Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Progressing Grief

Curtis returning to evening work in the midst of janitor carts and empty hallways...

It is a funny thing, starting a week with all the wonder and possibility of a fresh piece of paper and finishing it only to see that is dark and deep and full of emotions you might not have anticipated. This past week, in many ways, turned out to be a week of loss.

It started small, small in body anyway, with a friend that lost the hope of a child with an ended pregnancy. Those types of loss are difficult because they are intangible. They are losses that come silently, invisibly, slipping in and taking something precious--while no one else notices. While that type of grief comes quietly, it is certainly no easier and perhaps the anonymity that can accompany such a loss is even more stifling. The loss, after all, doesn't receive the same measure of note.

Contrast that silent passing with a plane crash that happened two days later. I knew no one aboard the plane, and yet four people still died. Four people that thought they were going to head home from a normal day of training passed away--just like that. I received an e-mail from a friend who flies that same aircraft the night it happened, a friend who knew every passed member on the plane, a friend who might have been on that plane on a different day at a different time. And I was struck by how such an anonymous crash could have easily been devastating.

And then two days later beyond that I received a phone call from a good friend in Ohio whose father has been diagnosed with cancer. It is aggressive, though it has not spread to other areas in his body. And while decisions are made about treatment and options we wait for news of how far it has spread, for information about the benefit of treatment, for estimations of life and death.

And then with two days more there was a memorial service. Yet again I had no personal connection to the individual, and yet knew several people deeply wounded by the untimely death. Even though I wasn't grieving someone I knew personally, I ached for those experiencing the fresh loss, for the hurdles they were already facing in light of the absence, for the waves of grief they would face this week, and next month, and for years beyond this one.

Because grief doesn't go away quickly, it ebbs and flows like waves on the water--which sometimes roll softly, and other times crash with a fierce vengeance.


I met Curtis for dinner on Saturday night in the midst of one of his thirty hour shifts
. These mid-shift dinners have become a highlight for me, sometimes offering more time for conversation than we get in the brief window of time we find between when he gets home from work and when he heads to bed on a normal working day.

The chief resident joined us after a while with her dinner and when talk came to duties for the evening she and Curtis ended up discussing the difficulties of letting patients go. The chief is currently facing losing two children, both less than two years old, both born with deficiencies and handicaps that prevent them from ever living apart from tubes and machines...and the time has come for them to die. Adding yet another machine or tube or man-made device to their life does not make sense at this point, and yet she finds herself crying over their broken bodies. "I know it is their time to die" she shared with tears in her eyes as we sat amidst yogurt cups and sushi containers. Life will be better for them beyond this broken world in which we live, and yet it is so painful to let our loved ones pass beyond our grasp--through tragedy, or illness, or any other means.

After a while Curtis and I wandered the hallways of the hospital, cherishing coveted time for quiet conversation, reflecting on the many calamities of the week. And just like that an alarm came over the loud speaker, announcing a code blue for a specific room number. And with barely a goodbye, Curtis took off down the hallway first briskly walking, then running, then disappearing down a staircase to respond to the announcement. Someone, somewhere was dying. And he needed to be there to offer what he may to the situation.

I quietly walked to the nearest elevator, and made my way through the maze of hallways to my vehicle in the parking garage, and silently drove home. Death is all around us, sometimes in ways that are visible and present, sometimes in places that are near and painful, sometimes in a distant thought brought to mind by a familiar smell or song that freshens a memory of times past. And yet, life continues in spite of the grief and loss, insisting that we continue our journeys--journeys that are very much in progress.

For even in a week steeped in loss, there is life to be found, hope in what has been preserved, and redemption to be anticipated when all is eventually finished. Redemption which can comfort us in our brokenness as we are surrounded in the grief of loss.

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