Monday, April 27, 2015

Plate tectonics

Clark has been interested in earthquakes lately, trying to understand the massive power of an earthquake as well as the concept of plates moving below us all the time. I've been thinking of it as a metaphor for my grief. There haven't been any major upheavals lately, more an awareness that things continue to move and rearrange themselves under the surface. Scott's death was a 9.0 on the Richter scale, a simultaneous disaster and a reliever of tectonic stress. There are aftershocks, of course, diminishing in frequency and intensity, but still disruptive that continue to subtly transform my landscape.

During my most recent rotation, I worked at the hospital where Scott had most of his oncology appointments. I had one or two moments of sadness, but more often just a certain hypersensitivity about being there. Walking through the front doors brought memories about particular appointments and events that happened there: not the big turning points, rather the mundane follow-ups. I found myself looking at patients and families, wondering how they were dealing with their cancer diagnoses, the hills and valleys of their journeys.

I've been spring cleaning, sorting through closets and donating or discarding things that don't belong here anymore.  Some things are easy - clothes I'll never wear, books I've outgrown.* Going through Scott's things is harder. What to do with his CD collection? I never fully appreciated his taste in music, so I'd be just as happy to donate it and let it bring joy to someone else. But will Clark find some meaning or connection in it 10 years from now? (And, will there be a practical way to play CDs 10 years from now, or should I just keep a list of the artists and albums so Clark and I can track them down and listen to them later?) What about his books, his photos? His wedding suit?

We celebrated Clark's fourth birthday this month and marveled at how much he's grown in a year. He's becoming literate and numerate, always thinking about phonics and sums. He's passionate about outer space. He rattles off the eight planets, constructs all kinds of rockets and shuttles from household materials, asks about nebulae, draws constellations. All of this new since Scott left.

Last week was Scott's birthday, and I found myself wondering what his life would have been like had he turned 38. I grieved for the lost connections and relationships. He had been hoping to collaborate with researchers at UCSF to continue his work in Uganda, and who knows what other relationships and opportunities would have sprouted. Who knows what adventures and experiments and mischief he and Clark would have found for themselves. Who knows how our marriage would have grown. Fruitless questions.

I remind myself that I am still in relationship with him. I had a dream in which he got me out of an embarrassing bind. It was the first time I'd seen Scott in a dream, and it was both jarring (Where did you come from?) and extremely comforting. The dream came at the end of a stressful rotation, during which I'd neglected to meditate or to (consciously) draw on my spiritual resources in any way. Scott's dream-presence felt like a reminder that I can (and should) tap into that greater power of God-Goodness-the Universe for strength and support.

I'm nearly done with my third year of medical school, which is a notoriously difficult year. I was talking to my therapist about what a struggle it's been, how I don't feel like my brain even works the way it used to. He commented that burnout is a common (nearly universal) phenomenon during third year, and that I was probably burned out before I even started the year. It was a revelation; though I'm living a transformed life, it's surprisingly easy to forget the trauma. It's a relief to be on the other side of third year now, but I'm still anxious about everything required of me during fourth year - sub-internships, Step 2 board exams, residency applications and interviews. I'm pretty sure that if I've made it this far, I can get through one more year. But I've been thinking about how to go into with the mindset of thriving, rather than just surviving.** I certainly feel more stable. Mike and I continue to have a strong, committed relationship. I feel less and less like a single parent. My grief is quieter, less intrusive. The tectonic plates are still moving, and we're all still moving forward, adjusting, helping each other up and forward.

* I give credit to the strange but good The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.
** I've been inspired by The Art of Possibility: Transforming Professional and Personal Life. Highly recommended!