A Second Chance – and Then Some!
by Allan Hamilton, MD, FACS, • Tucson, AZ
Recently I was on a book tour in Seattle. At the end of my talk at the bookstore, a gentleman came up to me. He was a physician, which is a rarity at my talks. Most doctors are uncomfortable attending a presentation meant to open up a dialogue about the role of spirituality when patients confront severe illness or major surgery. But this man waited until all the book signing was over, and all the other audience members were gone. He had something on his mind.
He told me how spirituality had transformed his life. He had been married for over twenty years and deeply in love with his wife when she was stricken with cancer. Despite all of his knowledge of medicine, and connections with all the best doctors in the Seattle area, there was nothing he could do to slow the progression of his wife’s disease. He watched helplessly as his soul mate died.
After his wife was gone, he became so depressed he could not even get up to go to work. After months as a recluse, shut off from friends and family, he made up his mind that life was not worth living. He
prepared to commit suicide. He sat down to write a last letter to his family. The first few lines described his inconsolable grief. He felt a need to lie down on his bed to think about how to phrase what he needed to say to help his family understand his decision.
Suddenly, he fell into a deep sleep. He started to dream. He dreamt about wandering around in a desolate, inhospitable landscape. For hours, he felt lost and sure he would perish. But eventually he came along a small footpath. Not knowing where else to go, he followed it. It eventually led to a small glade of trees. A spring bubbled up in the middle of a cool, shaded enclosure of pine trees. Next to the pool sat his wife. As soon as she saw him, she jumped up and kissed him. She led him to the spring, and told him to sit down on the cool rocks. She stroked his hair back out of his eyes a few times, told him how much she loved him and how terrible it was to see him in such turmoil and despair. She reassured him that she was now blissfully happy, and she rejoiced that one day they would be reunited —but not now. She emphasized that this was not his time to go, and that to commit suicide now would be wrong. There was much more for him to fulfill in this life. Furthermore, there would soon be new love coming into his life. They would have children (something his first wife could not have); he was to become a father! There were still thousands of patients in the years ahead that would need him. She kissed him, and floated away.
In the morning, when he awoke, he saw the piece of paper where he had started to pen his suicide note. He picked it up, crumpled it, and threw it away. Underneath it was another sheet of paper in his wife’s handwriting. It said: “Hi honey, I had to go. But I’ll be back. Love you.” He assumed it must have been a note she had written long ago. She must have been going out to do a few chores, and somehow the message must have gotten stuck back in the pile of note paper. He began to wonder what a coincidence that it came to lie right under the sheet of paper where he had been writing his suicide note. What a sense of relief he felt to know his wife was alright in the next life and that he might find love and joy again in being alive. Then he introduced me to his current wife and showed me a picture of their lovely twin boys.
I asked him if he ever wondered if somehow his wife’s note had been written the very night he thought about killing himself. He shrugged and smiled. “It has crossed my mind,” he said, “about a thousand times.”
Allan Hamilton, MD, FACS, is the author of The Scalpel and the Soul: Encounters with Surgery, the Supernatural and the Healing Power of Hope. After beginning his working life as a janitor, he went on to attend Harvard Medical School and become the chief of neurosurgery and chairman of the department of Surgery at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center. Allan is a script consultant in neurosurgery for Grey’s Anatomy.