Arriving home after church, I discovered the answering machine in the mudroom blinking. I casually pushed the “play” button as I cruised by to hang up my coat in the hall closet.

Over my shoulder I heard these ominous words, “This is the Newington Police. Your father collapsed at home and was found unresponsive. We initiated CPR and transported him to the hospital. I don’t know his status. I’m with your mother. Please call home.”

My wife and I threw a few essentials into a bag and jumped into the car. As we merged onto Interstate 95 south, my cell phone rang.

The doctor in the emergency room related a doleful litany all too familiar to me: “Your father was asystolic when the paramedics arrived at your parents’ home. Resuscitation was unsuccessful in the ambulance and in the ER. I’m sorry.”

I pulled the car over to the shoulder and wept.

During the next days, we experienced a frenetic schedule, informing family members and friends of my father’s death, making funeral arrangements, organizing my parents’ records and paying the bills that kept coming, notifying Social Security and the insurance companies, and comforting mom.

Along with two snowstorms, the week was exceedingly difficult.

Finally, at the funeral in my parents’ church, I had an opportunity to consider what had transpired and why we were there.

As the reality of the flag-draped coffin in front of me sank in, I leaned over to my wife and whispered, “I am really, really sad.”

In more than 35 years in oncology, I have had scores and scores of patients die. It has never been easy and it has always hurt.

I have witnessed deep emotions expressed by family members at the deaths of grandparents, parents, siblings, spouses and children. I have tried not to be detached professionally and thought I understood grief very well.

Despite my experiences with the deaths of patients, I was shocked to discover that the grief I have felt since the death of my father was much deeper than I imagined it would be.

Grief is a part of life experienced by all people. Someday someone we are related to or close to will die, and we will grieve.

The Bible records the ways many individuals reacted to the deaths of family members or close friends.

Joseph (1900 B.C.), one of the early patriarchs who rescued Hebrews and Egyptians alike from a worldwide famine, responded with overwhelming grief after his father died: “Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him” (Genesis 50:1).

King David (1000 B.C.) of Israel, learning of his son’s death, though his son had led a rebellion against him, was severely shaken and wailed: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you — O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18: 33).

When Lazarus of Bethany died, Jesus traveled to the village of Martha and Mary, the sisters of his close friend Lazarus, to comfort them. As he approached the village, he heard the weeping of Mary and Martha as well as other townspeople. Jesus’ reaction is expressed in the shortest and one of the most poignant verses in the entire Bible: “Jesus wept” (John 11: 35).

Grieving runs deep for Bible characters as well as for those today who suffer personal loss.

Taking care of dying patients and caring for the families is not the same as having someone die in one’s own family.

Even for a cancer doctor, being at a funeral is not the same as being in a funeral.

Because of my experience with my father’s death, I now understand much better the depth of grief I have witnessed in the family members of my patients who have died.

We do well to grieve with those in distress. It may be an ersatz or inferior copy of what others are undergoing, but will comfort them as well as help prepare us for what will eventually happen in our own lives.

It may also prompt us to be more compassionate and patient toward those with deep grief.

Might we then be less likely to inflict pain and suffering on others because we better understand how much grief they or their family or friends will incur by our actions?

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, writer and playwright, and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.