Tuesday, September 16, 2014

It Hurts

Around age 6 or 7, I was solemnly walked into the CCU to say goodbye to my father, after his massive heart attack at age 40-something. He went on to live into his 60's (albeit gaining a literal new heart along the way), against the odds. When I was 10, I came home one day from school and could not get into the locked and dark house. I was furious, and when my folks came home, finally, I let them know in no uncertain terms. Turns out Mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer that day, and I still feel guilty for being such a brat.

Both my folks made it into their 60's, against the odds. I feel sorry that they died so young, but happy I had them as long as I did. Sorry they had to be sick, but happy our family grew closer in the process. Sorry I have such anticipatory grief, like Jiminy Cricket on my shoulder every second of the day, telling me to beware of the inevitable loss of all I love. But happy that I know just how important it is to notice life. In fact, my largest irritation with people over the years is how they take the beauty and impermanence for granted, and find so much negative to focus upon. Teenagers are fairly expert at this,  which is highly annoying, but I too was a teenager once. It hurts.

Anyone who knows me knows I do two things when I hurt. I write, and I run. Ironically, when I run, I sometimes hurt more than I did before I was running, but it is a different kind of hurt. When I had my angst-ridden moments as a child and preteen, I often burst out the front door and went running down the street. It was dramatically therapeutic, histrionically healing.

Today, when the call came that Matt had died, I felt trapped. I had 14 minutes to get my shit together to lead a family conference at work. I was trying to field questions about medications and I was just about to renew my ACP membership. I mean, I was pulling out my credit card to renew my ACP membership when I got this call that my friend and colleague and partner and sometimes irritator of 12 years was dead! I shoved my glasses on my head and cried like a stupid baby, then could not find my glasses. I called my husband. I called my friend who knows about death. My medical assistant asked what she could do. I wiped my snotty nose and went to run a family conference.

Several weeks ago, I spoke to Matt and explicitly told him I was concerned about his health, given the stress of his job. He was too, but this guy had elected to take on a monstrous task: the well being of a medical staff in a very broken world, the well being of patients with unfathomable needs, the well being of a budget that is geared toward some alternate universe.

I was thinking today: is it written on our DNA somewhere when we die? I mean, does it matter what we do or is it all just fate? As a physician, I must believe it matters, at least somewhat. But I watched my grandmother eat red meat and butter and live a life on the plump side, and she fell into her final sleep on the couch at nearly 100 years of age. I watched my mother live a life of healthy food and exercise, and she gets her ass kicked at age 42 with the big C.

What matters?
Kindness. Compassion. Love.

Jiminy Cricket would say: do not take it for granted.


  1. thank you Jen for sharing your grief and wisdom. There was a phrase you wrote several months ago which has stuck with me and I silently repeat often: Bear witness. I will now add your Jiminy Cricket's saying too. Live on girl you are awesome!

  2. The date of our last breath is a profound mystery, regardless of lifestyle. Thank you for sharing its powerful, personal impact.