If Love Could Have Saved You, You Would Have Lived Forever

My dearest, Ezra,

On a cold November night, after returning home from work, I found out that you’d be on your way. I was so excited. That was when we started to dream about who you’d be, what you’d look like, and the very first time we’d hear you cry.

All of my hopes and dreams hung on the arrival of one day: Thursday, July 9, 2020. Through all of the anxiety and fear that this year has provided, you were the bright light at the end of a very long tunnel. If I could get us all safely to that day, I felt like everything would be okay.

Today, we would’ve gone to the hospital very early, and you’d have been born just after 7AM via a repeat C-section. I was going to have something I never got with your sister: lucidity in your first hours of life. I would hold you close, and we’d head up to the eighth floor for two days of recovery.

I had it all planned out in my head. I tried so hard to do everything right. I was so careful to avoid getting sick. I did kick counts every night, and felt so much joy and hope every time I felt you move. Never could I have imagined that it wouldn’t be enough…that I couldn’t do anything to protect you.

I’m so sorry, my sweet boy. I can’t say it enough. Everyone constantly tells me that none of this was my doing. Regardless of what anyone says, I will never be able to convince myself that I didn’t miss something. Maybe I could’ve done something to save you if I had just been more astute. I failed you. My body failed you.

June 1st was never meant to be your birthday. If you’d ended up in the NICU, I could’ve managed that. Instead, I am, more often than not, at a loss for words. Your date of birth and date of death are the same day…engraved so permanently on your headstone. There are no answers to any of my questions, and the word “stillbirth” still haunts me.

Eight hours holding you will never be enough. We took 64 photographs of you that day. There are also a few photos and videos of me while I was pregnant, and your ultrasound images. These, and the memories I have of your short life, will have to be enough to last us a whole lifetime. I know it’s so much more than a lot of people get under similar circumstances, but I long for more — for the future that I envisioned long before you ever existed. I waited so long for you and your sister, and all of the hopes and dreams I had for you died with you.

I am so sorry we aren’t meeting each other today. If there was anything I could do to fix everything, I would do it. I would gladly trade you places.

I keep waiting to wake from this terrible dream. Every morning, the first thing I do is place my hand on my abdomen with the hope that you’ll still be there. And, nearly every morning, the emptiness I feel is just as immense as it was the moment you were born. I wait for a time machine, a wormhole, or a magic portal that could transport me back to a time when I could have done something to save you. Alas, no such magic exists, and I have to force myself to pick up the pieces of my broken heart and move forward.

Nobody can tell me why you couldn’t stay with us, and I don’t know what to believe, anymore. A huge part of me wants so badly to believe in a higher power, and a heaven where I will eventually meet you again. But, there are no guarantees in this life, as the last five weeks have so cruelly demonstrated, and no certainty in what happens to any of us when we leave this mortal coil. Wherever you are, I hope there is no pain, that you are happy, and that you can feel the immeasurable amount of love we have for you.

I will always be your mother. I will always be so proud of you, and the love I feel for you will never fade. Every day of my life, from this day forward, you will linger in my thoughts, and you will hold a special place in my heart.

Forever yours,

Your mama

I Would Trade 10,000 Days for One More Hour with You

*Disclaimer: This post includes personal accounts of infant loss/stillbirth.*

It seems like the only time I feel inspired to write is when I am sad. It’s been quite a while since I last wrote anything, let alone a post to this blog. In the time I’ve been gone, I got a new job in the neonatal ICU downtown (I’ve been there for a little over 3.5 years, now), and my husband and I started a family.

Our little girl is two years old, almost three. In November of 2019, we found out that we’d be expecting another baby. We were really excited, but incredibly nervous. Then, COVID-19 happened. Home and work became very different places. My world shrank a little, and suddenly everything felt very scary, including my pregnancy.

I always have the worst-case scenario playing in the back of my brain when I’m expecting, but hope that it’s all in my head. In the very early morning of June 1st, I went in to labor and delivery triage for decreased fetal movement. At 2:20AM, and 33 weeks and 5 days gestation, I found out that my son’s heart had stopped beating. At 6:42AM, he was born asleep into a silent OR. We still don’t know what happened, but the wheels in my brain haven’t stopped turning since then.

