How loss affects one’s work

Salvatore asks: The first time I wrote you was when I was depressed because of my father’s death. I had the fear that my mom would die too, like my father, but you said that she might live long… your letters were a great satisfaction to me. The problem is this that my mom has died too. After her death it seems to me that the world has stopped, as if life has lost its meanings. Following are the thoughts and problems that have overpowered me: I can’t perform well in studies; I am unable to form concepts; At times I feel too giddy; My mathematics isn’t good; I have nothing that can distinguish me from other people; I overthink the things; I can’t understand how people laugh and talk about silly and useless things. All of this leads me to only one conclusion: ”I CAN’T BECOME A DOCTOR!” I have always wanted to be one. For that I have to get at least 90 percent marks in FSc part 1 and 2. I burnt the midnight oil in part 1, but I got only 84 percent marks because of the totally unfair marking by examiner – and I’m not allowed to challenge him in a court of law. I am really depressed. I am having trouble sleeping, and nightmares. I need a solution!

Hi Salvatore –


Salvatore, you absolutely break my heart.


There are no words I can offer, no licks, no paw, no howling at the moon, that remotely tell how sad I am that you have gone through this second devastating loss so soon.  It’s not fair.  Not in any way.  And if there was something I could do to bring your mother back, I’d do it in a second.  But of course I can’t.  All I can do is look at you with the biggest dog-eyes I can and let you know, I am SO sorry.


I certainly understand your wish to do better in school, and I hope you can.  But I need to tell you, it’s very possible that these two losses have just been too much, and you might not get the best grades right now.  And if so, I have a number of things to say to you.


First, you’re young.  You can take these exams again.  Especially given the reason you can tell the testers about why you were “off” when you took these.  You just might need more time, before you can relax and concentrate enough for them.


Second, the things you tell me about your feelings make me think that you’re still in a state of shock.  This will pass.  You will be affected by these losses forever, of course, but you will survive them.  People do every day.  And you will get stronger.


Third, there’s a thing the great people in Alcoholics Anonymous tell their members, who are going through horrible difficulties trying to stay sober: One Day at a Time.  To try not to focus on the distant future, but just get through the next day, and then the next, and then the next.  My friend, if I were in your shoes, I’d be trying to focus on one minute at a time!  I don’t think I could even consider what will be happening tonight or tomorrow morning.  And these exams require huge preparation and devotion.  Maybe it’s time right now for you to just get through the moment.


Fourth, I want to make sure – you should absolutely be seeing someone while you go through this.  Whether a therapist or counselor, or a religious figure – someone who is trained to help people through grieving, especially in such an unfair situation.  If you don’t have someone, please do find a good person, right away.


Now I know everything I’m saying sounds really negative.  I don’t have a solution about that rotten examiner, and I know there are no words I can give you to make you happy and centered right now.  So yes, I’m staying focused on the idea that you might not do well enough on those exams.


Because of one simple, horrible truth: if you do fail those exams, that failure will NOT be the worst thing that happened to you this year.  Whatever else happens, this will be the year you lost your mother, so soon after losing your father.


So do your best, and see if you can pass those exams.  If you do, you’ll be the most amazing doctor in the world, I have no doubt!


But also give yourself a break.  And know that you’ve just gone through something that no one should ever experience, ever.  And know that you can take those exams again, when you’re more centered, and blow right through them.


And more than anything else, Salvatore, know that, when you do become a doctor, these gaping holes in you, these awful losses, will make you the most empathic, loving, and understanding doctor that’s ever lived.


Whenever that happens, that will be a glorious day.   And I know very well that your mother and father will be looking down on you with so much pride there’ll be unexplained explosions in the heavens!


I only wish I could help you through this more.  At the very least, if you were here, I would lay my chin in your lap, and give you a loving whine.


All my very best,


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