Friday, May 13, 2011

7 Lessons From the Death of a Friend

My friend Omar Ahmad passed away Tuesday. We were roommates at the Florida Foundation for Future Scientists program at the University of Florida back when we were in high school. We became fast friends and he kept me motivated as we competed in various science fairs the following year. We won spots as the delegates from Florida to the National Youth Science Fair. After college, our contact was regrettably spotty, but we started getting back in touch in the last few years via Facebook. We had a chance to sit down last year when he was in Chicago. I so looked forward to the continuing renewal of our friendship. Who could have imagined that we wouldn't have time?

In his 46 years, Omar lived more than most people do in twice that time. His accomplishments and impact are beautifully summarized in this piece in the Huffington Post.

I am still trying to process this loss. I cried myself dry by the end of Wednesday. I have been numb most of the week, but I can now smile when I remember him. Even in death he brings people together. I have been in contact this week with people I haven't seen for decades. His memory truly is a blessing.

Omar's passing has been very challenging to me. Aside from the incomprehensible loss, it also forces me to look inward. I strongly believe that every sad thing, every loss, every tragedy comes with a lesson. Sometimes you have to look hard to find the lessons. However, as always, Omar is a great teacher....sadly, what I need to learn is right there in front of me.

  1. When was the last time you saw a health provider for routine health maintenance? Omar passed away at 46 from a heart attack. I have no idea how well he looked after his health. For a physician, I take reasonable care of myself. I actually have a primary care physician, and I allow him to direct my care. I routinely see my dentist. However, given my family history of colon cancer, I am overdue for my repeat colonoscopy. I also need a routine skin survey from my dermatologist. I probably should stop ignoring the pain in my neck and back.
  2. What do you do on a routine basis to care for yourself? I probably do best in the physical realm. I eat a well-balanced diet. I exercise 4-6 times per week, though I really need to do more cardio. My brain is well stimulated by school. I do miss reading for pleasure, but I hope that will return when I am done with school. I need to nurture myself more spiritually. I grew apart from organized religion years ago. I still consider myself Jewish and spiritual, but I don't really dedicate any effort to developing that dimension of my life.
  3. How often do you say "I love you" to the people you love? I am very diligent about this. If any interaction with someone I love could potentially be my last (which clearly is true), I'd like to know that the last thing they heard from me is "I love you."
  4. How much do you live for today as opposed to tomorrow? Years of striving to get into medicine taught me all about delayed gratification. Years of practicing Rehabilitation Medicine has taught me that life can change in an instant. I struggle with this. When I try to live well now, I feel guilty about not saving for the future. When I deny myself to prepare for retirement, I worry about not living in the present. I constantly work on this balance.
  5. How are you impacting the world and the life of others? As a physician, I have always had the satisfaction of impacting the lives of others. However, at the end of the day, I feel that all I have to give has been drained from me. I marvel about how some of my colleagues are able to go one step further with volunteer work. I am conscious about how that is going to change as I transition into my next career. I actually look forward to the opportunity to explore the different ways I can contribute to this world.
  6. What will be your legacy? I don't have kids, and I don't see kids in my future. So what will be my gift to the future? I see some of that in all of the students I have taught as a physician. I love teaching and I hope that I will be able to return to teaching once I have established myself in design. What else can I leave? I think about this. I worry about this. One possibility Rob and I have discussed is helping out gay youth. There are agencies which place gay teens that have been thrown out by their families with stable gay couples. Is that right for us?
  7. Are you sure that your regrets cannot be done/redone/undone? This is probably the question that stings most sharply. I will never have the opportunity to rebuild my friendship with Omar. Another friend, Bridget Phillips, was murdered when she was in grad school. Clearly, tragedies such as these can make a regret permanent. How many more, ones that seem so fixed, really could be addressed. There are a few friendships that I have thought permanently damaged that I am considering revisiting. I have also always wanted to live abroad, but figured that the opportunity may have passed, being locked into my current career. While it might create a massive disruption to our lives, might it actually be a real possibility. I know that so many obstacles in our lives are placed there by our own minds. I need to start challenging those barriers.

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1 comment:

  1. Oh My Gosh! I am so very very very sorry! Aaron my heart goes out to you. This was a wonderful tribute to your friend and honoring how he touched you. Thank you for the reminders on living more fully!

    Please know if there is anything I can do for you; do not hesitate to ask. And also, know that I treasure our friendship, you inspire me to be a better person and designer. Thank you!