On Father’s Day, I was offered a glass of wine at dinner. When I said “no thank you”, I was further encouraged to take it. I was a little dizzy and dehydrated from low food and fluid intake (because, I’m just not hungry, anymore, and a huge part of me feels that there’s no point in caring for myself now) and excessive crying, and all I could think about was that I should still be pregnant. Taking that glass would make all of this more real and make me feel physically worse, and that’s the last thing that I want.

What I really want is a time machine. I feel so awful, because I am a mother. I am a nurse. How is it possible that I didn’t know that my son might be in distress? Why did I go home from work that previous night? I should’ve gone in to triage after I didn’t feel him moving while I wrapped up my charting. A mother’s basic responsibility is to protect her children, and I couldn’t even do that for my son. How could I not have known something was wrong sooner?

So…that’s where I am. I am encapsulated in a silent world full of sadness. I can’t read, watch, or listen to anything without thinking about my little boy — without remembering how empty I feel. Day-to-day tasks are triggers, too, but they’re getting to be more tolerable as time passes. It’s only been 20 days, though. I had a baby…20 days ago, I had a baby, and without him here, it feels like the world keeps moving while I am stuck in that moment. Nine days ago, we buried him. None of it feels real. Every moment feels excruciatingly long. Whole days feel like an eternity, and then I have to wake up and do it again.

We’ve taken our daughter to the park a couple of times in the last week. I can’t stand to go, because I see pregnant mothers with their toddlers all of the time (that, and I’m terrified by the possibility that my daughter could contract COVID-19). I watch my daughter playing with my nephew. It makes me happy to see them smile and hear them giggle, but also sad because I will never get to see my children play together. I will never know what color my son’s eyes are, what his smile looks like, or the warmth of his tiny body against mine. There is a giant space in my daughter’s room, and at our bedside where a crib and bassinet, respectively, should have been. Two weeks from today, we would be headed in to the hospital for a planned C-section…I would be meeting him for the first time. And all I want is to hear him cry.

Most new mothers get birth certificate paperwork, infant and postpartum care discharge information, baby clothes, balloons, and messages of congratulations. What we got, instead, were: just short of nine hours to hold our son (our medical team was incredibly kind and considerate of everything we needed), stillbirth paperwork, a weighted teddy bear meant to help me sleep after my son was taken to the morgue, the option to have an autopsy, bereavement packets, post-surgical care instructions (including weight limitations…usually no more than the weight of your baby, but my son was just shy of five pounds), 32 condolence cards, 12 flower arrangements, meals from friends and family, a burial plot, a graveside committal, and the responsibility of designing a headstone. The outpouring of love and support we’ve received has been overwhelming, and there is no way we could possibly survive any of this without our family and friends. The circumstances are so incredibly unfortunate, but there are so many people surrounding us…helping to lift us from the floor.

All of the bereavement novels we’ve been gifted say that every feeling I have is completely normal. I suppose that sleeping with that weighted teddy bear every night since my son was born must be normal, too. My ninth wedding anniversary is in four days, and I wish that those babies who were wed in 2011 knew that their adventure would lead them to an unspeakable heartache. Maybe they could’ve prepared for it, anticipated it, prevented it…

When I shared that my son had passed on social media, a few people said I was brave to share that painful information. The truth, though, is that he exists. He is a person. I had already told everyone he was on his way at 24 weeks gestation. His birth did not at all go the way any of us wanted or expected, but it is his story, now. And I would be doing him a great disservice by not acknowledging him. I want the whole world to know how incredible he is, how much we love him, and how his short life has touched our hearts and changed our world forever.

Love the Half that’s Here

A long while back, I had a sweet patient who was very pleasantly confused. She would look up at me often and ask what was happening to her. I’d explain to the best of my ability, and, fortunately, she almost always had a family member at her bedside to help her pull together what memories she had left. I didn’t care for her for long, but I adored how her family addressed her memory loss.

“I feel as though I’m only half here,” she would say to her daughter. I remember she would say it quite often. “Well, we love the half that’s here,” her daughter would respond while holding her hand and smiling. So often, I care for patients who are losing their faculties, be they physical or mental (or both), secondary to their diagnoses. It breaks my heart to know that they feel something is inherently wrong with them because of the things they are no longer able to do. Being human is difficult, and it becomes especially trying toward the end of one’s life. Familial acceptance, however, of the things that they are still able to accomplish is the kind of thing that renews my faith in humanity every time I see it.

