When I cry







I do not cry.   Well sometimes, but not often. 

Time past, I cried a lot.    Long ago.

When I first sat at cancer’s bed, death was a tragedy,  a rip in life’s fabric.  

With each, a part of me died. 

                                                         Not so much, anymore.


With thousands of cancers, thousands of families, and thousands of deaths, I came to see deep time.  I absorbed the finite nature of existence, and gained a long view.  Not just yesterday’s tests, today’s battle and tomorrow’s treatment, but the loss to come.  I do not know when the reaper will arrive, but understand he will.  I mourn each patient before we meet.  I have learned not to cry.

Call it professional distance.  It is necessary when infinite loss is a daily experience.  Cry every day and become a frail crust.  To fight an unbeatable foe you must parry from safety.  However, I worry that I have lost more than I have gained.

Have I have stopped loving life?  Has too much of me died?  Are joy, warmth and compassion phantoms; a shell; a fleeting aroma?  Perhaps I no longer touch, taste or feel.  In order to care for those for whom the path is set, have I stopped caring?

A remarkable event occurred.  No miracle treatment or special person saved. No new patient gained or lost.  No deeper understanding of the infinite, connection to the divine, nor bravery over death’s fear.  Nonetheless, from the most unexpected of places, I began to cry.

My grandson is now 5 months old, with a round face, baldhead, bright blue eyes and four limbs in continuous random movement.  He has an pure smile, especially at his father’s laugh, a fixation on ceiling fans, and a sly way of making believe he is still breast feeding, just to stay close to his mom.  He is capable of entertaining an entire room of adults for hours, making us all laugh.  Nevertheless, sometimes, at one special time, he always makes me cry.

When I hold him, rock him and sing a bedtime tune, scrambling the words of a rock melody in a lullaby’s lull, and his eyes are on mine and they gently close and his breathing becomes even and deep; that is when I cry.  It is not sad, nor a time of loss or pain. It is one of life’s most magnificent moments.  Yet, that child’s optimistic perfection in the purity of the moment reaches inside and pulls up forgotten pain.

I can feel that it is not the loss of one patient; it is the loss of many.  It is not a single moment of suffering, but rather the suffering of years.  The transcendence of the infant opens my soul to the place from which it came. He shows me who I was before death became my daily companion.  His openness to the experience, joy and the potential of life, allows me to open deep places, years buried.

My children have been the great surprise of my life.  I expected to raise them, teach them, protect them and help them through the world.  I never expected them to raise me, teach me, protect me and help me through life.  Nevertheless, they did, changing me through the years and making the journey worth any sacrifice.  Now, this perfect baby arrives and helps me find part of myself lost.  He makes me naïve. He helps me face today with strength, joy and hope.  What a remarkable gift to receive, to be shown, once again, how to cry.


  • Ray
    Dee and I often wondered about how you were able to deal with 'your life'.t This post was a wonderful explanation, May you continue to find the strength and compassion you shared with us during out difficult days.
  • Your essay brought a tear to my own eye. Beautiful. Thank you so much for all you continue to do - and to share with us, Dr. S.
  • mary m
    Will share with my colleagues. Thank you.
  • Penny Egan
    Beautiful.... Thank you!
  • NKim
  • i am faced today with 3 kinds of cancer. my vocation is a life time dedicated to being a scientist in chemistry. handled dangerous chemicals for 40years. At 60 I face the consequence of my dedication to my career in chemistry. It's OK. I knew my turn would eventually come. Already lost so many coworkers and colleagues. i am ok with my fate. have one courageous doctor who never gives up on trying to help me. think of yourself as the Ferry Man across the river. You are helping give us safe passage to the other side with dignity and kindness. I am glad you are there with a smile no matter the outcome of the day.
  • Iris
    Dear Andrea, Your words brought tears to my own eyes. I am in the same ferry as you are. I became very ill in February. I fell off my bed and the lower half of me got stuck underneathe my bed. My son found me 2-1/2 days later. I remember distinctly I said "hi"....asked the ambulance people "are you going the wrong way?" and then I starting hallucinating. What I was dreaming was really happening but a terrible nightmare. I wish I could forget the experience but it will not leave my mind. After about 3 weeks in the hospital I left for a month in rehab and now living with my son for a month. Everyday, I got better and better, but all the doctors thought I was going to die. They told my brother and children I had a very poor prognosis. (I had a blood infection throughout my body) I found the doctor totally incompetent in rehab too. I had walked up to her and asked her if I was getting better. (I knew I was but she never visited me) She then turned and said, As I told you in the hospital, you still have a poor prognosis! What???? I never saw this woman in my life!! I told her that too... And then I found my Ivy Love; my medicine. She is now 8 months but arrived a month earlier. My daughter went through heaven and back trying to deliver her, but we are strong women. Every time I see my Ivy, I see her as my beautiful Angel. She smiles constantly at me as I talk to her in a Donald Duck voice. She is saving me; her innocence, her laugh, her love toward me is unbelievable. When I feel this love, I am no longer a cancer patient nor a Systemic lupus patient.. Just as Dr. S stated, I just feel deep love. All my other emotions have disapated. Baby Tyson Stage 4 lung cancer NC, aden, palliative patient two years okay with no treatment 3/12

Leave a Reply