I don’t usually talk about specific patients here. I will do so now.
Today I learned a patient of mine died earlier this month. It was not a shock. I knew this day was coming. He was in hospice care with terminal cancer. His passing produced a deep sadness in me. He was a sad man himself. He had a depression that was based on his perception his life had had no accomplishment. He felt himself a failure. He hadn’t written a great novel or powerful paper. He hadn’t established himself in any particular field. There was no hospital wing or building with his name on it. He felt responsible for not saving his first marriage, many decades ago. His current marriage was also deemed a failure in ways. He felt his life had been a meaningless one
I tried (with little success) to get him to discard the past with its perceived ‘failures” and focus on making his present life is meaningful as possible. He didn’t “buy it”. He felt the parade of life had passed him by and what he could accomplish at his age was mawkish and meaningless. Then he got cancer; his days were numbered. I took the approach to get him to sum up and make what time he had left have meaning. As his health failed these goals shrank to keeping him pain free and ambulatory. I don’t know how he died exactly, but I surmise if he was conscious at the time his last thoughts were how he had failed.
I don’t see ‘success” in life as he did viz. leaving a legacy or achieving fame or peer esteem. I have known countless patients; they have taught me a “good” life isn’t necessarily long or fabulous or ‘successful’. The key was having meaning.
I feel sad for the passing of my patient, that he went to his death feeling he had accomplished nothing. He was stuck upon the things he hadn’t done rather than take joy/satisfaction in what he had done, even if this wasn’t notorious.
As the new year begins I wish to sit down and contemplate the meaning in my life. I hope I am brave enough to do a shake up if it comes up deficit. A person who had no meaning in life might live to be 100 and think his life but a brief one.
I implore those reading this entry to seriously consider their lives: does it have meaning? I don’t care about your income or accomplishments; I want to know if your life has meaning. If it doesn’t, please do something about it.