When her family would leave, they’d hug her and say, “See you later, Alligator.” She would always respond with, “After a while, Crocodile.” One day at around lunchtime, I had to give her a medication. I brought my hand up to knock on her door before entering. I paused for a couple of minutes as I heard my patient and her daughter singing “I am a Child of God” and other children’s songs.

If I were to be given one wish, it would be simple: I wish that nobody in this world ever has to traverse its stormy waters alone. Somewhere in that wish for companionship is the desire that every person might feel the acceptance of what they have to offer…even if they feel they are only “half here”.

Just a Closer Walk with Thee

Yesterday, this world lost another beautiful soul. His name is Chuck. He was the deacon and primary caretaker at St. Paul’s, the small Catholic church across the street from Boise State University’s campus. It was a quiet place to study, and a place to talk with people who were kind and accepting of you. Most of all, it was where Chuck worked and cared for members of his flock who felt lost in any other environment. His demeanor was always very gentle. He never raised his voice, and, when he talked to you, he always looked you in the eye with an almost palpable level of compassion. Everything you said mattered. He was constantly, actively listening to the things that his students said, and decoding the things that they meant to say.

In the last couple of years, he has battled Lymphoma. His family has chronicled his trips to and from the local hospital, as well as experimental treatments on the East Coast. Just two days ago, his niece wrote a post onto his support page on Facebook. She said that he was now a “DNR” (a change in a patient’s code status at the hospital; an indication that he doesn’t want extreme measures taken should his heart stop, or should he stop breathing) after doctors said that chemotherapy was no longer working, and that they didn’t believe there was anything more that could be done. In my gut, I had a feeling that he had been made what we call a “comfort care” patient at the hospital. These patients are given more frequent and higher doses of pain medication for the sake of comfort, as well as other forms of medication to treat exacerbated symptoms considered normal at the end of life. All other treatment is usually suspended at that point in time. I didn’t ask further, because I figured it wouldn’t be an appropriate question for the family at this delicate time, but I had a sincere feeling of dread.

Yesterday morning, I made a point of not getting onto social media. When I finally did look at Facebook later in the day, it was filled with heartfelt posts from those who knew him…about his passing.

I could have guessed which hospital he was in, or what floor he was on, because I work there. There were so many times I could have visited him in the hospital because his family had notified people he was there, and he was only just down the hall from my group of patients. But, when the room is dark, and the door is closed, something tells people (especially nurses) that the person inside is tired, in pain, and just wants the opportunity to rest.

Chuck was one of the kindest souls I have ever had the privilege of knowing. He would always make time for anyone in need. His homilies were always gracious, gentle, and delivered as if telling a story to a small child without being patronizing or demeaning. His two daughters adored him, and his wife, Rosie, is sweet and just as patient as he was. He would tell me about how they met as neighbors in their childhoods, just down the street from where he would eventually be a deacon. I do not know how old he was, but I do know that he left this world before anyone expected him to do so.

My heart aches to know that he is gone, and an entire community is now mourning his loss. I wonder if he knows how many lives he touched, and exactly how much he will be missed.

All I Could Do Was Cry

There’s no hiding the fact that, occasionally, I will lose a patient at work. It’s to be expected in a hospital setting, but that doesn’t make it any easier for anyone. I know how sappy I sound when I say that I watch shows like Grey’s Anatomy, or Call the Midwife. The weird thing is that they speak to me. They depict real situations, and add dialogue to that which I have such a hard time describing.

Recently, on Grey’s Anatomy, there was a story line about personal loss in one of the doctors’ lives. The monologue usually has a similar theme every week, with an expected rhythm. The show is, more or less, a soap opera, after all. This time, though, it hit a nerve. For whatever reason, the following words mean something more to me than they would have before I started working as a medical-surgical nurse:

“There’s a thing we say when someone dies. We say it to the patient’s family. We say, ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ It’s a pat little phrase, and an empty one. It doesn’t begin to cover what’s actually happening to them. It lets us empathize without forcing us to feel their devastation, ourselves. It protects us from feeling the pain: that dark, sinking, relentless pain; the kind that can eat you alive. And, every day, I thank God for that. We can’t get too close. If we felt even a little of the love, and the joy, and the hopes that our patients are saying goodbye to, we’d never be able to function. So, we say, ‘We’re sorry for your loss.’ And we hope it offers something: some little bit of support, some bit of peace, some bit of closure, something good, some little bit of beauty in the midst of someplace dark, an unexpected gift just when it’s needed most.”

