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Some things are too hot to touch: the human mind can only stand so much
  1. Robert W Tarr
  1. Correspondence to Dr R W Tarr, Department of Radiology, University Hospitals Case Medical Center, 11100 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA; robert.tarr{at}uhhospitals.org

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My grandpa died when I was 7 years old. He was a coal miner who developed black lung disease. I remember visiting him after he got sick. He seemed a little weak, but I was sure he would get better. Physically, he was the strongest man I knew: stronger even than my own dad. But, unfortunately, he did not get better.

My family and I traveled to Pennsylvania to attend the funeral service. Before the official service, there were several scheduled viewings at the funeral home. Children were not supposed to attend these services, but I pestered my parents relentlessly to let me go and see my grandpa. Finally, my parents relented, and I was able to attend the final viewing service. Seeing my grandpa lying in his coffin did not give me comfort. Rather, when we returned to my grandmother's house I sought refuge for several hours under a bed in a locked bedroom until one of my older cousins finally coaxed me out.

My dad died during my second year of medical school. In retrospect, it was not unexpected, as he had metastatic melanoma, but I was in denial throughout most of his illness. My dad made it easy for me to be in denial because, despite several surgeries and multiple rounds of chemotherapy and imunnotherapy, he kept working and did not seem overtly affected by his illness. In fact, the only aberration I witnessed in his behavior was that on one occasion he became drunk while we were visiting family friends. Although I had seen my Dad drink, I had never witnessed his being drunk. I had to drive my family home and my dad apologized all the way …

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