"Your hair's gone white," her doctor told me. I hadn't seen him in how long? Not quite a year, not since Patricia died. He wore the customary white coat, ID badge, and stethoscope. I knew he belonged there, but couldn't quite place him.
"Hunh?" I semi-grunted, smiling the 'Do I know you?' smile. Stalling, I asked, "You remember me?" Finally it came. He had been her pain management physician. I can't say I was happy to see him. Truth be told, I had to swallow a sudden violent urge to gag. Nevertheless, it was a familiar face and not entirely unwelcome. Why else was I there, not even a year after she died?
"I remember your hair," he said. "It was beautiful. Salt-and-pepper. It's gone white." I must have looked puzzled, or I'd furrowed my brow. "It's still beautiful," he was quick to add. What else could he say? I thanked him. "What are you doing here?" he asked, with a tinge of urgency, a sudden tightness.
Just volunteering," I said.
"Good," he said, smiling cheerfully, then consolingly, with his voice dropping, "I'm sorry about your friend."
"Patricia," I said her name. It felt both comforting and wounding to say it there and then.
He added her last name, remembering that too, smiling a soft smile again, taking my hand which hung blandly at my side when he reached out to help me shake his. As he walked away, I'd have cried. But the little cupcake with whom they’d stuck me to volunteer was popping her gum, echoing in the lobby and in my ears. So I chuckled instead, taking my place with her, behind the reception desk. At a very young age, before I was ten, I developed this strange inappropriate response when something is frightening or sad, or sadly ridiculous, and I know there's nothing else I can do.
Four years later, by some miracle or many miracles of Grace, I seem to be all right. I've learned to examine and understand, to write about loss and grief, turning myself inelegantly inside out at times. I've learned to feel and honor every bit, so that in due time, through no special intelligence or skill of mine, I've discovered how it all gets turned around for good. I've studied and practiced in new depths of the void through many dark nights. As I've written here before, I may always carry the desert with me, and could be taken to the brink of the void again, could fall or even leap back in. I don't know. There are amazing things I've experienced and found. So much more to tell, about this sacred journey that is continuing through it all, in every now, every precious moment, all through the darkness of night, every beautiful day.
It occurs to me later...I should add: City of Hope is an amazingly compassionate place where new scientific breakthroughs and miracles are continuing as I write this. They treated Pat and me like royalty there. I went back recently, during my father's last days to find some grief information for my mum. It was a comfort to visit the fountain and the new chapel--and to leave a note there in "the book" for my father.
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