Do It Yourself Obituaries

British Medical Journal Letters, 286, 15 January 1983, p. 224.

SIR, - You are rather severe on your obituarists. Our departed colleagues may sometimes be made to look like plaster saints, but, like the saints in renaissance pictures and statues, we can often see in them human and individual features.

   Take, for instance, the obituary on Dr R N Brandwood (14 August, p 516). He was a born eccentric, a "card," whose eccentricities are laid on the table without reserve, hilariously, and yet with respect. He had no claims to professional distinction, but "Dr Woolworth" shone like a bright deed in a stuffy world. He died "suddenly at his home after a brief illness." He was lucky. Too many of our colleagues have terrible terminal illnesses. A random check on 50 consecutive obituaries provided many painful records: "after a prolonged illness courageously borne"; "after a prolonged and extremely distressing illness borne with tremendous fortitude"; "in hospital after a painful illness lasting many months"; "after a painful crippling illness borne with great courage and fortitude"; "after a short but distressing illness"; "after many years of illness borne with immense courage"; "his cheerfulness and courage were manifest all through his long disabling illness"; "after a long and trying illness borne with courage and fortitude"; "a long period of illness borne with much courage"; "after a prolonged distressing illness"; "his stoicism continued through the last distressing months."

   Surely to rely only on courage and fortitude and the distresses of devoted wives is not good practice. Even merely as an example to others, we should in our own cases require and receive a high standard of palliative medicine.


Eliot Slater's notes on BMJ obits, from July 17th, 1982 to May 7th 1983 (ES died on May 15th):