I’m Thinking of You

 

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My husband never talks about his patients with me. (He’s the poster boy for the HIPAA law.) But when a call from the hospital comes in at night, sometimes I am privy to his side of the conversation. I might hear snippets such as the person’s age, or what tests they need to have done. I’ve learned which key words will lead to me sleeping alone that night (ruptured, perforation) and which will keep him snuggled next to me (elective, antibiotics).

Within thirty seconds of the phone call ending, my husband will be back to sleep. It’s a self-preserving skill he learned in residency.  But for me, it’s not that easy. Now I’m up. And now I’m thinking about this person who I know nothing about, beyond the fact that they are, say, 66-years-old and have a high fever and need an ERCP, whatever that is. Now that I know about them, and I’m awake, I do what I can for them. Which isn’t much, but I hold them in my mind, and I wish them well. I like to envision a little bit of the comfort I’m sending to them actually finding it’s way to the ER, or the ICU, or their room. It’s improbable, but it’s possible. So I go there.

Many, many nights, phone calls or not, I hold my husband’s hands in mine and offer a straight-up prayer. First it’s a thank you for all the times his hands have been safely guided to help in the past, then it’s a prayer for continued guidance and strength in the future. If my husband knew any of this, he’d be doing an eye-roll/gagging noise combination. He’s a man of hard logic and science. We’re quite a pair.

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Sometimes, one is on the receiving end of good thoughts. Two years ago this weekend, Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT experienced the unthinkable. The news trickled first into our local consciousness and then onto the national and international stage. And while I struggled with shock and fear and that sickening too close-to-home feeling, something strangely comforting started happening.

First, a phone call from my sister, 3,000 miles and two time zones away. When her first patient of the day asked, “Isn’t it terrible about what happened at that school in CT?” her stomach dropped, and she thought of me. Then a steady stream of friends, from all over the country, from all phases of my life, started checking in.

I heard the news, and I thought of you. Are you okay? Are the kids okay? 

I heard from people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, from close friends, and from Christmas-card-only friends. All wished me well and expressed relief that today, this time, the tragedy was not ours. In the weeks that followed, sadness would wash over me in waves. But the comfort of being thought of and wished well by so many always pulled me to a safe shore.

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We can never know how many people are thinking of us, maybe right now, and wishing us well. It doesn’t take an anniversary for me to think of the Newtown families. A face, a name, or an image will come to mind, and in that moment I’ll wish them love and comfort. Imagine, for every time someone pops into your mind, or you hold someone in prayer, meditation, or good light, someone else could be doing the same for you!

Maybe the husband or wife of the doctor you visited last week is at home, doing chores, and sending you strong, positive vibes. And if you’re reading this, consider yourself pinged with positivity, because at this moment I could very well be thinking of you, and wishing you all good things, including….

best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season.

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Snowflakes Fall

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Last weekend was a difficult one for all of us.  The one year anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary brought up emotions and memories that painfully juxtaposed against the normally joyful holiday bustle.   Images of angelic faces and devastated families swirled around me all day.  But I didn’t need a reminder to be thinking of the Sandy Hook community, because I haven’t stopped thinking about them.  I don’t think any of us have.  It’s like the whole world has reached out our arms to give one big giant hug to the grieving.  I hope they feel it.

My community, also a “small Connecticut town,” organized an event that encouraged the lighting of luminaries on December 14th.  We participated and I found the experience very soothing.  With my oldest, who is aware of some of the details of the tragedy, I slowly scooped sand into 26 bags.  As we carefully placed in tea lights, I brought up specific names as their faces flashed before me.  Snow was falling as we placed the luminaries outside, and I lifted up my face to feel the tiny pings, the gentle reminder of the cycle of the seasons, and life.  Snowflakes have become a symbol of hope and healing in Newtown, CT, and I like to think that maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that it was snowing in CT that day.

To show support and encourage healing, Newbery medalist Patricia MacLachlan and illustrator Steven Kellogg used the symbol of the snowflake to craft their beautiful picture book:

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SNOWFLAKES FALL was written in response to last year’s tragedy.  It is a gorgeous book with a healing message.  From the publisher’s website (Random House):

“In Snowflakes Fall, Newbery Medalist Patricia MacLachlan and award-winning artist Steven Kellogg portray life’s natural cycle: its beauty, its joy, and its sorrow. Together, the words and pictures offer the promise of renewal that can be found in our lives—snowflakes fall, and return again as raindrops so that flowers can grow.

MacLachlan and Kellogg, who are longtime friends, were moved to collaborate on a message of hope for children and their families following the tragic events in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Kellogg lived in Sandy Hook for thirty-five years—he raised his family there and was an active member of the community. With Snowflakes Fall, they have created a truly inspiring picture book that is both a celebration of life and a tribute to the qualities that make each individual unique.

In honor of the community of Sandy Hook and Newtown, Random House, the publisher of Snowflakes Fall, has made a donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. Random House is also donating 25,000 new books to the national literacy organization First Book in the community’s honor and in support of children everywhere.”

“A snowflake.  A child.  No two the same – all beautiful.”

What helps?

Many of you probably spent the weekend as I did.  Not shopping and singing and baking, but crying and hugging and listening to the news in an “I-don’t-want-to-but-I-can’t-help-it” kind of way.  I tried to shield my children from my own sadness and from any details of the horrible tragedy that occurred on Friday in Newtown, CT.

I didn’t want to talk to them about lockdown drills and gunmen and unthinkable sadness.  The time may come for that.  Today they’ll return to the real world and their own school classrooms, where whispers and rumors will fly surely as they do among adults.  I won’t be able to keep them in the bubble for long.

But for the past two days, I pulled them close and bubbled up.  Fighting my own heavy heart and deepest fears, I reached for books, those stalwart companions in times of anxiety.

EACH KINDNESS by Jacqueline Woodson is a beautiful, lyrical picture book that tells the simple story of the ripple effect of kindness, and what happens when kindnesses are left undone.  Although they are “too old” for picture books, I “forced” my kids to let me read this one aloud.  We can’t change events of the past, but focusing on what good we might do in the future was at least, for a moment, something that made me feel less useless.

I also read for my own sanity, to escape.  And when I got halfway through SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Jo Knowles I realized I had chosen the exact wrong escape hatch. (If you have read this book you probably just said, “Oh no! You read that to escape reality?”).

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S is a moving, incredibly well-written middle grade novel, told from the point of view of 12-year-old Fern.  Saying anything else here would spoil its power for you as a reader. But I will tell you that as I read on, and on, and on, unable to put the book down, I realized that while it didn’t provide the lift that a “light romantic comedy” might have, it actually was quite possibly the most helpful book I could have chosen to read this weekend.

On the book jacket, you’ll find comments such as “soul-sustaining,” and “a big booming beacon of [hope],” and “rich in…the gentle hope that grows from the heartbreak of tragedy.”  When you are ready, I encourage you to read it and be strengthened.

As we face the days ahead, I’ll be looking for and clinging to signs of gentle hope.  May we all find the strength to push down fear and lift up kindness.