Grey’s Anatomy, April Kepner’s monologue from All I Could Do Was Cry

Family members are so invested in the patient’s care, sometimes. It’s a little maddening when they try to be too involved, but it’s understandable. When your husband is in the hospital, you want him to be okay, in the end. When your mother is sick, you want her care to be excellent. Why? It’s because we invest so much of our lives in the lives of others.

I once saw this documentary about “The Falling Man” of 9/11. It’s a photograph that came out in a newspaper the day following the tragedy of a man falling from one of the towers. There was footage from that day, and an interview came across of a woman looking for her husband. She was sobbing. Then, she said, “It took me so long to find him. He can’t possibly be gone. I can’t start all over, again.”

It is part of the human condition to search for and reach out to others. We cling to one another to get through life. Without the support, we would be unable to cope with the physical and emotional pain the outside world inflicts. Once we have thoroughly invested our lives in those of others, unexpected situations like strokes, heart attacks, a new cancer diagnosis, or even expected tragedies like the natural end to someone’s life, make us feel thoroughly powerless.

When my grandmother died, there wasn’t a dry eye in the whole house, but it was so quiet. Eventually, my grandmother was taken from her house to the funeral home. As she was wheeled out the door, my level-headed, composed aunt started to cry very audibly, and she collapsed to the floor. I have a hard time describing it in words, but it is my own somewhat violent, physical representation of everything my patients’ families must be feeling.

The loss I feel as a nurse is a very distant one. It really has to be, in order for me to maintain composure enough to care for five other souls for the rest of the night, but the pain is still palpable. I talk about death an awful lot. It seems morbid, but death is a part of life. Inevitably, every one of us is going to die. And every life lost leaves a painful void. Sometimes, the only thing we know how to do is cry. Sometimes, the only thing we can say is, “I’m sorry for your loss.”

Failure to Thrive

I’ve been working in a hospital for about three months, now. Half of that has been with a preceptor, so the time spent working by myself has been rather brief. In that three months, I have witnessed death, frustration, anxiety, love, support, hope…and just about every emotion in-between. It has been an education for me, and it can sometimes be extremely overwhelming; it feels a bit like my head might explode with all of the information I force into it.

As a student, I have never been quick to pick up new information and run with it. I wrestle with facts and figures until they finally stick; that process usually takes a long while, though. Lord knows, I still have some difficulty understanding the significance of some of my patients’ more obscure labs when I analyze them. My head is constantly full of tasks to be done, medications to be administered, cares to be considered and planned into my night, and I feel so slow. When giving report to another nurse, or to the charge nurse, I can tell a patient’s story, but the little details that can have so much meaning sometimes get away from me. Who am I kidding? There’s ALWAYS some small detail that disappears into the ether, regardless of its importance. The “big picture” seems constantly obscured.

I’m still waiting for the day when starting an IV or Foley catheter don’t frighten me. I’m praying for the day when my heart stops racing as I step into the elevator that climbs up to my floor. I give myself pep talks in the car, on the way to the hospital. I say prayers as the elevator jolts me upward. Mostly, I pray that I don’t fail, and that I do as much good during my shift as is possible.

Today, I went to a class meant to promote improvements in the patient experience and to prevent infection of central lines and urinary tracts (as a result of catheter use). There’s so much to remember, and there’s a policy for everything. That is both a comfort and a confusion, seeing as there is so much to be done for six people in the course of 12 hours. The class was helpful, but still a reminder of how far I have to go.

Everyone says the first year is difficult. Some of my preceptors say they still have anxiety attacks on their way to work. A couple of nurses have said they still feel scattered and frazzled at work after 20 years of experience. All of this makes me wonder about people who are really, genuinely busy. Take our president, for example. His role in this country is so much more important than mine. He’s dealing, simultaneously, with our petty problems and some of the more horrific issues faced by those in the rest of the world. I don’t know how early he gets up in the morning — and I know he has help — but it’s no wonder one president is limited to two terms. A day more than that has the potential to kill a person on the spot. I think a 12-hour shift is long. Try eight years before the sun comes up, and the president can hand off all of his duties to someone else. Then, there are those in this world who use their ingenuity to make the lives of others better, despite, and in addition to, very busy lives.

