The Artist

Room detail, Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC

Over twelve years ago I met an artist.

What she had was a gift. I never had to tell her what to do. It was like she just knew. Left to create on her own she did the most amazing work.

Today was my last appointment with her. 

My hair stylist is retiring and I am grieving. She was the first and only person to ever take charge of my hair and make it look GOOD. She made me feel better about my hair, about myself. I cannot put into words how important and life changing that was.

When I ask patients what they do, often I’ll get the, “I’m JUST a…. fill in the blank.” Hair dresser, office worker, mail handler, Mom, etc. I hate, hate, hate that phrasing. 

Never doubt that what you do has an impact. No matter what your job happens to be, it matters to someone. 

It matters to me.

Maybe I will find someone just as good. 

Maybe I won’t. 

I loathe this kind of change so it will be a growing experience regardless but for now, I grieve. She was an artist in the true sense of the word and she will be missed.

The Tipping Point

Buildings in Philadelphia

“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.

“Nah. I’m just going to sit here until the weather passes,” the man said gruffly. He sat down in the corner out of her line of sight.

She shrugged and slid closed the clear glass window to the waiting room. He didn’t look threatening. Rain was pouring down outside. What did it matter if he sat for a few minutes?

He began talking into his phone loudly, clearly agitated about something. Patients looked at each other quizzically, shifting uncomfortably in their seats. They stole furtive glances at him, watching him mutter into the phone pressed against his face. It was impossible to hear exactly what he was saying between the growls.

When is the nurse going to call me back? Please let it be soon.

As he was talking the phone rang loudly. Clearly, he hadn’t been talking to anyone at all….

Then he stood, yelling into the ringing phone, threatening to kill anyone and everyone. As shaky fingers dialed 911, he bolted out of the door and ran across the parking lot never to be found again.

Perhaps I’m a silly dingbat but people behaving like that never would have bothered me in the past, at least not where I would have taken them seriously. 

Now though? We were all shaken up. I find myself wondering what is lying in wait around the corner of every person’s mind. I get nervous at airports and look over my shoulder at large events. Where is the next explosion going to come from? Who will fire the next bullet? Could I have stopped them?

Fear is sexy. Fear sells. Fear drives a wedge, keeping us from reaching out to help others. Fear protects us. Fear hurts us. Fear is necessary and yet it multiplies and it divides us. 

Part of me wants to just stay home, to never go anywhere anymore and then I remind myself that acts of courage are the only way to really combat fear. Anger only feeds fear. So does isolation. 

And so I get onto airplanes and take my kids to places that probably live as targets in someone else’s mind so that at least for me, fear will not win. 

Fatherless

Rose window example, San Antonio

“Can you tell me anything about your father’s medical history?”

“No. I don’t know him.” He shrugged as if it was no big deal but his voice said otherwise. 

Next patient…. 

“What about your father’s medical history?”

She scrunched up her face. “I think he’s still alive? I don’t know for sure. I never knew him.”

Next patient…

“So your mother is alive and has diabetes. Do you know anything about your father?”

“I’m not in contact with him.” The disdain came across loud and clear in her voice. “I hope he’s dead.”

If fathers ever think they don’t matter, they should sit in my seat and listen to the pain they can generate even when they are not there.

‘Tis the Season

Dried flower

There was a time I believed that the longer I was practicing medicine the easier the dying would get. Practice or callous formation, call it what you will. I just thought it would be easier.

That is not the case, though. 

These long standing relationships, the people I see for years and years, are the hardest to part with even when you are expecting it. It still hurts. And with each passing it brings me closer and closer to my own end.

This is the dying season, it seems, those couple of months after the holidays when everyone who was holding on is now ready to let go. 

Everyone but me. 

Not yet, anyway…

Tributary

bright uellow gerber daisy

There are exceptional people you can come across in life if you are lucky, people who make you feel like a better version of you. Smarter. Prettier. Kinder. More patient. 

Not empty flattery. No. They have a knack for finding the gem of you and making you sparkle and shine.

I have been blessed to find a few of these people in my lifetime. Paul Curran was one of those. I looked forward to his comments for that very selfish reason. He made me feel better about me.

I realize that he was a virtual friend, someone I never met, but what I feel now is a very real sense of grief and sadness. Strangely that is made worse by the fact that I can find no obituary, no mark of his passing except for the deafening silence that exists now on my blog and on many others. 

