Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Love's Myopic View.

me and my daddy, eighth grade graduation 1984


"It's like forgetting 
the words to your favorite song.
You can't believe it 
You were always singing along.
It was so easy and the words so sweet.
You can't remember
you try to feel the beat."

~ Regina Spektor

________________________________________
Daddy, I see you in a three piece suit. With a brown suitcase gripped tightly in your right hand and an afro so perfectly round that it defies the laws of afro-nature. I also see you with a bright gold headband around that same natural that, on weekends, you allowed to be distorted by terry cloth and elastic. Your goatee is immaculate, your shorts nineteen-seventies short and your socks Kareem Abdul Jabbar high. There are other times that I see you squatting behind twelve year-old Little League catchers with a that funny little umpire cap and a mask covering your face. Calling out in this throaty and animated voice phrases like, "Yerrrrrrrrrrr outta there!"

me and my daddy, Emory SOM graduation 2012

Later I see you with male-patterned cowlicks in your afro. But still I see you as a strong, athletic thirty-something father in a suit on weekdays and at Getty's Baseball Field on Saturdays.

mommy on my wedding day, 2004


Mommy, I see you as an officer in the PTA at my elementary school and with your brow furrowed over a Singer sewing machine before the first day of school. I see your hand on a steering wheel and hear you snapping Wrigley's spearmint gum in between KABC TalkRadio shows. I see your hair dyed some unnatural shade of reddish-blonde with your dark roots emerging --yet owning the look like the Beyonce of your time--eyebrows arched almost to non-existence. After that, I see you with your coif shorn into a natural. And later with some sassy version of the "Anita Baker" haircut.

retro-mommy with newborn, preemie JoLai (in her twenties, not thirties)

But still in all of those versions, I see you as a thirty-something. 

And yes. On most days for me, Grandma Ernestine is fifty-five with speckles of salt in her hair. Granddaddy Cottrell is nodding off in an easy chair but smiling and loving when he isn't. Mudear is shelling peas on her porch or watching her "stories" or off on a cruise ship in her most dapper attire. Which includes a mink coat. T'Renee is standing in the House of Style Beauty Shop or, depending on the situation, in her kitchen pressing everybody's hair with a hot metal comb and Blue Magic hair grease while Auntie Mattie is smoking cigarettes after closing up shop for the day at Winchell's Donuts.

And yes, I know that Granddaddy Cottrell, Mudear, T'Renee and Auntie Mattie have all gone home. And I know that my Grandmama Ernestine is a rock's throw away from her ninetieth birthday and no where near the fifty-five years old that I constantly see when speaking to her on the telephone. But still. This is how I continue to see her. And them.

Just as I see you--my parents. Through the lens of a ten year old child.

I believe that no matter how old we get, we all do that with the people we love. Even if our childhoods were imperfect, we still freeze-dry people in whatever constitutes the simplest of times. More often than we even care to admit.

I call it love's myopic view. It's this nearsightedness or farsightedness or whatever you want to call it that somehow happens without us even thinking about it.

I know this is true. It's what, I think, often keeps people holding hands well into their sixth decade of marriage and through life-altering illnesses. It's what brings a daughter or son to change the diaper of a parent without even flinching.

Love's myopic view.

But you know? I believe that very thing is what makes it so difficult when matriarchs and patriarchs begin to age and show signs of being mere mortals. Mere mortals. Because to our ten year-old selves, they were never mere mortals. Even if they weren't perfect, they were still the closest things to superheroes in our lives.

And perhaps this is what that view beholds while changing the adult Pamper of a once healthy dear one once they've reached a point of being able to manage bodily excrement for themselves.

Perhaps.

But every now and then, you get a jolt out of that time-trippy myopia. You go to see an aunt or uncle or parent or grandparent and suddenly see them with glasses that are clear and not rose-colored. You notice the humped back of collapsing vertebral bones and those parchment paper neck skin folds. And you look and you think, "Who is that?"

I know I have. Especially when a lot of time has passed.

