How do you grieve when you are still mourning?

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Moving so quickly.

Round and round.

Head turning, trying to keep track.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … faster and faster

Losing count.

My head spins.

A doctor, Indian, like me.

A friend, my age.

A mother, could be my own.

No time to grieve.

I kept a list of your names. So I could continue to honor you, your memory, when life slowed down just enough so that my heart had time to process.

The memory is clear. I was a 2nd year resident in the MICU. You were only 53. Cancer won. Telling your daughters, barely adults. They came in and remained by your side. I stood outside the room and saw them hold your hand, crying. I stood outside the room, shedding silent tears. It wasn’t fair.

You came to the hospital on the final breaths of hope that we would be able to find a cure. That we’d be able to heal you. And the limitations of our humanness were never more apparent. Honoring the lives lost, some with quiet resolution, others with a valiant fight, our humanity never more apparent. But the outcomes were the same. The void in space created by the departure of your soul, visible at that moment like footprints in the sand.

And now, counting again. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 … faster and faster and faster. I can no longer keep track. Writing down your names to honor your life, to pay respect to you, your families. There is no time now to properly grieve. No time to mourn the loss of each and every life that has left this earth. The mothers, the fathers, the brothers, the sisters, the soldiers, the health care workers, the old, the young, the infirm, the healthy. Hundreds of footprints in the sand, washed away before I can commit them to memory. It is too much. Too fast. How can we grieve while we are still mourning?

Death is not meant to be rushed. Saying goodbye shouldn’t be rushed. Celebrating a life once lived cannot be rushed. And yet, we must. Taking a moment, a minute, an hour, maybe a day to feel something that normally takes far longer. Because we must. And in our hearts, the grief remains. Frozen in time in this state of mourning that we are all experiencing. We say the same words to our friends, to the families of patients that we ourselves have been the recipient of. The awkward moment when we realize that offering our condolences, again and again, has begun to lose meaning. There is a certain degree of numbing that occurs, perhaps protective, when faced with traumatic situations day in and day out. What do you when the tears no longer fall?

Julie B. Trivedi is an infectious disease physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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