Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be

Liam Farrell


The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us again. Like Garrison Keillor, my great sin is nostalgia (my lesser sins include lust, envy, and sloth; but they hardly count, every Tom, Dick, and Harry has them), and so autumn is my favorite time of year. I can stroll contentedly through the woodlands, looking smugly at the trees, savoring the wistful beauties of the season, the leaves fading to brown and red, apples and chestnuts falling all around me, and think to myself in a satisfied manner, “things used to be much better,” and “I knew this would happen.”

All the things we planned to do over the summer and didn’t get around to, we can now put away till the spring, heave a big sense of relief and sit inside beside the fire, watching TV and eating toast, enjoying what Mr. Toad described as “mid-winter’s homely comforts.”

Coincidentally, the great poets, Keats et al, also preferred autumn, but for less venal reasons; it appealed to their greater-than-average disposition towards melancholy. If cognitive behavioral therapy had been available then, we might have been deprived of some of the great works of English literature. But there would probably have been a waiting list of a billion years; so maybe not.
When I was young I had a venerable senior partner, no spring chicken himself, who believed that the autumn was a perilous time for the elderly.

“Ah, the fall of the leaf,” he would say sadly, as yet another of our senior citizens shuffled off their mortal coil and joined the choir invisible.

He had worked in a logging town in northern Canada for years, and every autumn would consult with the local mayor as to which members of the community were likely to die over the winter. This was necessary because once the freeze set in, the ground would harden, digging graves would be impossible. And if the graves were not ready, the corpses would have to remain in storage until spring, an extravagance the town could not afford; plus there was always the danger of their attracting hungry polar bears. This all had to be done in total confidence, of course.

He may have been making this up, I know, but when we are come to the waning of the year, we need good stories to keep us going through the long dark nights. And we can recall Dryden’s Juvenal, “What crowds of patients the town doctor kills/or how, last fall, he raised his weekly bills.”



DR. LIAM FARRELL is a family doctor in Crossmaglen, Ireland. He also serves as a member of our international editorial board.


Highlighted in Frontispiece Fall 2009- Volume 1, Issue 5

Fall 2009  |  Sections  |  End of Life

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