I'm the evening supervisor at an extended-care facility. Our medical director is a caring and compassionate man with whom I've worked for many years. I've been especially touched by his concern for our terminally ill residents. Now he's been admitted with end-stage colon cancer. He told me that he knows he's going to die soon and that he's at peace. The problem is that I'm not, and I don't know what to do about these feelings. Any advice? -V.F., MICH.
Talk with him. Tell him how deeply you care and how difficult it is for you to lose his friendship. Doing so is quite appropriate because he's acknowledging acceptance. This approach might not be appropriate if he were in pain, anxious, or troubled about his life story.
When he's alone and awake, softly ask him if he'd be comfortable hearing what his friendship has meant to you. (Who wouldn't?) Sit close enough that you can touch his arm or slip your hand under his, if you're both comfortable with such physical gestures. Just be yourself and be honest. Share a few experiences that demonstrated his skill and compassion. Allow space in the conversation for him to reply and accept your kind words. Don't hurry, but keep it brief-15 to 20 minutes-and do it only once.
This physician can no longer "lay on hands" to help others. But perhaps he'll take comfort in knowing that he's still "doctoring" by helping mend your broken heart.