(Warning: I have a lifelong problem of “freaking people out” by sharing too much detail. Hang with me . . .)
When I was a little kid, I had this ritual with my dad. I’m pretty sure we were the only two people in the world that ever did this. It’s kinda weird and I’ve actually never told anyone the full version of what we did together cause I didn’t want to freak anyone out.
Man, now I’m crying just remembering this ritual. . .
Dad’s been gone nearly 4 years. Maybe I can’t stop thinking of him because Father’s Day was last Sunday, but whatever the reason, every time he crosses my mind, this is the memory I come back to time and time again. I’m certain it changed the entire destiny of my life.
So here goes. . .
Both my parents are physicians. Mom’s a psychiatrist, Dad’s a pathologist, a medical examiner. They weren’t home much because they (like most docs) were total workaholics!
With no childcare (babysitters kept quitting and that’s another story), Dad would take me to work at the morgue. The morgue was my favorite spot. It was like our secret clubhouse. Nobody ever bothered us there. No interruptions. It’s not like anybody really wants to go to the morgue ya know . . . except me and my dad. So to me, it’s the most peaceful place ever.
Here’s the ritual. . .
Every morning when we entered the morgue, Dad would open up the stainless-steel doors to the big cooler and he’d say, “Good morning! Is anyone home?” Then he’d prop me up and introduce me to everyone one by one (by the toe tags!). He’d literally announce, “Look! It’s Sally!”
And he’d be SO happy to meet her. Kinda like introducing me to a long lost relative.
Okay, let me back up and explain I was one of those really talkative kids that would wear all the adults out because I couldn’t shut up for a minute. I was WAY too much for most people. Too intense. Too needy? I’m still not sure.
But Sally could handle me. So Dad would leave me there to talk to HER. (Plus he got the break from me I’m sure he needed).
“Sally, how are things going for you?” I pause.
So I answer for her.
In my eyes, Sally is a brave woman who has led a heroic life. And I make up a fantastically wild and amazing story about her life and all the beautiful things she got to see and do in the world and I’m VERY committed to my version of her life story.
[Granted this is a poor hospital in the inner city of Philadelphia—a city with the highest homicide rate in the USA at the time]
“She was probably a single mom who’s life was cut short by poverty, drugs, and violence,” Dad would try to explain.
But I’m relentless.
I keep telling him MY version of her life story (and I’m VERY persuasive).
Eventually, Dad would see there was no arguing with me, and would go along with my story.
What a great Dad. Right?
So that’s our special ritual.
That was it.
Just me, my dad, and one of his patients.
Every day when we went to the morgue. Different patient. Same kind of story.
Now as an adult and a doctor myself I realize I’ve spent my entire life seeing the heroic potential in all my patients, friends, and even my foster child. Not everyone lives up to their potential. I used to get sad about that. BUT that doesn’t mean I’m ever willing to let go of the beauty and courage—the heroic story I SEE in each person who crosses my path—even if they can’t see it in themselves.
My story of their heroic life—even if unlived—is still true to ME. I’m not willing to give it up.
I think this makes me a better doctor.
I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I see it all so clearly now.
My dedication to celebrating the lives of doctors we’ve lost to suicide . . . how I refuse to let these beautiful souls just be covered with a tarp and thrown into a body bag without sending them off with a proper eulogy, flowers, and a celebration of their life and contributions to the world. Even if I have to write it myself. Even if I didn’t know them when they were alive. Someone has to write their heroic story. May as well be me. . . I’ve been preparing for this since I was a little girl.
As a child I enjoyed seeing the fantastically wild adventures in the lives of my dad’s patients in the morgue, but now, as an adult, I much prefer to help physicians LIVE out their wildest dreams while they are still breathing which is why I continue to lead “Live Your Dream” physician retreats . . .
So doctors can really be real healers—not just assembly-line factory workers. Everyone deserves to live their dreams.
The bottom line is I believe in your dreams even when you don’t believe in your own dreams.
I believe everyone’s a hero. (Some people just don’t know it yet).
Do you agree? I’d really love to know what you think.
Please leave your comment below.