Our Diminishing Respect for the
In our modern way of life - often
jam packed with work, family ad leisure -we are
becoming increasingly oblivious to our obligations
to others around us. A selfish (pathologic?) emphasis
on ‘me first’ attitude has left many
of us with little or no time for others, both living
But it is not the living that are on my mind today.
A few weeks ago Don Stathulus, a professional colleague
of mine, passed away suddenly. He was a well-known
podiatrist on the east side where he had maintained
a busy practice for over 30 years. He was a gracious
and cheerful man and with his sunny disposition
he brought much joy to all of us who knew him or
would come across him in the course of our professional
work. He was also a community leader, an activist
and a family man.
And yet at his funeral at the Greek Orthodox Church
in downtown Toledo, filled to capacity with his
family, friends and wellwishers, there were hardly
a handful of his professional colleagues. It was
a week day and many of them did not feel it was
important to take the time and pay their respects
to a man who had been in many ways part of their
professional life for so many years.
I have noticed this phenomenon with increasing frequency
in recent years. The ambivalence of medical profession
was brought home to me many years ago when I attended
a memorial service for a senior colleague who had
died after a long illness. Even though I had known
the man but from a distance, our paths had often
crossed in the course of our daily work. He always
took the time and inquired how I was doing. And
he extended this common courtesy and grace to most
everyone he would come across at work. To my utter
surprise I saw just a few physicians at the service
in the funeral home. None of his partners felt obliged
to come to pay their last respects. Also conspicuous
with their absence were the physicians he had trained
and mentored during his long career.
I do realize that societal norms and customs change
with time. Here in America we live in a different
world and certainly in a different time. A relative
lack of free time and a rather pathologic fixation
with individual and family privacy render us incapable
or unable to fulfill our obligations to others.
Or at least that is how we think and rationalize.
In most countries in the East funerals are public
affairs. Total strangers join in the funeral procession
and walk part of the distance towards the cemetery
and help carry the bier. Others stand on the side
and raise their hands in silent prayers. It is their
way of paying respects to a departing member of
the larger community of mankind.
No matter how we rationalize it we are not self-sufficient
islands in the vast sea of humanity. We are connected
with others at work and at play and even with those
that pass us silently in our daily lives. They are,
whether we realize it or not, part of us at some
level. So when that part breaks away we ought to
feel some pain or at least a small twinge. We pay
more attention to the demise of a building, a bridge
or a tree than we do for the familiar faces in our
The death of a neighbor or a coworker becomes an
irritant and an inconvenience because it disturbs
our neatly planned routine. So we use innovative
ways to circumvent our obligation. We pay a fleeting
visit to the funeral home or express our sympathy
by sending flowers. Could a bouquet of neatly arranged
flowers substitute for a few words of comfort delivered
in person to the bereaved family?
I do not wish to give the impression that the society
has become insensitive and moronic. It has not.
Most of us in our daily lives are courteous and
considerate. We do pause to acknowledge and greet
our coworkers, inquire about their well-being and
show interest in the happenings in their lives.
Perhaps we could extend this courtesy and grace
in death as well by canceling office hours, postponing
a surgery or foregoing a game of golf.
(S. Amjad Hussain writes on the op-ed pages of the
daily Toledo Blade)