I want to fill up that emptiness. I want to shout out to the world, to his physical friends, to his family: I KNEW PAUL CURRAN. He was my friend. He existed. He was a priceless member of the human race. He touched many lives. He made a difference. He mattered.

Just as I hope someone will say about me when I am gone.

We’ve lost Paul Curran, our master guest columnist and prolific comment-leaver

Whenever I made a post, I could count on Paul to have something to say. Most of the time, his comments were better than my posts. I am going to miss him something fierce. Rest In Peace, my friend.

Mark Bialczak

Those of us who’ve grown to love the lively words that bounced from the head and fingers of Paul Curran will never be the same.

The writer from Canada has died, according to his neighbor Steve Watson.

I received this email on the contact tab from my blog:

With great sadness I have to tell you that Paul Curran has passed away. Paul passed last week.

Our guest blogger, Paul Curran. Our guest blogger, Paul Curran.

Your Barrista -- Paul Curran Your Barrista — Paul Curran

Now Your Barrista – Paul Curran Now Your Barrista – Paul
Curran

A series of the column head shots Paul sent me since 2013 to just a month ago.

I found the email this morning. I arrived yesterday. Steve Watson was listed as the photographer in the If We Were Having Coffee Sunday column Paul had me post here on Sept. 11 after his emergency operation.

I could not find an obituary through search engines.

Paul lived in Ottawa, Ontario…

View original post 518 more words

Say Wat?*

Cambodia 041

So, something that I have noticed is this:

Adopted people seem to often carry around a lot of baggage. 

Sometimes it’s obvious from childhood. There are times, though, they don’t even know it is there until they are all grown up.

I have seen this clinically and personally and throughout the blogging world. Even under the best of circumstances, with the best adoptive parents, there is a profound amount of baggage that accompanies adoption.

Who am I, really?

Where did I come from?

Why did she give me away? Didn’t she love me?

Now, let’s say it is an adoption situation where the child was adopted as a baby but the birth mother died and the father was never known. What would be the best approach? When do you tell the kiddo, who has only known you as a parent, about the death? 

It is easier in some ways to simply avoid the topic altogether, isn’t it? There is that temptation to not say a word about adoption and death, let that child go through life thinking they are 100% yours. Decades ago that might have been possible, but in the advent of DNA testing, these secrets never stay buried. I cannot tell you how many times I have had conversations with devastated patients about the seemingly innocuous DNA test done for fun that uncovered a few half siblings or even different parents. 

I have been thinking about this for some time. Maybe the point is not that there is a “right” way or a “right” time to have that discussion. There is no point in time that would make it all OK and would prevent subsequent life turmoil, so much as simply understanding that life sucks… sometimes it really sucks… and when you cannot make it better you just do your best to support them as they work through it all. Working through the grief and anger and abdandoment issues can be a lifelong process and that is OK.

What are your thoughts?

*This is a wat in Cambodia. A wat is a Buddist temple or monastery.

Passing Away

  

“This time of year, my mother’s birthday, I am always so sad.” She choked up and dabbed at the tears again. “My momma died ten years ago but I still just can’t get over it. We were so close.”

I handed her another box of tissues as she continued crying.

It was a strange mixture of emotions I felt sitting there watching her sob away. I hurt for her and yet at the same time I felt an odd guilt and jealousy that stuck in my throat and filled my mouth with bitterness.

How do people do that, get close to their parents? What would that feel like?

It has been six months since I have last seen her, my mother, despite the fact that we live less than 50 miles away. She hates to talk on the phone so I don’t ever call her. We play Words With Friends every day so there’s that, but I am not even following her on Facebook since I am not on Facebook in the first place.

I wonder how I will feel after she dies?

My mother and I are such different people. It strikes me that I can get along with a wide variety of individuals, mainly because I can give them the benefit of the doubt, open my heart, allow forgiveness. I can do that for a stranger, for someone I have never even met, but I cannot do that for my own mother.

Why?

Why do we judge our family, the people we love, so much more harshly than we judge the rest of the world? 

At this point, I don’t hate my mother. I don’t even dislike her. I simply don’t understand her. Allowing myself to try to understand her hurts too much. I have to take what I have believed about my own childhood and accept that maybe there is another side to things. Understanding her side may invalidate what I have come to believe about myself and about her and that prospect frightens me, as if it would be taking away part of who I am. 

Which then begs the question, who am I anyway and why does any of it matter to me in the first place?

