My Grandparents’ Agonizing Deaths Taught Me to Become a Better Doctor

By Lauren Klingman

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I have seen someone die

I have seen someone die and here is the truth of that experience for me. I watched both of my grandparents decompose this past year; transition from vibrant, warm, exuberant people to barely more than carcasses — similar to what I spent the last six months hacking into in the anatomy lab.

Remembering Papa

In the recent months with newly acquired vocabulary, I have poured over articles trying to pinpoint down exactly what was affected in my Papa. The parotid gland where the cancer began. His recurrent laryngeal nerve that made him unable to speak much of the time from diagnosis to death. His liver shutting down — the bilirubin turning him yellow. His teeth falling out because of chemo. I can break it down into science now, but it doesn’t really matter. That wasn’t my Papa.

Part two of “the year that would never end”

Move forward a few more months and still reeling from the loss of my grandpa, we learned in October that my grandma’s melanoma, which she had ignored while my Papa was dying, had metastasized. We were more prepared this time. We knew what it was like. They gave her six months. It took her four.

My grandma was everything kind and good

My grandma was everything kind and good. I think it was impossible not to like her. Every single person I have met has commented on how sweet and funny and special she was. This was a woman who had the amazing knack of making friends immediately and easy. She was vivacious, unpretentious, and chatty, and it instantly drew people to her.


I gave eulogies at both of their funerals. I found it very difficult to put into words what they were to me. How do you describe someone who was your world in a few measly sentences? How to do you explain that when they died, part of you did too?

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