I know I'm fortunate to see my parents regularly. And despite my earlier statement, I actually realize that my mother is indeed sixty-five and that my father is sixty-eight. I know that Tounces (mom) has mostly silver and white hair instead of Dark 'n' Lovely auburn and that my daddy's once electric 'fro is a buzzed down white crop.

I know that.

But on the inside? It's totally different. My heart sees them as thirty-somethings. Totally.

Yeah.

That reminds me.

I have a fairly new friend whom I now hold dear. We actually met because of our blogs but now talk far more by phone and text than by our blogs. Which is both interesting and heartwarming now that I think about it. It's also besides the point, so I'll reroute from that and get back to my point.

One of her parents is sick. Her parent has been fighting a series of very serious illnesses. So far, the words "fighter" and "overcomer" have been understatements. The medical history defies much of what I know scientifically; her parent has lived to see the other side of some pretty hard diagnoses.

Today we talked on the phone about the most recent of these medical setbacks. She wanted to know what I thought. And I consider her a friend--I truly do--and I know she was asking me because she considers me one, too. So I told her that I was concerned. That this sounded serious to me and that, if she was ready, here are a few questions she might want to ask the doctors. And I rattled those questions right off.

Then I froze.

Because I could hear it in her voice. I could hear that struggle between her image of a strong and virile afro-wearing parent rolling around on the lawn at age thirty-five and this reality that her doctor-friend was speaking over an iPhone. It made me imagine that this was my own parent. How would I even get my head around that?

I can't.

When Poopdeck had a massive heart attack, he survived. Just like the thirty-something I imagined him to be, he lived to power walk at the park every single morning and spend summers with his grandsons. So even when he tells me of any ailment, I have to shake myself hard enough to listen and acknowledge it with some pragmatism. And not see it as something for Excedrin or Alka Seltzer only.

Her voice was stoic. She is a professional and an extraordinarily smart human being so she got the facts I was telling her. But no matter how many degrees you have, it's hard to shake that ten year-old image of your parent. No matter what somebody is telling you.

I worried after we spoke today. I reflected and had this ah hah moment after we'd talked. I felt that I'd been insensitive to that ten year-old time warp and gave the facts too direct, too harsh.  She never said or did anything to suggest that, but it's how I felt.

Which reminds me.

When I was in residency my Mudear's baby sister lived not even five miles away from my apartment. My daddy made sure that I got to know his mother's sister and I'm glad he did. Auntie Mac was the only person I knew in Cleveland when I got there and even though she was in her sixties and I was in my twenties, we spent a lot of time together. We grew close and developed a very special relationship over coffee and chats. Even though she looked a lot like my Mudear, her personality was uniquely her own.

I loved her.

From the moment we got to know each other she'd already been dealing with health problems. So my lens was not a ten year old one at all. It was that of an intern and a newly minted physician. I saw her as a mortal, albeit a mortal I loved. Her health failed more and more. In my second year of residency, she peacefully slipped away in home hospice.

I was sad mostly because I would miss her. I would miss taking her three dollars and running to the corner to "play her numbers" or even her getting into the passenger seat of my car while holding an overfull cup of Folgers that always, always spilled all over my cloth interior.

But I knew she was mortal. Even if I would miss her dearly, I saw her with eyes that were okay to let her go.

me and my Mudear (in my Auntie Mattie's kitchen)

When my Mudear came to Cleveland for her sister's homegoing celebration, she sat right beside me on that pew. Like a little girl she fell into a heap on my lap and cried hard and deep. I patted her platinum curls just as anyone would their own child because that was the right thing to do. But what I said in that moment was less so. I remember saying, "It's okay, Mudear. Mac is at peace now. She's at peace."

And don't you know that my Mudear didn't even lift her head? All she said through her muffled sobs was this:

"She's my baby sister. My baby sister."

And she wept and wept until her body sputtered like a car out of gas. While I rubbed her head and closed my mouth.

It didn't matter that Mac's body had been decimated by organ failure and pain. It didn't matter one single bit. This was her baby sister. That was her myopic view of that day--through the lens of a big sister. And when you see it that way, you know that there's nothing natural about being at your baby sister's funeral. At all.