I can’t say that I’m like those people. I work a couple of days, and I need my time off to recover. I’m constantly tired, and some of the things I witness while working make me want to cry. How others have the ability to raise families, work full-time jobs, and still have the energy to do something meaningful for their fellow man is baffling to me. I barely have the motivation to call my dentist to schedule an appointment.

There will come a day when I feel a little less like a failure. There will be a day when I can see and feel myself growing as a person, and as a nurse. I don’t know when, but, as long as the hospital is willing to work through my growing pains, I will do my utmost to continue to grow. I refuse to accept “failure to thrive” as a diagnosis for my career, and for my life.

Turbulence Anticipated

A lot has happened over the past few months. So much, in fact, that I’ve had an exceptionally difficult time finding the opportunity to write about everything, as I am currently trying to wrap my head around all of it. For starters, Nick and I moved back to Boise, ID in early September (completely, this time — pod and all), and are still currently living with my parents until we can find a home of our own. It has been a wonderful, frustrating, relieving, yet nerve-wrecking couple of months, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

Within the first two months, we had to put the oldest of our family dogs to sleep. His name was Duke, and he was at least 16 years old, which is quite old for a German shorthaired pointer. He was found roaming on uncultivated farm land as a fully-grown puppy, so there’s no telling if he was really a couple of years older. He had big, sweet, brown eyes. And, toward the end, he was very sick. In June, my parents were bewildered by the fact that he was losing so much weight so quickly. It turns out that he had bowel cancer. Time passed, and they waited until Duke wasn’t interested in eating or seeking pleasure. The problem was that he did both of those very well all the way until the end. He ate like a champ, but only because he was constantly hungry. He couldn’t process anything he ate, so the hunger pangs never seemed to go away. As for pleasure…well, he would sun himself on warm days. I would leave him out of his kennel every day since the day we arrived back in Boise. He would find patches of sun, and take long naps. When it got to be too hot, he would sleep under our trampoline. That’s what made the decision to put him down so difficult. Eventually, it just got to be too cold for him. So, after several weeks of waking every morning to ensure that his heart was still beating, and that his chest was still rising and falling, I didn’t have to check, anymore. We still have a passel of dogs — three to be exact — and they’re all healthier and happier than their human owners are likely to be. I still miss Duke a lot, though. When I call the dogs in from the backyard, I accidentally call for him, sometimes. It breaks my heart, but I know that what we did was right for him. Even the veterinary technician said that we were brave for making the tough decision, even if we didn’t feel like it at the time.

About a month after we arrived, I got a job. Strangely enough, it is the same job I had prior to leaving for Connecticut. The floor I currently work is always looking for a little extra nursing help, is willing to cultivate good nurses, and my boss is exceedingly awesome, so she gave me a second shot. It’s a busy floor, to be sure. I was hired on for nights, where we have the potential to care for up to six patients per nurse. Mostly, it’s the technical stuff that bogs me down; knowing where to chart pertinent information, who to call for things, when to call them, what to do in tough situations, etc. can be extremely daunting, still. The best way I know to describe it is by using the example of a flight attendant we had on a recent flight from Tucson, AZ to Salt Lake City, UT.

It was a short flight, and it was a small plane. The flight attendant seemed a little green. He kept pulling out sheets of paper (to read verbatim) to relay important instructions and bits of information to us. The poor guy was visibly diaphoretic before we even left the runway, and it was only maybe 8:30AM. He did everything very well, but we experienced some stormy weather along the way. The flight was only a little over an hour long, to begin with, and the turbulence was enough to cause him to have to wait to give everyone snacks and drinks. He had the cart prepped and ready, before the pilot told him to dismantle it and take a seat for the sake of safety. About 15 minutes before we started to descend, he finally was able to get the cart back out, and he was frantically working forward from the back of the plane to get everyone what they needed. I figured the easiest thing for me to do for him would be to ask for nothing at all. A number of other people felt the same way. He smiled, politely thanked us, and continued to move the cart along the aisle, even when the turbulence rocked the plane and the cart, itself. He was visibly nervous, but kept his composure in a way that I found truly admirable. I had to fight the urge to get up and give him a giant hug, because, while I thought he appeared to need it, it would have probably come across as a little creepy. All the same, he reminded me a lot of myself on the nights that I work at the hospital, and makes me hope and pray that I display that kind of composure.

