Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Changing seasons

Clark and I are in a good routine these days. He loves his new preschool and is making friends, telling me all about the things he learns there - what a chrysalis is, why leaves fall off trees, how he and his friends were pretending to be circus elephants. Most mornings he sits on the kitchen counter and makes hot chocolate (with my help) while I pack our lunches. His staples are rice and beans, steamed or roasted broccoli, string cheese, and three raspberries. (His favorite number is three, because he's three years old, and he always makes sure that we stock up on raspberries when we go to the grocery store.) He had a string of tantrums last week, which was exhausting for both of us, but it pushed me to set clearer boundaries and be more organized about bedtime and breakfast time, which was really good for both of us.

My news is that I'm dating someone! I've been thinking a lot about how to announce this. It's important for me to be open and honest about my widowhood, but writing about grief and sadness feels a lot more socially acceptable than writing about looking for new love. But as I've shared this news with people close to me, I've received only support, no judgment, which makes me a little braver in writing about it here.

I've been going on first dates for a little while now, which in itself has been a really nice break from being a student and a parent - a chance to meet new people and talk about things besides exams and construction vehicles. First dates are a nice escape, but they were starting to feel futile. And then I met Mike. During our first date, we connected in a way that surprised both of us. Since then, I've been enjoying the happy butterflies of a new relationship, the pleasures of having a sweetheart and of being someone's sweetheart. He buys me flowers and cooks me dinner, and he embraces the not-so-easy parts about my life, like my grief and my commitment to medicine and my son. Just as I was getting comfortable (?!) doing the single-mom thing and envisioning my life as such, this relationship came along and reminds me that maybe I will remarry, and maybe Clark will grow up with a dad - things I've thought about all along, but up until now were pretty abstract.

This relationship is still very young, but it's pushing my grief along in a new way. I have to remind myself that I will always have Scott and that forging a new commitment is not betraying him. That Clark will always have a connection to him. That I am not leaving Scott behind when I am excited for the future.

As always, thank you for reading. This space always helps me to articulate things I'm muddling through, and I'm grateful for people willing to listen. Much love.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Five years since our marriage, two years since his diagnosis, and Clark's first day of school

This Labor Day weekend marked what would have been our fifth wedding anniversary. There was some heartache, especially seeing so many other two-parent families out doing things together. Clark and I had a good weekend - a trip to the zoo on Saturday, a picnic on the Presidio on Sunday, Golden Gate Park and the Cal Academy science museum on Monday. We had gorgeous weather and lots of good time with our neighbors, but still there was that sense of loss for what life would have been like if Scott were here. This is a dangerous game to play, because the hypothetical life I imagine is always an idealized version, leaving real life - even so lovely a weekend as this one - pale by comparison. So I am mindful of the beauty of this life, and within that, I miss him. I miss his joy, his ability to see the big picture, his way with Clark.

I had two very cool conversations with Clark about Scott last week. On Wednesday morning, Clark and I were cuddling on the couch, right after he woke up, and he asked me where his dad was. We talked about it for a little while, my vague answers not satisfying his questions. Eventually, I said, "Clark, is there anything you want to tell your dad?"
"Yes." said Clark. "His head."
"His head? What about his head?"
"Inside his head."
I realized that Scott had his surgery on that day exactly two years ago, performed by a neurosurgeon and a head-and-neck surgeon, to remove the tumor. I don't remember talking to Clark about his dad's surgery at all - it certainly hasn't been part of our narrative over the past year. The following day, Thursday, as we were going to sleep, Clark started talking about a booger in his nose (like three-year-olds do), and then started talking about how the booger came from "something that died... deep inside my nose." It really felt like a reference to Scott's sinonasal tumor, even though - to my memory - we only ever discussed Scott's cancer in very general terms ("a very bad disease that made his body stop working").  I truly believe that Clark and Scott have a connection. I don't expect Clark to remember much, if anything, about his dad, because he was so young when he died. There are stories and photos to help fill in the gap, but maybe this connection will endure. If nothing else, I'm really glad that I'll be able to tell Clark that he had this link to his dad.

I made it through my surgery rotation. It wasn't as tough as I feared, but I'm glad to be on the other side. I was getting pretty run down toward the end, for a variety of reasons: 12-hour days working in a field I'm not interested in, less-than-perfect team dynamics, two headcolds, not a lot of time with Clark, not a lot of time to exercise, not a lot of time for quiet introverted recharging time. No time to write a blog post, and even if I had found time, I'm not sure I would have known what to write - these posts are usually the result of a few days' or a week's worth of introspection and incubation, until eventually things percolate to the surface and I find time to articulate them. I felt like I didn't have time (or energy) to pay attention to what I was incubating. I was definitely experiencing sadness about Scott - some of it triggered by things in the hospital, some triggered by pretty random events - but somehow it felt like the byproduct of stressors than like "real" authentic grief. But I made it through the rotation and have learned some things about surgery and teams and myself. A huge thank-you to to my classmates, who were always ready to listen and hug, and a huge thank-you to my parents and parents-in-law, my sister Margaret and my Wellesley sister Kate for taking such good care of Clark and I over the course of the eight weeks. I wouldn't be able to do this if it weren't for such a profoundly supportive village.

Now I am one week into my psychiatry rotation and am thoroughly enjoying the change from surgery, as well as the service itself. Today is Clark's first day at his new preschool, which he and I have been anticipating for weeks. One of his teachers called today just to let me know he was having a good first day - I wasn't worried, but I was glad for the reassurance.