleep experts in our group of 10 Pulmonary and Critical Care doctors. Perhaps we just love to sleep so we were both fascinated with the science of it. Now I am left to carry on.

We are missing him not just because we have become more busy and we’re down one body. It does not help that this COVID-19 is still running amok. In fact a week ago we were in the news as Iowa was the number one hotspot in the whole USA with the highest infection rate. We are missing him for his wisdom and advices from years of experience which we could use in this difficult time.

As I stood in that cemetery, I was thinking of my own mortality. What do I want to be remembered when I am gone? A bungling pianist? A slow but persistent runner? An amateurish writer? Or an OK (just OK) physician? Maybe a good father, I hope? Or a loving husband? Or a trust-worthy friend? How much time do I have to direct this narrative?

When I moved to Iowa and joined this group 16 years ago, I remember my first day at work. I was in the office and I finished early as I don’t have any established patients yet to see. I hang around in the clinic as in the last group I was a part of in Florida, they frown upon and make you feel guilty if you leave early, especially if the senior partner still have patients to see. So most of the time I would not go home until after 6 PM or even later.

But it was different in this new group that I joined. It was only about 2 o’clock in the afternoon, but I have nothing else to do on my first day. That’s when this partner found me still hanging around. He asked me if there’s any other patients I need to see. When I said no, he told me to go home and rest, and that I should spend time with my family.

My departed partner, it is my turn now to tell you that you can go home. Rest, and have a peaceful long night sleep.

(*photo is of a nearby cemetery where I live, not the site where my departed partner was buried)