Remembering Those Left Behind This Holiday Season

A physician reflects on that fateful Christmas Eve in 1981 when her father died in an emergency room and shares her wisdom to the families who are experiencing the first holiday without their loved ones.

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Almost four decades ago, my father stopped breathing on this day, and every Christmas Eve that followed, I relive those memories.

My father was never a good patient. He refused to have an EKG because he didn’t want to take off his pants so that the tech could put the leads on his legs. He frequently forgot to take his insulin because he hated needles, and Dad often didn’t get his prescriptions filled because he was embarrassed to pull out his Medicaid card. His Jamaican DNA evoked frustration from his physicians and often wore me out.

Two days before Christmas, I bought pillows as a gift, which he would receive on that day. Unfortunately, Christmas never came. My dad developed shortness of breath, and as the NYC EMT tech put my dad into their van, our eyes locked for what seemed like an eternity. We were both silently saying farewell.

Despair and affliction packed the emergency room, but Dad’s ominous EKG won him immediate attention. A Caribbean nurse looked worried and muttered something about “PVCs,” a term I would not fully understand until years later as a medical student. I remained with Dad until 5 a.m. and said I’d return later after I had a few hours of rest. As I drove mom home, I realized that neither she nor I kissed Dad goodbye. It would regret that omission for decades to come.

Four hours later, I called the ED and inquired about my father’s condition. “Burke?”  the resident asked with trepidation. “Yes!” I snapped, feeling irritable from sleep deprivation. The pregnant pause was deafening. “Has he expired?” I asked near tears. “Yes.”  “Mr. Burke took a turn for the worse.”

Fast-forward to 2020. This Christmas Eve, Henry Muhammed, the 19-year-old son of Dr. Susan Moore, will be without a mother. The husbands of Dr. Chaniece Wallace and  Kira Dixon Johnson will be without their wives. The finances of Sha-Asia Washington and Amber Isaac Rose will be without their beloved.  As I have, what they will discover is that you never get over the loss of a loved one, but you learn somehow to get through it over time.

May the eternal light of love for those who have passed on give them comfort and peace, and may their loved ones always be remembered.

Amber Isaac Rose died in childbirth
Dr. Chaniece Wallace Died in Childbirth
Kira Dixon Johnson Died in Childbirth
Sha-Asia Washington Died in Childbirth
Dr. Susan Moore and son, Henry. Dr. Moore died from COVID
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