He picked up my newborn daughter from her plastic hospital bassinet carefully, with nothing short of love.
“Did you know,” he told the nurse checking my vitals as he checked my baby, “that I’m not only this little baby’s pediatrician, but was also her mother’s? And I was the obstetrician’s pediatrician too!”
“That’s really something!” the nurse said, smiling.
And it was. This anecdote sounds like I live in a one-horse town somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I don’t: I live in a pretty big suburb of New York, where people move away and life goes at a relatively fast pace.
But my pediatrician, Dr. Wesley Boodish, hearkened back to another time in so many ways. He was a practicing pediatrician for two generations. Often, his waiting room would be full of his patients and his old patients who were now the parents/chauffeurs to the patients. I can’t even tell you how many times I asked him just to take a quick peek into my throat as well, and he’d say, “Well, you still are a patient, no matter how old you are.”
Going to his office as an adult with my children made me feel comforted and safe. I knew that however worried I was about my child, he would handle the problem with kindness, experience and immediacy. In so many ways, then, the relationship was almost parental in that long-forgotten way where you could go to your parents crying and they would fix the problem and make everything all better. Dr. Boodish’s loving smile made you feel, no matter how rashy or vomity or unhappy your kid was, that everything would be okay.
He made the kids feel that way too. I will never forget his negotiations with two of my children who raced out of the exam room and down the hall in their underthings rather than get shots. (I am the person who gave them the “wimp” gene.) He convinced them not to make the run to the parking lot, sat them down and talked them through the shots almost to the point where they didn’t notice that the inoculation was even taking place. It wasn’t about the lollipops with him, though those were available: it was about his genuine caring and kindness.
He saw hundreds of patients, yet never once gave the impression that he was rushed or stressed out. In fact, the thing that has been most surprising to me since his death this weekend has been just how many people were under the impression that it was only THEIR family, and only THEIR children, whom he loved and cared for like grandchildren–when, in fact, it was all of us.
Today is his funeral. I expect the room will be full of us, all of us who loved this man so deeply and so deeply mourn his loss. And even more people who loved him will be in their nursery school or elementary school classrooms, perhaps too young to deal with death face to face, yet sad somehow knowing that a person who loved them is gone.
I’m so sad he is gone, and so thankful he was in my life and the lives of my children. On the one hand, his death catapults all of us into a strange new frontier of adulthood. It’s inevitable, we all know, that people you knew and loved when you were a child will slowly vanish one by one, leaving you alone to figure out the world on your own. And when one of them dies, you mourn them and at the same time mourn that bit of yourself that is lost with them.
But on the other hand, I am so, so grateful to have had him in my life, because the breadth and depth of his impact reminds me of the world that is possible: a world where we take the time to show that we truly care for one another, and where doing so is an act of love and an act of truly being alive.
May his memory be for a blessing.