Life and Death


09/2018   4:48pm

The life of a psychiatrist can be odd. Today, seven patients were scheduled. Two late cancelled, two no showed and that left one who got sick and two who came.  No shows were rare during the first decade I practiced medicine—probably no more than two or three in the first five years. But the chaos of summer and the mores of 2018 combined to create long moments of sitting in the sun and listening to the creek’s winding, bird songs tumbling from tree tops and bees zumming, hard at work even as I sat quietly.

Contemplation came also—more than typical for a contemplative, meditating healer.

A lovely woman who sought healing prayer revolved through my mind. She came for prayer and pray we did, earnestly, fervently and with deep conviction that God’s will would prevail and that healing would happen. I had seen so much spiritual, physical and emotional healing, including my own, that I forgot to ask God his intentions.

I wanted what I wanted and forgot I was merely a channel of his light.

On the day of a follow-up MRI, she came asking for prayer. This MRI would determine her response to treatment and if she were eligible for further chemotherapy. She was so scared she could hardly sit in the chair, allowing us to lay hands on her and beseech God to cast out cancer and fear. We prayed for peace for his will and for the terror to subside so she could enter that loud, cantankerous tube that was to determine her future.

Although I prayed for his will, I didn’t mean it.

I thought I did until she died and then I questioned. Didn’t her children need her, we pondered the truth of her diagnosis and prognosis, as we interceded.

“Don’t listen to your doctors. Listen to your God,” I told her. Confident that she could outlive their damning prognostic predictions as I had.  We met for coffee and talked about wigs, cannabinoids, our children and death.

Although I realize now that she knew from the beginning, two months of bleeding while the doctors told her nothing was wrong and then after the diagnosis while her daughter scolded her if she violated the vegan diet that was supposed to cure her too, she knew. She knew but I denied. .And so, when the text came, I struggled. No matter how many times I extolled the mysteries of healing and God always works miracles—sometimes physically, often spiritually but always heals, I was stuck. Desiring a cure, I refused her death, questioning the God I loved and worshipped so freely.

My simplistic theory which I didn’t even know I held until that text came was that if it worked for me, it would work for her. Wasn’t she brilliant and capable? Didn’t she have myriads of friends pleading and hundreds praying? How could doctors at two leading cancer hospitals work on her case and come up with nothing? Couldn’t God just grant one reprieve in a universe so filled with mourning and lamentation?

But no, he didn’t save her physical life. And then after I questioned God, I blamed myself. Why hadn’t we gone to the hospital to pray? Why hadn’t she asked for us to come? God hadn’t done enough, I hadn’t done enough and if we all had pulled together we could have lifted this mighty weight and created life.

When death came and knocked hard, I found the answers that seemed so evident in theory, lacked everything in practice.

And so quietly, while on my knees beseeching him, God reminded me that his way was good enough, big enough, sufficient enough and that questioning only deepened confusion and pain.


“Be still and know that I am your God, even if it doesn’t always make sense,” he whispered quietly in my ear as I hung above the creek rocking in the hammock.

This I took as truth, both his and mine.




  1. Bless you, Julia, as you process all that went before in this dear one’s life and release her to God’s care. He alone is big enough to handle all our questions and disappointments. We yield to Him even as we lift up those left behind.

    In His love,



  2. I always found the death of a patient, even in hospice, was hard. I mourned the passing of each one, Although for some it was a relief. The ones who were with us multiple times what are usually the ones I got to know very well and listened and shared their stories. I found myself beliving And hoping that this might be the one —the legendary one in all of your patients Who makes it out. I never found that one carry-on But I did learn that it was never my Journey, Never mind to urge or direct and never mine to question. Walking through the valley was theirs and theirs alone. I could walk with them, I could companion on their journey, but the walk And what they found in That Valley was theirs alone. Never mine to question or to know.


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