I’m currently working under a preceptor. I’ve had a couple of preceptors, so far, but all of them have the same essential functions: to remind me when I’ve missed something, to be a resource for situations with which I am uncomfortable, and to push me to be a better nurse however they have the power to do so. I still have a hard time with time management. And, ultimately, I mostly struggle with the magnitude of the responsibility I have for the welfare my patients. I’m really rusty after being away from acute care for so long, but I am also incredibly lucky to have so much support. Barring any illness on my part, my first solo day will be the Sunday before Christmas. While that scares the wits out of me, I’m working on trying to be a little less physically nervous and frantic, myself.

Other than that, life goes on as usual. I am so lucky to live with my family after being away for so long! It is a privilege to live in their home, and to get to see them every day. I can remember looking forward to whenever we had the time to talk on the phone. We could go weeks without talking to one another, which was really awful. Now, all I have to do is go upstairs for a conversation, question, or hug. Someday soon, I’m sure that won’t be the case. My parents don’t deserve the special brand of stress I bring into the house, and I want to expose them to as little of it as is possible. Until then, I’m grateful that they are willing to deal with the turbulence I bring into their home.

Honey, I’m Home

In late July/early August of this year we visited Boise, ID for a little over a week to catch up with family and friends. In that time, Nick got a surprise job offer, and, after a few days to ponder things, we decided it would be best for us to make our way home…even if it was much sooner than either of us had anticipated.

The last month has been a scramble to get things ready for a second round of cross-country shipping. This time, though, we decided to rent a pod that will make its way to us via train. We also sold/donated all of our furniture, and drove our cars back to Boise over the course of a week. Even though both cars were very tightly packed, it was infinitely better than pulling a trailer. There was still a bit of negative camber in the rear suspension of the Element, as we had a tray of camping gear attached to the back of the car. A friend of ours (Andrew) was gracious enough to help us drive the following route, starting August 29th: West Hartford, CT –> Niagara Falls, NY –> Holland, OH/Ann Arbor, MI –> Council Bluffs, IA –> Greeley, CO –> Salt Lake City, UT –> Boise, ID. With one rest day in Ohio/Michigan, it took seven days to get back. Luckily, we made it home in one piece and had a number of family members and friends who were willing to allow us into their homes along the way. Thank God for Andrew, because he’s much more helpful as a moving companion than I am. Nick needed him for the heavy lifting, and I needed him for the maintenance of my sanity.

The night we got into our stop in Colorado, our friends were kind enough to help us unload the tray into their home. We realized that the rear exhaust had started to heat the metal tray, partially melting the underside of the plastic tub holding all of the tents and sleeping bags. Nick and Andrew managed to place an exhaust extender onto the exhaust pipe that would redirect the heat. It did a decent job the following day, but got to be a bit loose that night. It started to droop a bit, made contact with the pavement, and was gone. By that time, we were in Utah, and it was dark. I was following the guys in our other car, and saw it careening toward the left shoulder. It took half of the locking hitch pin with it, and detached the external wiring for trailer brake lighting. Of course, we had no idea that the hitch pin was working its way out, or that the connector for the light wiring had been damaged, until we got to Salt Lake City. At that point, though, we were so close to home that we were able to buy a new locking hitch pin and exhaust extender, and make it home for dinner.

Now, we’ve unpacked everything we brought with us in our cars. Most of our things will go into storage until we find a house. My parents are allowing us to invade their space for a while, so an extra set of pots and pans, towels, etc. is a touch redundant. When the pod comes, we’ll have a bit of work to do to get its contents into storage, but Nick and I are adamant that our next move will be our last for a very, very long time.

Nick’s first day of work was yesterday, and I am in the process of getting my nursing license transferred. Unfortunately, I first need to get my driver’s license changed over as proof of Idaho residency, which means that I have to take the written exam, again. Then, hopefully, I can find a job of my own soon. It’s a bit surreal to be back. We were only gone for 18 months, but a number of things have changed in that time. It still feels like home, and we’re close to friends and family, though, so we really can’t complain.

