Saturday, November 23, 2013

George B. Murray, SJ, MD Funeral Homily and a Photo

The homily is below.  The photo was taken at final vows after simple vows in the sacristy.  George was one of eight Jesuits to witness them.  The grin is perfect.  He is speaking with Father General.  The man in black clerics is Jon Dela Luna, SJ, MD a fourth-year psychiatry resident at Georgetown.  He came up for the vows.  I am happy he finally had the chance to meet George.

Habakkuk 3:2-4, 13a, 15-19
Rom 12:3-9a
Jn 21:15-19

We are gathered in this holy place to grieve the death of a good man.  A man who was a physician par excellence and one of the great teachers of consultation psychiatry in the U.S.--if not the world-- particularly for those who had the privilege of being trained by him over the past almost forty years.  We grieve a brother Jesuit who was an exemplary one . . . in his own way.  We grieve the end of a remarkable life.  But we rejoice in the beginning of an even more remarkable new life in, and with, Christ.

Death always comes as a surprise no matter when it occurs, be it suddenly as the result of trauma or acute illness or, as was true for George, at the end of a long life and an increasingly difficult medical course.  None of us, even the physicians here, ever gets used to the death of another.  We never become inured to the sense of finality and loss.  We never escape the deep-seated fear and awe of death that defines the human condition.  But, we are also blessed in the promise of eternal life fulfilled in the birth, passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. 

The two readings and the Gospel explain different facets of George Bradshaw Murray, SJ, MD.   They illuminate our faith.

The first reading from the Book of Habakkuk describes the lives of those who gradually watch everything they have and hold diminish and disappear.  The last part of the reading, sometimes called the Psalm of Habakkuk, is a psalm for the elderly.  It describes the stripping away of vigor, vitality, self-sufficiency and independence until only the inner strength given by God remains. 

George's losses piled up over the past two years.  There were no fig trees or herds in the stall to be sure, even in Cleveland.  But there were analogous losses, one of the most painful of which was his vision and all that being legally blind entailed.  The return drive from the optometrist in Waltham was made in dead silence.  George knew before the optometrist told him that his driving days were over as of that moment.  For a man who sometimes made his annual retreat by driving without plan for five days it was a painful blow.  He never mentioned it again.  He never asked to drive again.  But the pain of that loss went deep.  It went very deep. 

As other losses followed, and they came with breathtaking speed over the past several months, George allowed the boundaries of his world to gradually constrict.  It was painful to watch but like the sign that hung in his office at Mass General whining was strictly forbidden.

It would be easy to give a very long, multi-part homily about George using the second reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans.

"I bid you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think."

George was a truly humble man.  Few know of all of his accomplishments, except for those on the football field or behind the drums--and these were most likely heavily embroidered. Bragging was not part of who he was.  That was most apparent the night of his retirement party at MGH. 

He didn't want to go.  He REALLY didn't want to go.  HIs anxiety in the car during the drive to MGH in peak Boston rush hour traffic was palpable.  The silence was not comfortable.  The trip back at around 11 PM was remarkable.  He repeated, "I'm overwhelmed" at least a dozen times in a voice that confirmed that he was, in fact, overwhelmed.  The bluster, the swagger, the essential "Murrayness" was gone.  It was the voice of a man who finally knew what his life, who knew what his Jesuit vocation, his learning and his teaching meant to others.  Many others.  At last, one could say to him, "George, finally, you get it, and you git it."

"So we, though many, are one body in Christ . . . having gifts that differ, according to the graces given to us let us use them."

We all have the vocation to use the skills and gifts given to us by God to the fullest.  George did that in ways most men can only fantasize.  He ministered.  He taught.  He exhorted--he really exhorted, at times at very high volume--and he contributed.  He also loved more sincerely than most.

His skills as diagnostician, teacher, and psychotherapist were legendary.  Those skills were hard won.  He did the heavy lifting because he knew that the gifts he was given were not to be wasted.  And he wouldn't allow his trainees to waste their gifts either.  He took extraordinary care of them.

One of the tenets of Ignatian prayer is to imaginatively insert oneself into a particular Gospel passage and participate in it in as much detail as possible, paying attention to those nearby, how things feel, what one hears and so on.  So now, imagine the Gospel reading just proclaimed.  Stand among the disciples and listen to the dialogue.  But, take out Peter and put George in his place.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me more than these?
George:         Yes, Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus:                        Feed my lambs

And again.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me?
George:         Yes Lord, you know I love you.
Jesus:                        Tend my sheep.

And a third time.

Jesus:                        George, do you love me?
I'm not sure George's response to being asked the same question for the third time would have been quite as patient as Peter's.  It probably would have been more of a rant than a reassurance.  Not wanting to put words into George's mouth I will leave that part to your imaginations. 

But . . . George Bradshaw Murray, of the Society of Jesus, M.D. lived Jesus' command "Feed my lambs"  "Tend my sheep" with every fiber of his being.  This is how he loved.  He wasn't ostentatiously pious about it, but whether one was among the 102 fellows whose names are inscribed on the plaque that stood near his coffin, whether you were one of his patients, one of the residents or students, whether you were a colleague or one of his fellow Jesuits who quietly asked, "Murray, can I talk to you for a few minutes?" he took this mandate seriously. 

