Monday, January 22, 2007

smiling through tears

Today I met 'Marcia'. Marcia used to come to see another doctor in the surgery where I work, until the other doctor recently moved away. Marcia wanted this and that checked; she wanted to ask a few questions. Everything checked out fine, and it seemed the consultation was drawing to a close. Then I noticed a few words in the history section of her chart

'son killed in MVA'

(for those not familiar with the acronym, 'MVA' is short for motor vehicle accident)

If there is one thing, above all else, that makes my heart sink in my chest, it is hearing of the death of a child. Losing a daughter or son is every parent's greatest fear. From the moment our first baby is born, we begin to understand the possibility of staggering loss; we know that with the loss of a child we would unravel, unravel, disintegrate. We know we would somehow have to put ourselves back together again, and we would always bear the scars. Some of you would probably say from personal experience that there is no greater pain. I cannot imagine a more enduring pain.

So when I saw these few words on the screen in front of me, I asked Marcia about her son. I asked how she was coping.

Marcia's eyes began to glisten, but no tears spilled out. She began to talk about her boy, the boy she lost six years ago. She told me that many days she remembered him fondly, and smiled at funny memories. Many days she worked and ate and slept without effort. But there were other days where her grief slapped her in the face and left her breathless, as if to remind her that she would never be free of it. Marcia's voice shook a little as she explained this all to me.

After a moment, Marcia sat up straighter, and smiled.

"I'm really lucky, though. My family and friends have been incredible".

"Oh yes?" I inquired.

"Yes. They still talk about Bobby, and they remember important dates. Like the anniversary of his death, they will send me an e-mail, a text message, or just pop their head into my office and say 'Crappy day, Marsh?' It helps to know they remember. He's not forgotten."

Marcia paused for a minute, thoughtfully. "I mean, obviously I'll never forget Bobby. But it helps to know that my friends and family won't either."

After Marcia left, I couldn't stop thinking about her story. I was impressed by her resilience, and her positive attitude. I couldn't begin to comprehend what she had suffered. But even more than this, I was amazed to think of the kindness and goodness of these people around Marcia - these wonderful souls who take care to remember her boy's birthday, the anniversary of his death, and the memories of him that his mother holds as dear to her as any living love. Six years after Bobby's death, they take the trouble to honour a boy who died, because they know how his mother loved him so.

I know this story is sad, but I think it's happy, too. Because although terrible things happen, there are some mighty fine people in this world. And that can make all the difference.


Anonymous said...

When I worked I sometimes had the task of telling families that their loved ones had died. Nothing is worse than telling a parent. It is like "punching them in the stomach." Most people double over with the pain. The horror of a pain that will never go away. Let's put our thoughts & arms around those parents.

Heather said...

Friends are the family we choose for ourselves. That's why I choose mine so carefully and you're among them.

I can't imagine losing a child. You were very kind to ask about Marcia's son. I am sure many people avoid the subject for the simple reason of not knowing what to say.

Motherkitty said...

I could feel Marcia's pain all the way through to my computer. As a mother and grandmother, I just can't imagine how she must feel to bear this burden and will carry it through to the end of her life. Mothers are not supposed to outlive their children, as we all know.

What a kind and decent, albeit heartbreaking, story you have brought to us, your faithful readers. It gives us hope that there are still decent, caring, remembering people out there in the vast world.

Anonymous said...

I cannot fathom that feeling, either. One of our neighbors recently lost a 19-year-old daughter, very sad indeed. It is good that your patient's friends and family help her with their remembrances. I imagine that most folks would go out of their way to not mention her loss, so as to avoid an emotional scene. She is lucky to have such a support group.

T. said...

Can't comment on this, Jelly. It is just too raw.

And you've made me cry, damnit.

But she is right, having people remember is the only thing that helps lessen the pain. Even just a bit.

shellyC said...

I am sure Marcia appreciates that now another person cares about her and how she is coping with the loss of her son.

I cannot think of anything worse than losing one of my children.

Val said...

We've just had houseguests from Queensland. One is my husband's cousin, and nearly two years ago this cousin lost a sister to cancer at the age of 44. Their mother is now helping the widower raise the two children. As someone who has not suffered such a tragedy, it is difficult to know what to say, and I noted that both the cousin and his wife brought up A's name a few times in conversation. After reading your post I now intend to send them my love on her anniversaries, to show her memory is alive in this part of the family too.

Remiman said...

You are a kind and compassionate person/doctor. You take time with your pts. and empathise with them from your heart. I want to refrain from sounding mushy, so suffice it to say, I think you are the best.

There is no greater loss, none what-so-ever, than the lose of ones child.
There is no greater joy than the love of true friendship.
Thank you for sharing this story with us.

Anonymous said...

once as a young girl I volunteered at a nursing home. I often helped a certain man play bingo. One day he died. After that I found it hard to go there.

Anonymous said...

First time reader of your blog. Thank you so much for a kind, loving, yet sad post. I am a mother of 3 little ones, and I don't want to think about losing one of my children, although us parents think of such things all too often.

Thank you for being such a thoughtful person. You are a blessing to your friends and patients - you need to know that.

I'm looking forward to reading more...

jellyhead said...

Hi mamalee,

Welcome to my blog! I'm glad you liked the story, and thanks for the sweet things you said!


mackeydoodle said...

That is a beautiful story Jelly. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Lovely caring post, as ever.
We lost my stepdaughter in a motorcycle accident. The scars never heal, but it does help to talk about her, -somehow it eases the pressure in the dam of grief.

Mimi said...

Very touching and good for you to ask her about her beloved son. Too many are afraid to discuss someone who has died. Just tonight I ate dinner at church with someone whose husband recently died and she wanted to talk about him so I did while others at the table became silent even though she was the one who brought him up.


Alice said...

Such a moving story, Jelly. It reminded us that by keeping silent about a loved one who has died, we are in effect, letting them die twice. They have already died physically, but to avoid talking about them is to deny that they ever lived.

How hard it must be for grieving family members not to be able to relive the good times and keep those wonderful memories alive, if others keep quiet for fear of hurting them.

Thank you so much for this thought provoking and touching post. You really are one of the most caring people I know of.