Random Covidisms for Saturday, May 2, 2020: What is Gone?

Thoughts as we continue this journey through the pandemic. 

What is gone?

We were riding our bicycles along the North Augusta, SC, Greeneway the other day when I noticed a somewhat disconcerting sight. There is a stop with restrooms and parking and so forth along the path. There is also a sand volleyball court that usually is being used by a half dozen or more people almost every time we ride by.  The net for the volleyball court was gone. Two poles stuck up out of the sand. No net. No people. Empty spot. 

We will most likely be bringing a few people back into the mental health center to be seen face to face by a skeleton staff starting in the next week or so. As part of the continued emphasis on social distancing to prevent the spread of the virus, the chairs in breakrooms and most likely on patios, will be removed to prevent congregating of staff. No chairs. No place to sit. No need for breakrooms. 

On that same bike ride the other day, we saw that one of our favorite little restaurants in North Augusta, one that usually has a lot of people eating meals outside on the sidewalk under umbrellas and sails, was empty. Tables and chairs stacked and locked. No outside dining. No people. Felt a little like riding through a movie set of a horror movie just before the bad creature comes out of the alley and starts to make weird alien noises. 

Should I grow a ponytail? 

I love my car. My Rosie, bought in the spring of 2014 before my seven thousand mile trip around the United States (which I think I might just have to re-create when this whole catastrophe is over). She has 175,000 miles on her now. Good miles. Surviving being hit by a deer in the middle of the night miles. Take me to the coast so I can ride my bike miles. Let’s go hiking miles. Listening to audiobooks and podcast miles. DAILY when I was commuting to work. My commute to work is now ONE MINUTE. On foot. No time for listening to podcasts or books in my car. I miss you, Rosie girl. Soon. 

Chit chat. Checking in. Meaningless five-minute conversations. Man, I miss those. How are you? Read any good books lately? How’s the softball team doing? SEC football in four months! How’s your Mama and them? 

Church. I have gone astray many times in my religious journey, that I will readily admit to. I have experienced my faith, questioned my faith, logically skewered my faith, renounced my faith, lost my faith, and then had it come back to me with such force and clarity that it made me weep. I miss my church. I miss my people. I miss my friends, my acquaintances in the faith. I miss group study and the challenge it brings. I miss liturgy. I miss ritual. I miss music. I miss group worship. 

I miss family. Face to face family time. FaceTime is okay, but 1s and 0s are not family. I can’t remember the last time I thought about just hopping on a plane to Denver to see my family there just because I could. 

I miss flying. Really, with all the trials and tribulations of trying to get on planes and sometimes missing them and getting stuck somewhere, I miss planes and traveling in the air. Really. Could you pay me any amount of money to get on a plane going anywhere right now? Not likely. No, not likely. 

What is gone for you?

What the Funeral (Re)taught Me

In the liturgical tradition of the Episcopal church, a funeral is an Easter service. It finds all its meaning in the resurrection. It is characterized by joy. This joy does not make the human grief we feel unChristian or wrong.

None of us lives to himself, and no man dies to himself.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3: 1-4

“Help us, we pray, in the midst of things we cannot understand, to believe and trust in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection to life everlasting.”

“Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Rest In Peace, Reynolds Gracy Jarvis, M.D.

Death of a Mentor

My friend, teacher and mentor Reynolds Jarvis MD died on May 21, 2019, after a long battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gherig’s Disease.

Reynolds was a man who came into my life in that period of time between 1983 and 1987 when I was learning how to be a doctor, and more specifically, a psychiatrist. Yes, I had earned my MD degree in 1983, and I was licensed as a physician, but I had not clue one what I was doing. We were all struggling back then, all the folks in my small residency class at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, Georgia, to find our sea legs on the ocean of pathology that confronted us daily. Reynolds was one of the men and women who was entrusted to teach us how to be knowledgeable, compassionate, competent doctors.

He was one of those rare physicians who was proficient and comfortable with one foot in the world of mental illness and the other in the world of internal medicine. He was at ease when diagnosing cogestive heart failure, pancreatic disease, hypertension, as well as depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. If a patient had more than one illness, and one of each type, then bring it on. He would help us learn how to tease apart the pieces of history that we needed to make accurate and relevent diagnoses.

He liked to tell stories and especially liked to put things in the context of what real people needed and wanted, and how they went about seeking the goods and services that they needed to make their lives better. These concepts had been formulated and taught by another of our mutual mentors, Dr. E. J McCranie, several years before. We all loved to stand around a keg of beer in those heady days, waxing poetic and scientific about the ins and outs of human need and psychiatric pathology.

Reynolds would rotate as attending physician on both internal medicine services and psychiatric services. Rounding with him, talking over patient presentations with him, was a treat. He had the respect of both departments, and that was not lost on his charges.

