It makes sense that most physicians are not deeply introspective. How could a surgeon think too much about ripping tissues and attacking their fellowman with a knife? How deeply should a gastroenterologist muse while invading inflamed, bleeding, filthy body cavities? As an oncologist may witness over 10,000 deaths in a career, there is just so much soul searching one can stand. Thus, we may become automatic; get up each morning, attack disease, go home, rest, do it again.
One of my coping methods to deal with the threat of personal survival distance is to depend on my wife to keep me in emotional health. Without that balance, that reality check, I suspect I would go cold or nuts. Therefore, this morning when she said, “Are you alright? You seem upset. Do you understand that every year you get depressed on this weekend?” I thought about it, dared to briefly introspect, and I realized she was right.
The first weekend of June, or thereabouts, brings two events that force me to face loss. Not the strategic loss of millions by cancer, but the, I knew him and her, tactical deaths of specific and myriad people. As part of the cancer wars, we attend two fund raising events. The first is the fantastic ACS Relay of Life and the second is the inspiring Amy Foundation’s, Bike Ride for Amy. Both of these fundraisers are local, personal and involve people I know, dead and alive; survivors, families and countless memories. Walking around the track at Relay, or gathering for the long ride at Amy, I see the spaces in the line, and the empty gaze in so many eyes.
Therefore, I decided to use the Amy Ride not only to be introspective, but also to mourn. Perhaps, gliding down roads and pushing up hills, I could find some peace. The ride happens early on Sunday, when the roads are empty and the windows dark. It winds through neighborhoods and small villages, in suburban and rural country. We pass many hundreds of homes, which in the first heat of day, seem almost without life.
I decided that every time I passed a particularly empty home or a house for sale, I would use it to remind me of the memory of a particular person that I had seen die. I would remember who they were, how they laughed, how they lived and how they reached their end. I would let each house symbolize the beauty, energy, and knowledge which was their life. The wood, stone and glass buildings reflected what they had given to the world, what they had built. An overgrown garden, a small dry fountain, or a stain-glass door, their special love for life.
I honored many remarkable people during the ride. Special people whom I really miss. Gayle, Ann, James, John, Patrick, Louise, Ida, Cindy, Barbara, Mimie, Herb, Angelita, Eleanor, Louise, Regina, Kathryn, Alice, many more, and of course Amy herself. I thought of them and just as in life, they carried me along. Some houses brought a tear, some made me smile and many reminded me of wisdom shared. I pedaled through a necropolis, but instead of cold stone crypts, a montage of living homes into which I placed hearts, dreams and memory.
I cannot say that my three hours of remembered grief made me feel significantly better. This introspection stuff really hurts. However, I did rediscover friends and went back to a time when they were patients and I was their doctor. And, as in that past, they gently taught me a little more about the wonder of life.