Thanks, again, to all of you who were so kind to help us on our way! Mostly, thank you for putting up with me! Stress isn’t a great excuse, but I’m sure it made me seem positively monstrous, at times. There are people and places in New England that we will sorely miss. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank those who spent time with us when we were lonely and helped us when we needed it the most. Nick and I shall have to make a trip that way sometime soon. Until then, take care, and thank you!

What Dreams May Come

It is odd to think about how much celebrities impact the way we, as a society, function. Their collective works have a way of worming their way into our hearts, and we develop an idea of who these people are, even though we have never met them. And, in turn, we learn more about ourselves.

I remember seeing Patch Adams for the first time. As a kind of impressionable kid, it seriously made me think about studying to become a doctor. I never did end up going to medical school. Lord knows no medical school would want me, anyway, but Robin Williams was the one who, through his portrayal as Hunter Doherty “Patch” Adams, made me decide that I wanted to be a part of a system that helps to make people feel better. He shared the beauty of his own soul to heal the souls of others — to tell stories that have meaning.

As I got older, I discovered many more of Robin Williams’s roles. Perhaps my favorite is What Dreams May Come, which is coincidental in a most tragic manner, considering the circumstances. I’ve spoken about mental illness, before. It has impacted my life in very intimate ways, and I am brokenhearted to discover that it was his cross to bear — that it got to be a little too heavy, in the end. The way I see it, he’s in a better place, where no one and nothing can hurt him, anymore. And I sincerely hope that he has found peace. I hope he knew how much peace he gave others…how much peace he gives me, knowing that the world is a little better because he existed.

Conversations with Strangers

Flying on an airplane is an awkward act, I have discovered. I don’t find flying uncomfortable, or a burden of any kind. I mean, is it not completely amazing that I have the ability to be transported across a country in the course of mere hours…in a metal tube whose paint is just as important to its structural integrity as any other part? I mean that it is awkward, however, simply because people sit for hours in one place, and some people just don’t have a desire to converse with their neighbors — despite the fact that they share an armrest with them.

Recently, Nick and I flew to Boise for a little more than a week. It was lovely, and, on the first flight I sat next to a wonderful man named John. Nick and I had been assigned to the end of the “B” group for boarding, and the only two seats that were together by the time we had boarded were right next to a melancholy man gazing out of the window from a window seat at the back of the plane. He was very tall, and had lifted up the armrest between he and the middle seat because of his size. I figured that was probably why the two seats were still unoccupied, but I tapped him on the shoulder, anyway, and asked him if we might sit next to him. He smiled and nodded.

I spent the duration of the roughly six-hour flight talking to this incredible man, who is a retired engineer, radio enthusiast (he had been in Hartford for a convention pertaining to his hobby), history buff, and adventurer. He sat with a GPS device held next to the window and a point-and-shoot camera full of pictures from the sky and places he and his brother had visited throughout New England, looking painstakingly through the clouds to see large cities, bodies of water, and, hopefully, the Grand Canyon prior to our landing in Las Vegas.

I found out that he was a diabetic. He told me that he would normally go into the restroom to test his blood glucose level and administer his insulin. I think he was reasonably happy that I wouldn’t care if he just did it in his seat. I also found out that he had a wife named Yvette. She was engaged to marry someone else when they were younger, decided against it, and after a trip to Yosemite that they took on a whim, John asked her to marry him. They lost a little girl named Patricia one day after she was born. And Yvette was taken from him by multiple sclerosis. When I asked him how long he and Yvette were married, he said, “Not long enough.”

I remember seeing him in the terminal. He was sitting next to his brother, who, on our flight, was somewhere else on the plane trying to get a good window seat. I didn’t think anything of him, other than he seemed like a nice guy. He reminded me, somewhat, of the people who eat by themselves in diners. I always want to sit down with them, but wonder if they’ll just think I’m strange and ask me to leave. I’m so glad John didn’t ask me to leave.

Every time I think I understand the people in this world and how they work, I learn that I am completely wrong. The people around us are full of so much depth that cannot be touched without a little patience and understanding. Sometimes I don’t seek the stories that live deep in the hearts of those around me. We are all more alike than we are different, though. I know that I feel, I think, and, sometimes, I hurt. And so does everyone else. John, Ellen (the woman I sat next to on the way back), and a flight attendant who seemed like a bit of a hard-nose at first, but turned out to be a big softie, are not exceptions. No one person is an exception to the rule, and I am reminded more and more of that fact every single day.