Saying Goodbye

A remarkable man died recently. He was a liberal when he was young then converted to conservatism. You may have read his column in The Washington Post or seen him as a regular contributor on Fox News.

Politics aside, Charles Kruathammer was remarkable on many levels. While attending Harvard Medical School, he became paralyzed during a diving accident. He completed his studies by using a makeshift book holder above his hospital bed. Nurses turned the pages for him. He practiced three years as a psychiatry resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. Soon, though, he realized that, rather than medicine, his passion was political commentary. He was a speechwriter for Vice President Walter Mondale. He became a successful columnist, even earning a Pulitzer Prize in 1987.

In his own words...

What impressed me most about Charles was his departure from this world. Charles had been diagnosed with abdominal cancer last year. Although his treatment was rife with complications, month by month, he seemed to be improving. His cancer returned, however, with a vengeance. When Charles received the news from his doctor he shared it with others in a column. He wrote a goodbye letter to his colleagues, friends, and followers. His letter, published June 8, 2018, in The Washington Post, touched on his diagnosis and treatment, explained his current situation, and most eloquently said goodbye. Here is a segment from that letter:

“In August of last year, I underwent surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in my abdomen. That operation was thought to have been a success, but it caused a cascade of secondary complications -- which I have been fighting in hospital ever since. It was a long and hard fight with many setbacks, but I was steadily, if slowly, overcoming each obstacle along the way and gradually making my way back to health. However, recent tests have revealed that the cancer has returned. There was no sign of it as recently as a month ago, which means it is aggressive and spreading rapidly. My doctors tell me their best estimate is that I have only a few weeks left to live. This is the final verdict. My fight is over.”

Remembering Charles

Two weeks after his letter was published, Charles passed away.

That letter was a beautiful gift to those who knew Charles. Writing that letter allowed Charles to 1) communicate the reality of his pending death and 2) give others an opportunity to say their own goodbyes to him.

Few of us know with such accuracy the time of our passing. However, we can know for certain our time will come -- with or without a cancer diagnosis.

Inspired to write my own letters

We, too, can leave a gift for our loved ones by writing them a personal letter. It doesn’t need to be written when we are on our deathbed. In fact, it may even be better to write such a letter while still in good health. Charles’ letter -- which was only 325 words -- is an inspiration to me. I have not done so yet, but I aspire to write personal letters to my loved due time.

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