You know who you are.
I’m writing to tell you no matter how wrenching our time was together, or messy, or scary, or short were the hours, I love you. I cherish you. And no matter how hard I tried, it was you who gave more. Because you let me in when I showed up unannounced in my pale blouse and loud heels.
You might have been curled up in your soft bed, a cocoon against the world, your hips aching as you plodded to the door. Your hair might have been too grey, too wild; your heart pulled apart – tender and frail. And yet you still cried with me as I held your cool veined hands, when your eyes looked into mine and asked me for time.
Your children’s crayon drawings.Your husband’s grey backpack. Your Herculean job on the boat. Your matching silver shoes and purse.Your daughter’s notepad: All things you brought me that you did not know were gifts. Every one of them changed me.
I was good in a crisis. I thrived on the intensity of late nights under bright lights and bleary-eyed Starbucks in the crisp morning air by rock garden outside. I wanted to be the most. The smartest. To rise up. To shine.
You demanded vulnerability.
I had to slow down, to notice, in order to change. It was you. I sat on the edge of your bed, your white hair scattered as your tears fell and fell and fell. You were supposed to be the easy one. You were fixable, manageable, and yet you demanded more of me than all the rest because you deserved it. And I stayed because it was too hard to leave. And then I stayed because something inside of me broke open and couldn’t be dammed.
The minutes turned to hours in those hallways, those ambulance bays, across from those pale pink cancer chairs. I could no longer leave until it felt right, until you’d be fully acknowledged and heard. I am so very grateful for the time you gave me when you didn’t have time. You taught me how to stay in it by opening my whole heart that had been walled off and cooled by tradition, by ambition. You replaced it with a full, warm, one. How can I thank you enough?
And now to those who knew you were too young for me:
The first time we met, you hung your head, eyes to the shiny concrete. When you spoke, if you spoke, your voice was airy, in your throat, not connected to a center. Soon you went through the motions. We agreed on plans and courses of action. You went through the motions. Then that one time I answered the phone after dark – your breath heavy and desperate – a crevice squeaked open, a flash of light. You let me help you. I thank you for that. None of it was fair. My chest aches now as I remember your dimming effervescence.
To the angry ones:
You were the hardest. Yet you taught me the most about grief. There is no right way to mourn the greatest losses. There is no timeline tapering suffering. You absolutely did not have to love me back. And sometimes you didn’t. You sent me out of stale rooms, heavy with pain. I thought it was me until I didn’t. Sometimes I wordlessly held your aching space for you outside your room. And sometimes, you let me back in. And sometimes you didn’t. From you, I learned I could hold myself together.
I want you to know you’ve never left me because ever since I met you, I’ve never been the same.
Eve Makoff is an internal medicine physician.
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