I have a lot of empathy for students who have major family tragedies. I have colleagues that have joked about how grandmothers tend to die around major exam times, but I’ve also had a few students experience the death of someone close to them over the last year and my heart just aches for them. I lost my own mother as a sophomore in college and it really threw me for a loop.
Mentors aren’t excluded from tragedy and, just as we hopefully show mercy when our students experience tragedy, we often have to look to them for understanding when our own families are touched by death and illness. This last month has been a real doozy (I admit I had to google the spelling of that) for my family. About a month ago (I think), my children lost their great-grandmother. This was Mr. I’s grandmother and my children knew her well. My heart hurt for the loss of this special lady and Mr. I’s loss, and hurt harder for how deeply my children have felt it. It’s not easy to see your children hurt and know that you can’t fix it. Just hug and snuggle them.
Just after that, I tweeted that a member of my family was hospitalized. He’s a type I diabetic and my dad came home and found him unconscious. He spent a week in the ICU, on a ventilator. My heart broke for him, his mother, and my father, and it broke at the thought of having to tell Tiny Diva that he was so sick. Tiny Diva adores him. It broke at the thought that he might not wake back up and she’d have to face that. The anxiety of worrying for him and my own selfish worry ate away at me. Thankfully, he recovered and is doing well.
Last night I came home and spent most of the night away from social media. The lab was on a marathon of abstract submissions, I spent time with the kids, and we watched the debate. Little I fell asleep on the couch and Tiny Diva and I went to bed and snuggled. We woke up and I took the kids to school. Then my dad text me that his partner died last night. So matter of factly. Just that she was dead. I assaulted him with a barrage of texts, trying to figure everything out. He remained matter of fact, in typical dad-like stoicism. He came home from work and found her dead on the floor. And, she was a recovering addict.
Dr. S. is away seeing his kids. Tiny Diva and Little I are with Mr. I tonight, and I’m just here trying to untangle my feelings. Sometimes my dad’s stoicism is more painful than raw emotion. I got a glimmer of what was inside when my mom died, and I know it’s there. Yet, either because he’s so private and has experienced so much tragedy in his own life, or because he feels some sort of duty to not show his emotion, he keeps his emotions very close to his chest.
The result is, not only does he not share, but he also doesn’t invite sharing and I feel so distant from him. I know what I’m feeling, so I can only begin to imagine what he’s feeling. I’ve never lost a significant other. He’s lost two. But, we restrict our interaction to the brief.
“Are you ok, Dad?”
Dr.. S. reminds me via text message that my father is not the only one in our family with an “event horizon.” A radius beyond which emotion and intimate thoughts do not pass. I’m more like my father than I care to admit, but only because the idea of sharing raw emotion and private information with most people makes me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s why I’ve always written a blog.
My head is also swimming with thoughts of how to tell my children. Little I is the opposite of my family. He feels everything so deeply and wears his heart on his sleeve. I love that about him. The last time we were at my dad’s house, Tiny Diva and my dad’s partner made oreo cheesecake bites together, painted pictures and watched fireworks. She adored her. I can’t even imagine how words will come out of my mouth.
“Are you ok, Dad?”
“Yeah. I went to the funeral home with her parents. They wanted to make arrangements.”
So, I’m going to watch hunker down, watch Chelsea Handler, and try to let this wash over me. I think I’ll take a day away from the lab and be with family. Get the insides of myself back together.
Addiction is really a hell of a thing. This is an unformed, stream-of-consciousness thought, but I have played it over and over in my head that, as I was watching the debate last night, my dad was finding the woman he loved, dead in their home. One of the candidates blames an entire group of “others” for the crime and drug problems in our country. These things happen in the “inner cities” The thing is, people from a different country aren’t necessarily responsible for the deaths in my family, and they don’t all happen in the inner cities. Addictions like those originate from the tip of a physician’s pen or the easy conversion of over-the-counter medications to an addictive substance. They touch all kinds of people.
When I had shingles last year, my doctor sent me home with 60 oxycontin. I took 3. My dad’s partner had surgery a couple of weeks ago and got a small nation’s worth of pain meds.
It’s easy to blame people that look different for our country’s addiction problem, but the cause of our pain is so much closer to home – in our careless management of our pain.