Sometimes it feels even now as if I am a toddler on the verge of throwing tantrum, clinging to their crumbling binkie-blankie because they don’t want to let go of their childhood. 

It is all I know.

I want to ask her why she married my father. I want to ask her why she stayed with him even through his terrible emotional abuse. Did she love him? Does she love him now? Is she proud of me? But I am afraid of the answers. 

Maybe it is none of my business? 

Maybe I just want it to be none of my business? 

So I don’t ask….

Yellowed

yellow painted industrial lights on the Eiffel Tower.

He was rude and ugly and had been since the day I met him for the first time… three days prior. I listened to his symptoms and looked at his jaundiced face and I knew. 

I knew.

The whole visit he was antagonistic, questioning my every move, downright insulting me at times, telling me that I did not know what I was doing. I wanted to yell at him to shut up and be nice, to just let me help him, but I knew that he knew that I knew he was dying. 

Bullying me made him feel as if he still had power. 

“I have your results, sir. They confirm what I suspected.”

“You are a stupid bitch.”

I am so very afraid.

“I know this is not something you want to hear and for that I am sorry. Let me set you up with an oncologist and they will take it from here…”

Threadbare

IMG_3450

I am sneezing and wheezing again as I pull out old Nancy Drew volumes from the shelves and plunk them into a musty cardboard box. 

Why didn’t I bring my asthma inhaler?

The dust hangs heavily all around me, dust that has lain here for decades. It was not how I envisioned spending Easter but my mother had begged me. I squint and blink as I read titles, as much to keep the dust out of my eyes as to keep the tears at bay. There is a reason I have been avoiding it for so long.

This room used to be mine.

I grew up here, shed more tears than I care to remember within these walls. I cried out to God so many times when I just wanted to die. There was no hope left for me here.

Please. Take me away.

There is a different bed but everything else, including the ancient fraying pastel curtains, used to be mine. Now it is called the guest room but no one has ever been brave enough to spend the night here, not since my last night in 1997, the night before I eloped.

I wanted to escape.

“We have three bathrooms but when it rains only one toilet works…” My father thinks it is funny that the toilet overflowed on a high school friend of mine. He likes to tell the story over and over again. I don’t remember it, truthfully, but why argue? He will not remember next time I come.

The walls of an ancient box are crumbling down around my old drawings. “You used to be so artistic,” my mother says wistfully as I stuff sheafs of paper into a new box. My kids might get a good laugh out of them now. They are truly awful…

No more crying. Not here. Not in this room. Not now. This is not me anymore, is it?

Old stuffed animals are still strewn about, untouched except by the unrelenting hands of time. My precious giant pink hippo that I bought from the Goodwill store with money from hours and hours of pulling weeds in the garden in 100 degree heat now has a giant hole that stuffing is pouring out of. How does that happen when you are not looking? The threads that hold you to your childhood just decay away.

“Maybe you can sew up the hole?” my mother says.

“It’s, OK. Just throw them all out…” I try to act as if I don’t care.

There are holes in the walls from pipe work done when I was a teenager. They wanted to keep the holes in case they needed more work done on the plumbing at some point, work that was never needed. I covered up the holes with posters of an F-16 fighter jet and Faberge eggs.

Plugging the holes with strength and beauty. I understand it now.

Out the window I can see the lawn hasn’t been mowed in months and the grass now stands knee high due to the early spring. My father says he is afraid to mow when there is any wind because the clippings might land in neighboring yards and upset someone. Not that anyone has ever complained about clippings. They will complain about the unsightly yard soon enough, I bet. He shouldn’t be mowing anyway, though.

Financially they are in a great place now. They could pay to have all of this fixed. Hell, they could demolish everything and build anew three times over. But they won’t. Instead, my mother complains about the lettering on her Pyrex measuring cup wearing off too soon. She has had it since I was a child.

“How much do they cost? And how long should one last, anyway, mother? Just buy a new one!”

This place is a mausoleum. When I am away I can choose to remember how I want to remember, what I want to remember. Here, the memories are forced upon me whether I want them or not. 

I will not do this to my children. I will redecorate their rooms as soon as they leave for college.

I know I should visit more often but when I go, the place fills me with grief. I still want to run away, to save myself. I still want to escape that little girl’s despair. And yet…. I think the thread is unraveling bit by bit. The hold is getting weaker, I can feel it. 

Someday, this place will no longer exist for me.