Especially if you still hold her in your heart at a certain point in time. Now I know in my heart that my Mudear was mourning the loss of that version of her baby sister the most. The one that got on her nerves and asked to borrow her things. Not the one with jaundiced eyes and an edematous body.

And you know? I don't even know where I'm going with all of this. And I know that I'm rambling and I'm all over the place. But really I'm just thinking about all of this and trying to flesh it out. That's all.

Yeah.

Talking to my friend made me reflect on my Auntie Mac and how it felt to console my grandmother when she died. It made me think about what she must have been feeling and how this translates to my friend and the health of her parent and how she might be feeling.

And honestly? I just want to be sensitive to the dichotomy between the cherished images of our loved ones that we have seared into our hearts --  and the ruthless picture painted by reality. Because there is a dichotomy there. There so is.

I guess the point is that I'll try to remember this when I'm talking to my patients. I'll choose my words more carefully--and tell the truth, yes--but do so while knowing that this dichotomy exists and must be considered if I truly strive to be empathic.

Hmmm.

I just thought of something. Not only do we see our parents and loved ones through love's myopic view--we see ourselves the same way, too. We're shocked when we pass a mirror and see grey hairs here and also there and crows feet bursting from our eyes in photographs. Unnerved when we feel hot flashes and back pains or bewildered when somebody prescribes us with blood pressure medication. It doesn't match up with our myopic self image, does it? I'm thinking that maybe--just maybe-- we, too, see ourselves at our most fertile and virile. No matter what reality and calendars are talking about.

Hmmm.

Maybe I'll put that thought on a mental post-it note for later.

So yeah. That's what I'm thinking about tonight. And maybe none of it even makes sense. Or all of it makes perfect sense. Hell, I don't know.

Either way, that's all I've got for now.

Oh, and a few more of these lyrics:


"You spend half of your life 
trying to fall behind.
You're using your headphones 
to drown out your mind.
It was so easy 
and the words so sweet.
You can't remember
You try to move your feet...."



Sleep well. And thanks for listening.


***
Happy Tuesday.


Now playing on my mental iPod. . . .I can't believe I'd never heard of her until I heard her interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered."  The sweet and haunting voice of Regina Spektor. . . hear that whole song here:

31 comments:

  1. This post reminds me of something I noticed. My mother keeps obituaries of our family members. When I run across them, I like to read them. It always seems that the photos on the front are from when the person was in their prime of life even when they are passing at an old age. Like in some cases, I don't even recognize the younger version on the obituary because I only knew the older version. I don't have a problem with that, I just find it interesting and it seems to support what you are saying. I don't know if its like this in other families or not.

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    1. You know? They do this in my family, too. I always notice this at my patients' funerals also. I think you make a good point. . .perhaps it does support this theory. If it even is a theory.

      Thanks for reading, sister.

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  2. I know that a lot of ICUs will ask families to bring in pictures of the patients. It makes it easier for the staff to relate to the patient if they (the staff) can see the patient vibrant and alive rather than sedated and paralyzed in an ICU bed.

    I work for the organ procurement organization in Arizona (the LifeLink of Georgia equivalent, if you will) and we print memorial cards for our donors, using a family-supplied picture and verse. Many times these pictures are the only vision we have of the donor as someone who was alive and vibrant. It makes a difference to us, helping us to see these people as their families remember them.

    We do this to ourselves, too...I find it hard to think of myself as anything other than a 25ish year-old somewhat-skinny kid, in decent (not great) shape, riding on a fire truck and racing into burning buildings. It's hard to reconcile that vision with my current reality of an overweight, graying, 40ish father of four working what is largely a desk job.

    We remember people as we want to remember them. So long as that doesn't obscure reality, I think that's just fine.

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    1. PJ -- beautifully stated. And I love the practice of seeing a real vision of the person instead of just their organs.

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  3. This all makes perfect sense to me ...from my dad's passing last November I realized there really are no words of comfort from others. I know your situation was different with your friend because you are a super doctor and she was asking your opinion as a friend and doctor but you cannot believe how many "opinions" we got from people that had no idea what they were talking about. The one thing I learned from this was never to do this....the best thing is to simply listen. My mantra with my dad was "It is an honor and a privilege to take care of you" and it was...

