Thursday, January 7, 2010

A year begun

I had resolved, sort of, to start posting here more frequently this year.

We're already one week into it for this first post, only my fifth since last month's magnum opus.

Work has been very busy, with much to do and even more to reflect upont.

And holiday time profoundly intereferes with most matters not directly associated with trees, turkeys, and generally, though not exclusively, crappy music.

Mostly, though, my thoughts and feelings have been for our friends Jeff and Melissa, and their two grown children, Phil and Evelyn, with the sudden death of their daughter and sister, Amy.

While talking with Melisaa recently, I noted that Amy's death had challenged me with feelings that I hadn't anticipated, and that I generally don't encounter with patients and families around end of life.

I guess one reason is that right now I don't have the benefit of my professional armor, the role and boundary that protect me while enabling me to be most helpful to others. The pain of Amy's family is too stark, and we're too close as longtime neighbors and friends. I've become, or made myself, a part of this story, with a role I don't normally fill.

It's a role that I accept, even treasure. It's always a priviledge to be part of a death, and I don't have to further explain that sentiment to readers and colleagues who've chosen this work.

After drawing upon James Joyce's The Dead in my most recent post, I turned to John Huston's extraordinary film adaptation.

The story weaves together many important themes, among them loss and remembrance. Huston faithfully turns Joyce's carefully crafted words into thoughtful action. Among the many key scenes is one in which Gabriel watches as his wife, Gretta, is drawn into her own memories and grief.

Here's how Joyce introduces the scene:
Gabriel had not gone to the door with the others. He was in a dark part of the hall gazing up the staircase. A woman was standing near the top of the first flight, in the shadow also. He could not see her face but he could see the terracotta and salmonpink panels of her skirt which the shadow made appear black and white. It was his wife. She was leaning on the banisters, listening to something. Gabriel was surprised at her stillness and strained his ear to listen also.
Here's how Huston conveys it:

I think what Gabriel demonstrates, perhaps contrary to Joyce's intent, is the importance of bearing witness. I can identify with him here as I consider Amy's death.

Neither of us can know the pain experienced by the ones we stand with. It isn't ours to have, or heal, or even comment on.

But I think we can bear witness to that pain, and thereby do something very important, even essential.
If you'll be the lass of Aughrim
As I am taking you mean to be
Tell me the first token
That passed between you and me

O don't you remember
That night on yon lean hill
When we both met together
Which I am sorry now to tell

The rain falls on my heavy locks
And the dew it wets my skin;
My babe lies cold within my arms;
But none will let me in


  1. Jerry, I haven't been by for a while, just caught up with your last several blogs. I can only say that your tenderness and vulnerability come through these words and touch me.