Another physician friend of mine made me aware of his illness one day at church. I had not known that Reynolds had been ill, as I had not seen him in many years. He told me about his diagnosis, which room he was in at the hospital, and said that he had been by to visit. I might want to stop by to visit too, he offered. I thought about this, knowing that it would be the right thing to do, and promised myself that I would consider it.

I never went to visit my old friend and mentor.

I feel sad about his death, but now I feel even more guilty that I did not go to tell him thank you before he died. Why did I not make the effort to go to the hospital to say hello?

There are many reasons, some of which are merely excuses. I can tell myself that. It doesn’t help, but I tell myself that anyway. I remember Reynolds being large and in charge, in that soft, confident, smooth talking way that only he could. I remember him being smart, so much smarter than me, and thinking that one day it would be great if I could be half as proficient at my craft as he was at his. I remember him being one of my teachers, only seven years ahead of me in his graduation from medical school, but seemingly light years ahead of me in experience and confidence. I was so angry inside when I heard that ALS was going to cut his life short, in that cruel way that any progressive neurological disease does, robbing one of all dignity at the end, and not respecting race, color, creed, class, or MD after a name as it ruins another life.

I did not want to see him that way, could not see him that way. I did not want to confront his death, for in doing so, in saying goodbye to my teacher, I would now have to realize that I am closer to confronting my own. Each loss we bear brings us closer to our own loss of this life, and I was not in a place to do that. I feel ashamed, but it is the truth as I feel it right now. Diseases like ALS take away all our control, and I could not bear to see my old friend, once so easy going and confident, in that state. Forgive me, Reynolds.

His funeral is on Saturday at our church. I will be able to attend, just before I take the short drive to Aiken to work a long emergency room telepsychiatry shift until midnight that night. I will go to pay my respects, as I should.

Do we really lose people, their ideas, their skills, their emotional imprint on this world when they die? Do we really? Or do we carry part of them with us, always, imbedded in us just as surely and firmly as any of our own DNA?

I choose to believe that when they are gone physically that we keep some of them with us until we are gone, and by that time we have passed some of that wisdom and wit and energy and intelligence and competence along to someone else that we care about very much. As the wonderful animated movie Coco taught us, as long as someone has a picture of us, thinks about us, and holds us dear, we never really die. It’s only when there is not a soul who remembers us that we truly pass away.

Dr. Jarvis, I will go to your funeral on Saturday. I will smile when I think about the things you taught me that I use to this day. I will leave your funeral, go to my office and see people in the emergency rooms of South Carolina who are in need. And I will be very, very glad that our paths crossed as you taught me what it means to be a physician.

Rest in peace and rise in glory, friend.

Amen.

(Image of Dr. Jarvis via Platt’s Funeral Home obituary in the Augusta Chronicle)

Blackjack

It’s been twenty-one years. 

Twenty-one years since I looked at the x-rays, white as a blizzard.

…beep, beep, beep, beep…

Whiteout. 

Washed in the blood of the Lamb. 

Looking at blood in all the wrong places. 

Twenty-one years and the image of my mother, sitting in the corner of the room. 

Resigned, not resolute.

…beep, beep, beep…

Limbo. 

Deal another card. 

…beep, beep…

The Decision.

Stop it all, all but the necessary (and what was necessary at that point anyway?).

Deal another card. 

It’s okay, Dad, you can go now. It’s okay.

Death is never okay. 

Deal another card.

…beep…

Is he here?

Is He here?

Is He in heaven?

Is he in heaven?

Do you want one more card?

Hit me

Nothing is permanent.

Time is precious.

Love means everything.

Blessed be the tie that binds, our hearts in Christian love.

When we asunder part, it gives us inward pain

But we shall still be joined in heart, and hope to meet again. 

Hit me.

…………..beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep…………………..

The house always wins.

Wailing

 

Image

I was dressed, had my briefcase in hand and was ready to walk out the door of my apartment. I heard a rising and swelling and eerie sound coming from outside the door. One of those directionless, piercing, annoying, frightening sounds that makes you wonder if someone is hurt, in pain, being attacked or just kidding someone by uttering disturbing sounds for sport. At seven thirty in the morning, it just sounds odd and oddly  unnerving. 

I opened the door, stepped out and immediately startled a youngish Hispanic woman who was walking by. 

“Are you all right? I’m sorry. I…” I began, trying to lock my door and apologize to her at the same time.

“Yes, yes,” she stammered, her eyes softening almost at once when she saw that I was harmless. 

“Do you know who that is?” I asked. The wailing continued, louder now that I was outside in the common area. 

She looked back over her shoulder, toward the stairwell leading down to the next floor.

“She lost her dog, her puppy, last night. She is…she is very sad.”

“Oh, no! I am so sorry. Is someone with her?” I said, fumbling for anything that didn’t sound either trite or intrusive. I did not know this woman. 

“Yes, yes,” she nodded, a small, sad smile on her lips now. 

“Good, then, that’s good. I hope things are going to be okay for her,” I said, moving towards the opposite stairwell leading down one flight to my car. 

