My friend lost her one of her children. Right before the start of school which, since he was an adult, has different meaning than what you might think about. But this morning, it has very significant meaning to me. And likely to her, his mother.
One because she works in a school where everyone knows her. Her waving hand is, to us, a monument. As recognizable as the Statue of Liberty with, literally, that same outstretched arm signaling to all that they are welcomed. But, more than that, there will always be these sights and sounds of new academic year energy that, instead of creating joy for her, will now punctuate the worst day of her life. I hate that. Partly because I personally associate her with that new-grade-level joy that I feel each year. But mostly because I care for her deeply and consider her a Ruth now. . . which means I have willingly signed up for a piece of her pain, too.
That's how it works.
You know? She did that for me. Said very little but always, always showed me through her hugs and her eyes and her gentle, unassuming love that she was willing to hold on to a piece of my pain, too. And she did.
This is different. She is a mother and this was her son. I have always been careful not to equate that horrifically unnatural trauma to that of losing a sibling. It is not the same. Ask any parent who has been inducted into that awful club. On second thought, don't ask them. Just take my word on it as someone who has seen it in three dimensions.
Seen it. Not lived it.
And so. I look for ways to let her know that I will hold a piece of this for her. Even if it is a tiny piece. I will take very good care of it and protect it. And then, when she thinks I've forgotten, I will present it back to her as something new. An invitation to speak of him when she desires. To laugh out loud about some funny quirk or unforgettable experience. Or bring him up and say his name without that awkward, lonely cloak suffocating it all. To let her know that it won't be weird to me if she can't speak of him in past tense because that part I do understand. And hopefully, just a heart open to give her a chance to celebrate her favorite things about him long after the casseroles have stopped arriving on doorsteps.
Or at least I'll try.
But for now, this morning, I simply said this in a text message to her:
"Good morning. You are loved. That is all."
Because when someone is living through the worst days of their life, this is, perhaps, all you can give. Love, shown through presence, silence, the eyes, and the tiny gestures. Recognition for the magnitude of the horror, but not so much so that you leave them isolated. No. Just love. The very understated love she showed me during those days when our lives stood still.
Honestly? I write this blog to share the human aspects of medicine + teaching + work/life balance with others and myself -- and to honor the public hospital and her patients--but never at the expense of patient privacy or dignity.
Thanks for stopping by! :)
"One writes out of one thing only--one's own experience. Everything depends of how relentlessly one forces from this experience the last drop, sweet or bitter, it can possibly give."
~ James Baldwin (1924 - 1987)
"Do it for the story." ~ Antoinette Nguyen, MD, MPH
Details, names, time frames, etc. are always changed to protect anonymity. This may or may not be an amalgamation of true,quasi-true, or completely fictional events. But the lessons? They are always real and never, ever fictional. Got that?