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    1. Your dad was blessed to have you. Thank you for honoring him this morning by sharing that. I'm sure he felt that caring for you was an honor and a privilege, too.

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  4. When I was seventeen, I thought my then forty-five- year-old father was crazy when he sold our possessions and moved our family to the other side of the world. He had accepted a new job that doubled his salary (to $12,000 a year!) which would help him attain his vision of building his dream house some five years later. When I was in my forties and realized how young I felt, it all finally made perfect sense to me. He enjoyed many happy years in that house, and your soon-to-be-ninety-year-old grandmother still lives there today. At sixty-five, perhaps many of my memories are indeed myopic, but I understand so many more things with a vision that is crystal clear.

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    1. Tounces. . . .this comment is poetic. And I'm glad that your vision is crystal clear. Love you so.

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  5. When my beloved friend Lynn was in a nursing home, dying from a horrible neurological disease (corticobasal ganglionic degeneration), I was visiting her one day and we were sitting outside in the little chain-link-fence enclosed area where there was a tree and I was feeding her strawberry ice cream and one of the nursing home employees asked me if I had known her "before...this."
    I wanted to smack him so hard.
    "This" wasn't the real Lynn at all. "This" was not even Lynn. "This" was a creature trapped in a nightmare for whom death was going to be the greatest blessing of her life.
    I didn't smack him.
    I started crying.
    "Yes," I said softly. "She was such a dancing girl."
    And I couldn't go on.

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    1. You always get my rambling. You always do. I am so happy that you could see the dancing Lynn. I bet that dancing girl loved strawberry ice cream and you, too.

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  6. There is nothing so hard as watching your parent decline. Not even going through it yourself is as bad as watching them go through it. I will keep your friend in my prayers.

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    1. I am certain that she would appreciate that. Thanks, Lisa.

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  7. My father is suffering from the same disease that Ms. Moon's dear friend had. As I was hanging photos of him surrounded by our family on the wall of his new room in the assisted living facility, I all of a sudden realized all the pictures were somewhat recent. And I wondered if my father looked at those pictures and saw himself surrounded by loving family, or if he had trouble seeing past the graying hair, frail body, and prominent wheelchair.
    I think next time I am there I will put up some pictures of him in his military dress blues, that handsome strong forty something I remember from my youth.

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    1. I think that's a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing about your own experience and for stopping by to be a part of this community.

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  8. You're going to make me cry for your friend. It is my sincere prayer that her parent continues to defy the odds and is able bask in the love of family.

    I remember when my mother's older sister died. I will never forget hearing my mom say "I can't believe I'm an orphan, I don't have anybody." I was stunned. She was a grown woman with a family of her own. I totally agree that the myopic life view of which you speak is not just used to view others - we see ourselves through that same set of lenses. Self-soothing at its finest.

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    1. Oh Nerd Girl. You are always so wise. Is it normal to be a fan of somebody's comments? I am always a fan of yours. Here, there, everywhere.

      Just as your mother is, that friend is strong. That parent raised her up to be just that. But still, that doesn't make it any easier.

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  9. I love the way you wrote the memories of your parents. Once an a friend asked me if my Dad was "The guy with the white hair" across the room. I replied "No my Dad has black hair." Ummm, yeah, the dudes hair IS white.

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    1. Hey Ann! It kind of felt a little like "where I'm from." And I totally get that story about your dad -- my dad was carrying a cane a few weeks ago and it totally freaked me out. It actually belonged to his brother -- but still seeing that thing in my father's hand gave me that cruel jolt even if it was just a false alarm.

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  10. Okay this is going to sound corny, but have you ever seen or read What Dreams May Come?

    Forgive me if you have, and don't need the brief summary...but essentially, the main character has died and is now in Heaven. His loved ones (including his children who have preceded him in death) are around him, but they're in the form that they want to be. His daughter is a Polynesian flight attendant, and his son is a doctor/friend of the family.