A few weeks before he picked me up at Logan and dropped me off at the Jesuit novitiate in Jamaica Plain, we were sitting in his tiny office at MGH crammed with books and other faja sipping on some single malt.  He got serious and asked, "What's my favorite prayer?"  Always the former fellow I assumed the fellows' position without being told to and admitted I did not know.  He spun around, pulled out a battered file and rummaged through it for a moment. 

He handed me an old photocopy of a prayer by St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus.  It was a prayer that I would encounter within days of entering.  It is a prayer that many Jesuits pray daily.  It is a prayer that defined George's life as a Jesuit, a physician, and a man.  It is on the back of his memorial card.  It summarizes his life.  It summarizes a vocation accepted and lived in his way.  It summarizes how George understood the reading from Habakkuk, how he lived Paul's description of vocation, and how he did precisely what Jesus ordered Peter to do:

O Lord, teach me to be generous
To serve you as you deserve
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labor and not to ask for reward
Save that of knowing
I do your holy will.

+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD

Thursday, November 21, 2013

George Bradshaw Murray, SJ, MD

George B. Murray, SJ, MD died in the early morning on Monday 18 November 2013.  His death was sudden, not unexpected but shocking nonetheless.  He was 82 years old.  He had a number of chronic medical conditions.  Over the past twelve or so months an almost dizzying array of acute and subacute medical problems began to complicate his life.  He bore the illnesses with his usual humor and grace.  He detested anything that might be construed as whining or self-pity in his fellows. He didn't whine either though he had every reason to do so. 

We never know the hour or the day.  Thus, even when death comes in old age after a gradually deteriorating medical course, it is always a shock to those who were close to and loved the one who died.  Murray's death came as a shock to a great many people, particularly his former consultation psychiatry fellows, the residents and students who trained under him, his colleagues at the Massachusetts General Hospital, former patients and the world of consultation psychiatry in general.  The phone calls and e-mails have come fast and furious from former fellows and other Jesuits who were aware of the depth of our friendship, though it was a relationship that can hardly be described by that rather pallid word. 

I met George on 1 May 1991 when I picked him up at the Philadelphia International Airport.  He had agreed to give grand rounds to the psychiatry department at Temple.  I was just entering my final year of psychiatry training and had just begun as chief resident.  While I was planning to apply for a fellowship in consultation psychiatry, Mass General was not on the radar screen.  Until 1 May 1991.  By the time we passed the Art Museum and zipped up Kelly Drive toward Temple University Hospital I knew one thing.  I had to train with this man. 

Because there was no drug company lunch that day (I did however talk of the reps to funding the grand rounds which is why I didn't ask for lunch) George met with the residents for an hour and I then took him to lunch at the restaurant on the same block as my apartment.  It was a jazz-themed restaurant with good food.  It was also quiet and, of course, I had parking in apartment garage.  I did not know at the time that George was "an old jazz drummer."  Over lunch we figured out that we knew a number of people in common, most of whom were in religious vows (I was only beginning to think perhaps maybe in my wildest dreams of applying to the Society of Jesus).   By coffee and desert I told him I wanted to apply to his program.  He looked stricken when he noted that he was already full for July.  I explained that I still had a year to go.  "Write to me after 1 July."  I did so just after 4 July. 

About a week later I returned to my apartment at 17th and Callowhill on a Friday afternoon to find a letter from MGH.  It was from George.  I read it, put it down, and changed into running clothes.  Read the letter again.  Went for a six-miler.  Came back and read the letter again.  And then I called my twin brother and told him I was going to read a letter and asked him to give me his read.  He said,  "Sounds like he already decided to take you."  I replied, "That is what I thought.  Just wanted some confirmation." 

I flew to Boston on 12 September for an interview on Friday 13 September.  Best Friday the Thirteenth in history.  Midway through our interview, which followed a memorable one with Ned Cassem, SJ, MD, chief of psychiatry at the time, George looked at me as if he were lining up a shot at the shooting range and asked, "Do you want to come here?"  I replied, "Yes."  He said, "I'm tough."  I said, "No shit."  He ended with "Get a Massachusetts license by July." 

George's fellowship was unique.  He founded it in 1978 and directed it full-time until a few years ago.  By the time he retired he had trained 102 fellows mostly on his own.  His didactic methods would be frowned upon by politically-correct, mealy-mouthed, liberals of academe.  His fellows thrived.  George turned us, in the words of Former Fellow Beatriz Currier, MD, "into the kind of psychiatrist I wanted to be but didn't know how to become."  We worked hard.  Many consults per day.  Vast amounts of reading for which he expected us to be prepared.  But he worked even harder for us. 

His mark on the world of consultation psychiatry (or consultation-liaison if you must, though he loathed the word liaison) is indelible.  He published ninety papers, many with his fellows.  In his younger years he lectured widely and was sought after because of both his medical acumen as well as his ability to use humor in memorable ways.  His mark on his fellows is even more indelible. 

