Experiencing Loss in Dental School

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Angel Statue

No one thinks when they start dental school that one of their classmates may pass away. Sadly, that is exactly what happened to us today. We are only three weeks into our first year and we have already experienced the bitter sting of losing a classmate.

There is no way to prepare for the loss of someone you care about. At three weeks we are already starting to form a tight-knit community and form lasting friendships. Our classmate Logan was the kind of guy who made it easy to introduce yourself and strike up a conversation. He had an easy and genuine smile.

Gone too soon

We sat next to each other in the simulation clinic. I spoke to him over the phone about a case for a presentation only a day or two before he passed away. I didn’t know him as well as I would have liked to, who here can really say that they did? But I wish I could have known him better.

He was both intelligent and kind. I know that this must be an unbelievably painful time for his family. No parent should ever have to bury their son.

I think about his sacrifices and struggles. It is hard enough to get into dental school, but doing it right after undergoing a liver transplant was heroic. I wonder about his future, his dreams, and the loved ones he’s left behind.

It is difficult to make sense of such a tragic loss. Why does someone so young, with so much potential, have to pass away at such a young age?

Thinking about his unfinished slides on our case presentation, the unfinished wax-up of #8 sitting in his drawer where he left it, and the myriad other things left undone – well, it’s heartbreaking.

Dealing with loss

So how do we deal with loss during dental school? Today we had a particularly difficult biochemistry exam which coincided with the announcement that Logan had passed away. People were crying before the examination started. This is a lot for our class to endure.

But we still have to push ahead because life does not slow down, not even for tragedy. Besides, Logan would have been right there with us, slogging through dozens of questions about biochemistry if he could.

I wish that I could say that it gets easier to deal with loss but it doesn’t. I lost my father in July, just over one month before starting dental school.

The grief of loss often drowns out the rest of life. You will experience feelings of emptiness, despair, anxiety, and you may develop depression. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that seeking help means you are somehow weak.

You will miss the person a lot and think about them constantly. Maybe you want to call them when you see their name in your call log – but you can’t. You want to tell them about something you saw that day that reminded you of them – but you can’t. Even when time has passed to dull the emotions of loss – a billboard, an old friend, a funny joke – these things will remind you of them.

Remember, don’t despair

There is no silver lining in tragic loss. But you will always remember the person you have lost for the things and the situations which made them special to you. Every time you are reminded of them is a celebration of the life they once shared with you. We are never forgotten if our memories live on in the hearts of our friends and loved-ones.

So now we continue on with our lives, but we never forget those who have shared their lives with us. On August 29th of 2016, Logan’s was among the first faces I saw. His was one of the first names I learned and I shook his hand before anyone else’s on our first day in the simulation clinic. He was there with me on my first day of dental school, and he will always be a part of that memory.

Farewell student doctor Doseck. The Midwestern Dental class of 2020 will never forget you!

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