Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Presence & Absence

I was thinking about presence and absence a lot last week and have been composing this post in my head in fits and starts. I was hoping to tie things together, but I think it's just going to have to be an "odds and ends" kind of post.

Scott's memorial service was a week ago Saturday, and it went beautifully. Scott was remembered in many ways by many people. I spent the day surrounded by our community, sharing hugs, catching up. I was reminded, again, of the power of physical presence, the importance of simply showing up. It was beautiful to have so many people together in time and space, our energy focused. (I know that many people wanted to be there and couldn't, and that many were carrying Scott in their hearts that day; in writing this, I certainly don't mean to draw a contrast between who came and who didn't, and I certainly do appreciate the love sent from afar.) Thinking later about Scott's absence in the midst of this party thrown especially for him, I was struck that any one of the people who came might not have been there, for any number of reasons, including illness and death. It made me stop and acknowledge - honor - their presences. I kept having this this urge to to always be conscious of the presences of others, but that state of mind is really hard to maintain. It's easy to get swept back into the rigors and rituals of everyday life, egocentric living.

I spent Saturday evening with the Amherst/Delafield crew. It was wonderful to see all of them, to have that community together in body and in spirit... except that one body was missing. We had a big group hug as I was leaving, and I wanted so badly for Scott to be there. Peter suggested that he was right there in the middle of our circle, dancing. His absence felt almost tangible enough to be called a presence, the way our memories of him filled the space we encircled. Still.

On Sunday we drove to Ogunquit, Maine, where Scott's Grandma June has a house. I've been joining the McNivens there for maybe eight years now, but this was my first time without Scott. The first day was hard. I woke up at 4:30 and couldn't get back to sleep, so I took a sunrise walk on the beach. It opened up space to grieve. I do my best crying alone, and the beach is virtually deserted at 5am.

A strong Minnesota contingent - my parents and sister, five aunts and uncles, and five cousins - came to the memorial, and most of them came up to Grandma June's house in Ogunquit, Maine afterwards. I was grateful for their presence. It meant a lot that they made the trip out (again, the power of simply showing up), and it was really great to get to introduce them to Ogunquit: the beach, the tides, the seafood, the porch. Besides that, it was wonderful to just be on vacation with them and to have so much relaxed time, rather than quick catch-ups over Christmas dinner. I'll remember this vacation with them fondly.

Previous years, I've been able to relax pretty instantly upon arrival in Ogunquit, but this year it took me a while. My brain was buzzing with post-exam stress (I'm not confident that I passed Step 1), post-memorial exhaustion, a good dose of anxiety about my upcoming surgery rotation and about third year in general. Walks and talks with family and friends helped. Yoga helped. Naming it helped. Playing with Clark at the beach helped.

Clark and I are flying home to San Francisco as I write. I feel like I've been gone much longer than a week. A few more days in Maine would have been nice, but it will be good to get home and regroup, to get ready to launch into third year, to see my classmates again. I'll try to hold on to some of the slowness for a little while longer.

Saturday, June 07, 2014


Today marks six months since Scott died, but it feels like it's been much, much longer. Clark and I are having pancakes this morning, in memory of the many lazy mornings making and eating pancakes at Delafield - sometimes with dozens of friends, sometimes just Scott and I and an hours-long game of Scrabble.

I was studying in the library yesterday when I realized that it's been almost exactly a year since we learned that the cancer had spread to his lungs. That day feels more immediate somehow than the day he died. I remember receiving the news from his oncologist, the word "incurable." We went out for coffee - it was bitter - and for a walk through Golden Gate Park. Certain parts of our route that day still echo for me with a memory of the weight in my limbs, the feeling that the ground had dropped out from under us.

Yesterday as I was leaving the library for lunch, I saw someone who looked just like Scott, sitting where Scott would always meet me for lunch dates. I had to look again, to convince myself it wasn't really him. It was crushing, enough to make me stop studying for the day and find a friend to help shoulder the burden. I got to talk and cry, and I got exercise and sunshine and a change of scenery, a sense of being brought back to the present. Good medicine.

Scott's spirit is strong here this morning. Truly his father's son, Clark asked for rooster sauce on his pancakes.