I will post the funeral homily and readings over the weekend.  At the moment exhaustion from the arrangements, writing a difficult homily, and meeting with many former fellows at the wake this afternoon is taking a toll.  By the time tomorrow ends there will be little energy left. 

He will be missed, he is already missed, but his legacy will continue for generations.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Two Very Busy Weeks

32nd Tuesday in Ordinary Time 
12 November 2013
Wis 2:23; 3:1-9
Ps 34:2-3,16-17,18-19
Lk 17:7-10

A verse from today's first reading figures in one of the world's great musical offerings.  Johannes Brahms' German Requiem is a magnificent composition.  It is composed of verses from both the Old and New Testaments in much the same was as Handel's Messiah.  Unlike the Latin Requiem Mass that prays for the dead, in sometimes terrifying imagery, such as the Dies Irae of Verdi's Requiem, the Brahms, is addressed to us, the living.  It is addressed to those who must go on after the death of a loved one.  It comforts us and it instructs us. The requiem begins with the beatitude “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”   Sometimes that comfort is a long time in coming as we struggle with the pain of separation, as we try to make sense of that which does not make sense, as we ask “Why? ”and hear only silence in reply.

The third section of the Requiem begins with Psalm 39:3-4, and ends with a splendid fugue for chorus taken from Wisdom 3:1, found in today's reading.

“The souls of the just
are in the hands of God
and no torment
shall touch them.” 

What greater comfort can there be for us, the living, than the assurance that the souls of those whom we love are in the hands of God? How great a comfort is it to know that they are no longer subject to the torments of this world?  Because the writer of Wisdom is certain that the souls of the just are in the hands of God we hear later in the Requiem one of its most spectacular passages when the full force of the large chorus asks in wave after wave of sound:

O death, where is thy sting?

O grave, where is thy victory?”

The victory of the grave is an illusion.  The victory of the grave is an illusion because, as Wisdom tells us a bit later in the reading, The faithful shall abide with him in love.  Because grace and mercy are with his holy ones, and his care is with his elect."

For this reason we can sing with the psalmist,

"When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves."
The past two weeks have been chaotic. There was a death in the community, multiple trips to the hospital with several of the men, visits to those who were admitted, and then last Tuesday, a drive to D.C. to drop off one of the men and his belonging as he takes up a new assignment in D.C.

After leaving D.C. I headed up to my sister's house in Wilmington, DE where I left the car in the driveway and flew to Florida. On Tuesday of last week I addressed the Collier County Alzheimer's Association, one of the model programs for Alzheimer's care in the U.S., on the topic: Three Ethical Dilemmas in Alzheimer's Disease: Early Diagnosis, Treatment and Driving. I've spoken there before so this was a bit of a reunion, though it was a delayed reunion as I was originally scheduled to speak in February of 2012. However, cardiac surgery and the need to move to Boston made it impossible.

The weather was spectacular.  I now understand why people move to Florida.  However, I also know what the summers are like.  I'll stay in the north thank you. 

I intentionally did not take the camera to Florida so as to be undistracted while making a short retreat with the Passionists in West Palm Beach (spectacular retreat house) and mulling over a few things.  Then there was the weight issue on the plane.  Trying to limit myself to carry-on and a briefcase I wanted to keep things light.  It worked.  

While in Florida I had a chance to catch up with a med school classmate who lives in Palm Beach Gardens and then stayed with another, who invited me to speak, in Naples.  

However, in keeping with the general theme of water, some photos from the recent cruise of Boston Harbor.  It is inexpensive and I highly recommend it.  After the cruise my guests wanted to stop at the aquarium gift shop.  The camera got quite a workout.

First, the views from the water.  The Boston skyline is very nice.  The absolute best view of Boston is found in the winter along the MIT side of the Charles River.  Splendid.   But this was OK too.  I don't think the cruise goes out during the night or I would take it.

Old Ironsides remains a commissioned Navy vessel.  It maintains that commission by being sailed one nautical mile every year on 4 July.  Because Jerry is 6'3" we chose not to disembark and tour the vessel.  Sailors were shorter in the past. 

There was also a more contemporary ship available to tour. 

Now, what I've been waiting to post.  Tchotchke Heaven.  It is amazing what people will buy when on vacation.  The gift shop at the aquarium was tremendous.  Taking photos of stuff like this is a lot of fun.  
First, a blown glass jelly fish tree ornament (I guess). 

Multi-colored candle holders or shot glasses or something.  Not sure I would drink single malt out of something this colorful.  

These are apparently pastel jelly fish in glass.  I guess boys get blue ones and girls get pink.  

Penguin parent and kiddo.  What does one do with something like this after about a week? 

Or the dolphins?

 Hippocampus anyone? 

Swimming turtles.  This is reminiscent of something one might find during the Dance of the Hours in Disney's absolutely brilliant Fantasia.  The rhinos dancing in tutus never fails to crack me up.

 This blown glass produced an interesting effect.  The bokeh background came into sharp focus in the glass itself.  That blew me away.  Apparently the aquarium people have a thing for jellyfish.  

 It was fun to photograph.  And there is no buyer's remorse. 
Not certain why there are two different sized fonts above.  
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD