I’ve never been to a patient’s funeral, though I know plenty of other doctors who have.
I suppose this is a highly personal decision. Some feel they should go out of respect to the patient, or if they had a particularly strong or longstanding relationship with them.
After 18 years of practice, I have plenty of patients who meet both criteria, but I still have no plans to go.
Part of it is feeling like an outsider. To me, funerals are a chance for loved ones and close friends to say their goodbyes. I generally try to keep a professional distance. It makes the job easier.
Another is simply a reluctance to take time off from the office. Even though someone I cared for is gone, that person is not the only one that I see. I have to continue caring for the patients who still need me.
There’s also an aspect of fear. Family members who don’t know you well may see your presence as a sign of guilt that you did something wrong. Or, in the irrational nature of grief and anger, become belligerent, accusing you of incompetence. These sorts of confrontations can never end well for either side.
All of us are facing death sooner or later. As physicians, our job is to prolong and improve quality of life as best we can, knowing that inevitably we’ll lose. When that happens, the most we can ever ask is that we did our best. And that we continue to care for those who still depend on us.
Dr. Block has a solo neurology practice in Scottsdale, Ariz.