Losing A Piece Of Yourself

The more familiar version of the famous quote from Orson Welles, “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone” is, “We all die alone.” That’s true. And it isn’t.

Late last month a pediatrician, who knew based on his own experience that no terminally ill person – especially a child –  should ever have to leave this earth without being surrounded by their loved ones, or at least having another human being sitting there beside them as they slip away, himself died. The doctor vowed to try to never let another child die alone after he, as a pediatric resident, having promised to sit by a dying 14 year-old girl who had no one, was called away to deal with an emergency, thus leaving her alone at her moment of death.

The Wall Street Journal published today a remembrance piece on the recently deceased Dr. Burton Grebin (1941-2010), who pioneered the field of palliative care for children, having opened one of the fist pediatric palliative care programs in the country in 1984. The internationally recognized St. Mary’s Healthcare System for Children in Queens, NY, for which Grebin was president and CEO, now employs 1,300 staff members who serve 4,000 children and their families daily through in-patient services, home hospice programs, an in-hospital public school, and counseling and support for parents and siblings as well as patients.

“He was moved by the fact that kids always need to have somebody near,” said Grebin’s son. But he also was known for his oft repeated personal motto, reflecting a parent’s perspective that, “To lose a child is to lose a piece of yourself.” Indeed, “With the death of a husband [or wife] you lose your present; with the death of a parent you lose your past; and with the death of a child, you lose your future.” (Understanding Bereavement and Grief, ed. Norman Linzer)

May none of us ever know such sorrow. But it is reassuring to know that, due to the pioneering efforts, dedication, innovation, expertise, and most of all compassion of physicians like Burton Grebin, should such tragedy every come to pass, we and our children will not be alone.

May his memory be for a blessing.

© 2010 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.

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