My friend Syd died the other day. Sydney “Pops” Osenga was 94 years old and a resident of Mount Hermon since 1963. I first met Syd about 15 years ago, when he was a patient of mine. I felt a kindred spirit with him, and we struck up a friendship that grew over the years.
Syd was in robust health until just over a year ago, when his beloved partner and wife, Millie, died, and shortly thereafter he had a mild heart attack and never really regained the vitality that he was known for. He was at a loss without his Millie and couldn’t understand why God kept him alive. I continued to encourage him and told him how much his son needed him and how happy I was that he was still around, because I enjoyed his friendship. Still, he wanted to be with his Millie.
Two days after my last visit, he died after a swift 48-hour illness. Was it another heart attack? We’ll never know for sure. I personally think he died of a broken heart, which I’m sure is not listed in my book of medical diagnoses. Whether it’s an official diagnosis or not, I think that’s what ended his life.
I’m not only dealing with Syd’s death. I’ve also just recently lost two other friends who were close to me.
Several weeks ago, 92-year-old Dr. Sam Marx died at his home in North Carolina. Sam was my mentor when, as a young doctor in the late 1970s, I worked with him at his mission hospital in the jungles of Honduras in Central America. Together, we delivered babies (I delivered twins by kerosene lantern one night), treated victims of rattlesnake bites, and helped patients with malaria, tuberculosis, dengue fever, severe malnutrition and all sorts of diseases I haven’t seen since then. Sam spent his whole career caring for the Miskito Indians of Honduras and Nicaragua, and I am honored to have worked at his side. He is now with Syd. They both knew where they were going after this life.
The other friend was Dr. Michael Hill of Marshalltown, Iowa. Mike was just two days older than me, both of us joining the Medicare crowd this past year. Mike and I met on our very first day of internship at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose in 1971. We were both Midwesterners: Mike was from Iowa, and I was from Wisconsin. We became fast friends and shared many remarkable and unforgettable experiences. After we spent a number of years together, we parted ways. I remained in California, and Mike, with his wife and kids, moved back to Iowa, where he became a well-known and a very sought-after head-and-neck surgeon. Two weeks before Christmas, I received a call from his daughter informing me that my old buddy Mike had died suddenly. He also appeared to have had a heart attack. At age 65, he left us way too early.
Why am I writing about these experiences? I know that we all come face to face with the death of those whom we love. I have patients talk to me about this all the time. We all have our own ways of dealing with grief. There are countless books and articles written on the subject, most of which just don’t seem to provide satisfying answers. I’ve come to believe that there is a creator, who made us, loves us, placed us on Earth and gave us a life span that can be long or short. The timing of our lives is all part of a master plan that I am not yet capable of understanding.
I’ve seen a lot of death and dying in my career and among family and friends. From this, I have learned that we, who are living, have to appreciate the life and health we have, and value each and every day that is given to us. Life is such a precious gift.
To Syd, Dr. Sam and buddy Mike, all I can say is I will see you later.