She walked a few steps and turned towards her own apartment door. 

The wailing continued, rising up like tendrils of smoky sound, lingering on the air, then floating away. I get gooseflesh thinking about it as I write this. Sad. Moaning. Injured. Plaintive. Wrenching. 

Grieving.

Happy Birthday, Dad

Happy birthday, Dad.

You would have been eighty one today.

An old man, but I doubt if the number alone would have phased you or slowed you down much.

You would still have driven us all crazy by jingling the spare change in your pocket.

You would still have cared about the little details in everyone’s life. The kids, the grandkids, the jobs, their schedules (though you could never seem to keep up with mine-that would be no different today, I’m afraid). You always had a memory for the details. I wish you’d passed that one along to me.

You would have continued to do the jobs that nobody else wanted to do, just because you knew they needed to be done.

You would have laughed, always laughed, and smiled your sort of weird, crooked smile that now sits hazy in my memory, hovering there as if deciding to dissolve.

You might be proud of me today.

I work as hard as you taught me to. Sometimes too hard, but you know I got that straight from you. A work ethic is not easily shed.

I never saw you make too many mistakes in your sixty two years. I’ve made plenty, Dad. Some of them life changers.

I hope you would forgive me for those, as I’m trying to forgive myself.

When I get stiff and sore, I think of you.

When something makes me itch, I think of you.

Genes are funny postcards from beyond the grave, powerful in their ability to pass along both good and bad.

I miss you every day.

I think about you every day.

It amazes me, but I’m still learning from you. Did you know that would happen? Did you ever imagine that you would continue to inform, cajole, encourage, scold, and affirm, long after my ability to see the details of your face has waned?

I try my very best to live the way you taught me to.

I don’t try to be you.

No.

But Dad, I try very hard to be like you.

Every day.

Childless

ImageApril 20, 1965.

A day like any other day, I suppose, but not for my parents. 

I was seven years old, and I remember nothing of it. Nothing at all. 

Isn’t that odd? An event that could change the dynamics of my entire family forever would not even be a part of my conscious mind as I moved forward in time every April 20th after that? Odd, but true. I don’t know exactly how it happened, how it affected my folks, how they processed it, who was there with them and for them. 

She didn’t even have a name. Infant daughter of…was all the simple gravestone says. She rests in the bright middle Georgia sunshine at my father’s feet, no doubt where she would have spent many happy hours if he’d lived longer. If she’d lived at all.

I often wonder what she would have been like. Dainty and feminine? Rough and tumble? Smart and searching? Ready to change the world? Loving, caring, feeling, giving? The apple of her older sibling’s eye, I’m sure of that. Someone to be protected by a bragging, proud brother, I’m sure. Someone to be a protector too, somehow, for a brother who even now needs a buffer between him and the big, wide, harsh world some days when it gets to be just a little too much. 

I might have done that for her. She might have done that for me. 

How sad for a gravestone to have but one date inscribed on it. One date. Birth and death all at once. No dash. 

 

Oh, I don’t know. Thank you for asking. 

Maybe because we just passed through another Memorial Day with its row upon row of white crosses and the thousands of kids that lie there, motherless in the ground. 

Maybe because of what my grandmother said to me, in her grief, as she waited, slumped over in the parlor before my father’s funeral. “It’s not right. No parent should have to outlive their own child.” 

Maybe it’s because one of my friends has been dealing with a very sick child. “She’s never been this sick.” The quietly frantic pleading and praying and busyness that goes with that, with the knowledge that you will do anything, everything in your power to make sure that child gets well and lives. There is no higher calling for a parent than to be totally focused on the need of their offspring, until whatever is assaulting them is totally annihilated. 

Maybe it’s because she came to see me the other day, wrapped in grief so raw, so tangible, so real that you could see it in the bathrobe, pajamas and house slippers she wore to my office. It didn’t matter one whit to her what she wore that day. I didn’t matter that her red, tear-stained face hadn’t seen eye shadow or rouge or powder in days, maybe weeks. None of that mattered.

She shared her grief with me. She shared what it must have been like for my own mother on April 20, 1965, and every April 20th after that-every day after that. In her brokenness, she still got out of her house, trudged the distance to my office, and tried to help me understand what she was going through. 

Like so many patient encounters, this one was good for both patient and doctor. This one showed me how very real the connection between us is, the tiny thread of communication that persists even through the darkest hours, the most blinding pain, the most raw, aching, devastating grief. I felt it, but I could not put it into words. 

I didn’t have to.

Sometimes it’s best for the doctor just to be present and say nothing. She did it for both of us. I just sat there with her, feeling it, letting her feel it, knowing that eventually, it will get better. It will never go away, no never, never, never, but it will get better. She was not convinced. 

She looked up at me and made direct eye contact once in that session, only once, and summarized her grief.

“There is no pain, I mean no pain in this world, that is worse than this pain.”

At that moment, I believed her.