    Anyway, your beautifully written piece (my God, SO beautiful) reminded me of this. How we see one another, and how we hold the images. My mom sees me as always 12 or 13, and I always see her as 40 something (she's in her sixties). My sister is eternally 16. You're so, so right.

    I love the truths you're painting here. You're a beautiful writer (and yes, I found you on Ms. Moon originally - that effervescent soul).

    xoxo

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    1. Chrissy - I totally have to find that! Thanks for telling me because I wasn't familiar with it!

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  11. I lost both of my grandparents last year and I still looked at them and thought of them as they were when I was young. Same thing with my parents. I too like to think (as I grow older) that we do stay the happiest age for us inside, even if our outside doesn't reflect it. What a great post!

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    1. I appreciate these sentiments. Thank you.

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  12. What a great and inspiring post. You have a wonderful way with words!

    A fan in South Texas. :)

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  13. My father is no longer living but my memories of him are being the strong dad who could fix everything and carrying me on his shoulders in the high tides of the sea. I look at myself in the mirror and don't see much of the aging I know is there. I know your friend got your words from you as a friend and as a doctor and found them helpful

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  14. Hi Dr. Manning,

    I've never commented before but I've been reading your blog for a long, long time. Why haven't I commented? Honestly, I don't know. You're one of the best writers I've found online and your posts make me think, smile, laugh, and sometimes cry. But you always write truth and to me, that is beyond value.

    I've lost both my parents and my eldest son and what you've written here is important. I'll be sixty in October but I sure don't feel sixty, aside from the usual aches and pains. And in my memory, my parents are young, strong and healthy - and my son is forever about 6 years old. Memory - I think it's a big part of what makes us all human. It's one of the ways we are all alike, no matter our race, culture or religion.

    May I use an excerpt from this blog entry to share with my co-workers? We like to take a few minutes during our staff meetings to discuss the diversity of our group. We think it's important to acknowledge both our similarities and our differences. I will, of course, give proper attribution to you as the writer.

    I will leave my email address in this message if you would prefer to let me know off the website. Either way, I really appreciate your words every day - but never more than these today.

    By the way, I've been to Grady hospital - long ago now - but I can still picture in my mind when I read your blog. :-)

    Jae in Clayton, NC

    jaea6188@gmail.com

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    1. Good morning, Jae-- oh goodness....thank you for these kind, kind words. Of course you can share this with our colleagues. I appreciate you reading and commenting is always welcomed but never, ever mandatory.

      xo, KM

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    2. Thank you so much, Dr. M. And I appreciate your kindness and generosity. Don't be surprised if you pick up more readers in the Raleigh area!

      Jae in Clayton, NC

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  15. From the Deck of the Poop,

    Dr. KD you have gone complete buck wild with this blog. I know that I have told you several times that you out did yourself but you really did it this time. smile.
    My story to support your theory... I was doing some volunteering at a middle school in a special needs class. One morning as I walked into the school watching the students pass by I thought about my age. I said to myself, "you are 68 years old". How the hell did I get to be 68? I don't feel 68. I don't walk 68. I don't think 68. And I look at my reflection in the pane of one of the classrooms and started to laugh. By golly, I am 68!!!! The passersby probably probably thought that I was losing it but I couldn't stop laughing. Just laughing at myself and thinking, what a weird thing to think about this time of morning and why am I thinking about this? Then, as I took a step and felt the slight pain in my heal and remembered the old "plantar", I thought to myself you are certifiably old and began to laugh again. I said to myself, I like the feeling of being that age when I umpired little league games, better so I just went back to being "not 68", smiles and walked into the classroom and commenced to attempting to teach some "Special needs" 6th and 7th graders how to calculate 45% of 95.
    You are right on with this blog.

    Much love
    PoopDeck

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    1. Dad,

      I love how that photo from Emory's commencement captures me looking at you. I know that I am seeing you just as I described. And yes, I love seeing you that way, too. I am enjoying this age I'm at right now, so I imagine this is where i'll trap myself in my mind. Right now I feel strong and wise and able. I always want to feel like that.

      You know that your grandsons will see you as a perfectly healthy sixty-something forever don't you? Forever their Camp PaPa version of you.

      Delete

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