Monday, February 11, 2013

The Year Without Mom

This is the story of how studying neurology in med school ate my blog/life for a month. Sounds like an ironic continuation of the past four years, right? Post-midterm and weeks of subzero temps, I am back and ready to toss my daily uniform of puffy coat and shapeless clothing (I'm looking at you, scrubs jumpsuit). With the absence of wanting to dress up and take photos or having anywhere to go but the library, my blogger-induced self confidence has also shriveled quite a bit.

Catching you up to speed on what the heck happened in January:
[ 1 ] I went on a ski trip! It was my first time skiing ever and I even gave snowboarding a wobbly try. Needless to say my butt and knees have the bruises and bragging rights to tell the tale.
[ 2 ] Medschool: I shadowed in labor and deliver and saw a C-section surgery and natural birth. I appreciate mothers on a whole different level now. My brain feels meta about learning everything about all its own wrinkles, clusters, and highways.
[ 3 ] Food food food food food: how 'bout that Cinnamon Bun Cheesecake with a perfectly smooth caramel macchiato? Or tub-fuls of Columbus grown Jeni's gourmet ice cream? My favourite has to be sweet potato & toasted marshmallows, the epitome of holiday joy to taste buds. Featured above is a trio of riesling white pear sorbet, blackcurrant yogurt, and lavendar.
Finally, today is the anniversary of my Mom's passing. This year has stretched on for eons and a lot of it still feels like a distant nightmare, too far from reality to keep it from slipping like sand between my fingers. I have done a lot of crying, a lot of pitying, a lot of writing, but not a whole lot of sharing.

Things are not the same when I go home because there is a huge void where her joy and radiance filled our family. But her strength and spirit follow me everywhere, but it took me forever to realize it and believe it. After a year of feeling like I was leaving her behind - all of us going through a birthday without her, graduating, traveling around the world having new experiences, the day of her birthday, a painful holiday season, and now February 11th - after 365 long days I have started to let go of the heartache of her earthly memory and heal through feeling closer to her spirit. Most importantly, finally I stopped pitying myself.

It is ironic because the first couple of weeks after she passed, I felt the most strong and clear-minded, embodying my Mom's spirit and energy. I continued to study and move forward, helping others try to understand their struggles. Then the wave of other feelings inundated the brief optimism and I was sad, angry, apathetic, depressed, these words not even encapsulating what kinds of hurt spun around on a carousel and broke me down. I chose to barrel on forward and continue the daily grind - studying, working, blogging and running away from the ugly reality, only to crack when under inopportune stressful times. Med school started and it is not easy for anyone, and even more challenging with a heavy burden on my heart and not knowing how to broach the topic with the people around me. I was mad when friends didn't know how to react and help me grieve, my standards for my classmates' behavior skyrocketed, I was indignant at every person who ever joked about cancer or expressed indifference or hatred for their parents. Every word was a lance, each silent second was a stab.

In my letter to med schools across the country, I said my reasons for wanting to become a doctor stemmed from wanting to heal my mother. While everyone was in on the fact that I could not save her, I felt robbed of the chance to try. With her gone from this life, a lot of that motivation and meaning sapped away and it was easy to lose sight of why I am really here for the past five months. I know what my Mom wants out of her caretakers. I know that I did not need a didactic lecturing from the team who was trying to explain why it was time to let go. I needed someone in a white coat or scrubs to give me a deep, big hug and show some emotion. I needed them to stop talking about her death in front of her as if she could not hear them while lying comatose.

This is why I'm here. Because in every patient I see a hint of my Mom. Because I could not suppress the tears when Christmas caroling at the cancer outpatient center and saw her in each of their faces. Because I refuse to become jaded and give up my empathy to protect myself from feeling their pain. After a year of asking how God can let good people suffer, I turned around and faced Him. We are not given challenges in life that are too big to be overcome, and we are tested until we are strong and worthy. My Mom is smiling over all of us and we are given the challenge to be as amazing and kind as her.
It still sucks, and it still hurts and this pain doesn't simply evaporate with patience and sunshine. I miss her beyond what words and tears can express; there will be events in the future where I wish she could be there. I cry not because I want this to be undone, because asking her to live one more day in that broken cancer-ridden body would be cruel, the opposite of love.

A reader shared this with me a year ago, and it is a very telling piece by Mary Elizabeth Frye. She is in the sunset above the clouds at Haleakala, she is in the flowers that triumph over the ground. She is in the snow, the stars, and she has left but a white pearly shell by the salty waves that lap up to reclaim her.
This piece by Louise Gluck my poetry prof shared. It is beautiful and captures my idea of the transition into a different life. Thank you Sharon for helping me brave through these inexpressible moments. And I thank every one of you for offering me a hug, staying up late to cry with me, broaching the subject when I didn't know how to, listening even when you didn't know how to respond. Dad, Eric, and Lucky - you are strong men and even stronger family. In no way could I have gotten through this year alone, not without you, my family, and in a big way, not without Mom. 

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater. 

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