Tuesday, January 07, 2014

A month out, and trying to make a major decision

One month. My thoughts are on his memorial service and on where I'll be 6 months from now.

On Saturday we sat down to discuss the details of Scott's memorial service. The friend who is helping us (and who will be officiating) was wonderful - comforting, steady, had a good grasp of what we are aiming for. The service is going to be lovely. I'm still struggling with what I'll say, but I'll get there.

Clark's daycare provider mentioned to me that Clark seems different since we've been back - happier, nicer to the other kids.

School continues to be good for me, I've had a few rough moments at school. I had anatomy lab on Monday morning. I got through nearly the entire lab just fine, but as we were cleaning up, I started thinking about Scott's body having been donated to the UCSF Willed Body Program (the program that supplies cadavers for our anatomy lab and for other research). I had already been missing Scott on the walk to school that morning, and making the connection triggered a wave of sadness. I'm not sad that Scott donated his body (I'm proud of him, and so grateful). I guess I'm sad that his body is a cadaver now, so absolutely lifeless. Amid the tears, I soon found myself engulfed by hugs from classmates and comforted by hot tea and dark chocolate.

Another small bit of grief this morning, following lectures on fertility. Since chemo made him infertile, Scott and I briefly considered intrauterine insemination as a way to get pregnant last spring, before we learned about his lung metastases. The doctor we met with last spring was one of our lecturers this morning. Listening to him speak didn't sting as much as I anticipated, but there's still a dull ache from knowing that Scott and I can't get pregnant again, from the knowledge that I probably won't ever get to be pregnant and give birth again. We're in the "Life Cycle" block now, so there will be a lot more coming up about pregnancy and babies. It's certainly not as intense as the last block (which was all about cancer), but not quite the escape that school used to be.

My major struggle, though, is in trying to decide whether or not to transfer to the University of Minnesota for the last two years of medical school. It's something I've been considering for a while, but now that I'm faced with needing to make a decision (and the decision must be made in the next week or so), it's gut-wrenching. Having family support from my parents and siblings in Minnesota would be amazing, but thinking of saying goodbye to my family here - classmates, faculty, neighbors - is so hard.

In the midst of this, I found myself thinking of a short essay by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, one of my teachers here, and a source of great inspiration. (She founded a course for medical students called The Healer's Art. Read about it here: NYT article.)

I've been thinking a lot lately about the fact that I don't know where my life is leading me. There are twists I can't see coming. I can plan, but I can't control.

This is called "Promises, Promises" from Dr. Remen's book My Grandfather's Blessings
It is possible to befriend uncertainty, to remind yourself and others of the fluid, ever-changing nature of things. To remain awake to all possibility.
Like many Orthodox Jews, my grandfather never made an appointment or spoke of any event in the future without adding the words "God willing." It is is actually a teaching of Orthodox Judaism that one does not make any promise without this tip of the hat to the authority of God. So whether someone said "I'll see you next Tuesday," or "We will have dinner in an hour," Grandpa would invariably respond, "God willing." God might, after all, end the world sometime between now and the chicken soup. There was never any fear in his voice when he said this, just a simple reminding of himself and those around him of the nature of things.
Life required us to hold things loosely, not to be attached to a particular outcome. The lunch appointment, the pot roast, the graduation, or the marriage - all were in God's hands. To be alive was to wait for the will of God to reveal itself. And one waited with curiosity. A sense of adventure. Much in the way you read a detective story at bedtime, struggling to stay awake in order to discover what is true, to see how things will turn out.
If the fulfillment of every promise or plan rests on God's approval, then God's hand is hidden in everything that happens. According to my grandfather, all tragedy or blessing was a part of some unknowable and dynamic purpose. One might not always get one's own way, but one trusted the Way absolutely. At any given time, the will of God might be unknown, but the presence of God was certain and was the only certainty anyone needed in order to live.
These days, my appointment calendar has places for entries three years ahead. There is a certain hubris in this, and, even as I write my commitments down, I remember this other way of living. I exchange letters of confirmation, I make plans, I even buy plane tickets, but deep inside I hold these things loosely. Lightly. I make my promises, and then I wait to find out. In my heart, I still hear my grandfather say, "God willing."


marian said...

I have a friend who was working building roads in Iraq when her vehicle was blown up by an IED. She often says "Inshallah" when voicing any kind of future plan.

My motto for a long time was "What what life wants. Trust what life brings you." It's not a passive state by any means, but more a feeling of being open and trusting. A state of listening. Avoiding attachment (trying, anyway) to any particular outcome, as your teacher says.

Thank you for sharing your journey in such a beautiful way. Glad to hear that Clark seems to be doing well.

Nigel said...

Dear Libby,
I'm so glad to hear the report from Clark's teacher. I understand that you have thoughts of what to say at Scott's upcoming ceremony, but just wanted to remind you of how much you have already said, and how much momentum you have generated. I hope this let's you be OK with simply saying what is in your heart. Lastly, you are an expert at crossing thresholds. At each step is is possible to stop and be comfortable for a time. For everything what we are sure of, there is infinitely more that we do not know. And the first step to crossing thresholds always involves embracing the unknown.
Always in admiration of your courage, and sending lots of love!

Anonymous said...

You are an incredible source of inspiration for so many people, including myself. You didn't ask to be in this position, and I'm absolutely certain you would have preferred a quiet, Groundhog Day-style life with Scott and Clark rather than writing about your family's struggles with cancer. But I also bet you wouldn't have traded your life with any other person in the universe - not only because you had the love of your life walk beside you for who-cares-how-long (try not to count), but because your sweet natured personality would never have wanted anybody to travel the difficult road you and Scott have had to.
Your difficult journey has been followed by so many people, and I, for one, have witnessed an inspirational wife and mom lift all of us up, even in her toughest moments. Even Jackie Kennedy would be forever moved by your classiness and courage.
Cry when you need to -- by God you deserve it. Laugh when you want to -- it's part of what makes you who you are! And allow others to help lift you up these days - it will give everyone a chance to pay you back for all you have shared with us while making this journey.
You're always in our prayers,
Kisska & Chris