“May you stay forever young…” –Forever Young, Bob Dylan
“Eonia i Mnimi (Eternal Memory)” -Greek Orthodox Funeral Chant/Hymn
In the holiday season and as the year is drawing to a close, a paradoxical melancholy creeps in amidst the celebrations and holiday cheer. We take even a brief moment to pause and reflect on the past year and on past holidays. It is a good time to dwell a little while with those memories.
At this time of year, social media is rife with posts and alerts reminding us all to be kind and gentle, sensitive to those around us who are in pain. There are many for whom the holidays bring no joy, no cheer, and symbolize stress and loss. We are asked to be on alert for those who may be in crisis instead of celebration.
In health care, it seems as if this time of year ushers in a spike of tragedy. More stress over more severe illness, more sadness over profound losses. It seems more acute, more raw, more shocking, as these sad events play out in stark contrast to the festivities celebrating the joy and cheer of the holidays around us. Even if the numbers don’t bear this out (though they might), it is this sharp contrast between joy and grief that etch these memories more deeply in our minds.
These memories color our reflections of the holidays. They are good reminders to be aware and sensitive to those around us.
Today’s musings are more personal than medical.
I have just lost a high school friend to breast cancer. She died on Thanksgiving day, at home, surrounded by her family. I’m told she was at peace with this. She was originally diagnosed 8 years ago, and had done well after her treatment. Then, it returned as metastatic disease to her brain. This time, as so commonly happens, the cancer prevailed. Unaware of her illness, I had hoped to see her again at some upcoming reunion, or bump in to her on the street as I have in the past. I had hoped there would be a chance to reconnect. I remembered running in to her in the hospital where I was on rotation (either in medical school or residency), and enjoyed that brief chance to catch up. I remember seeing her at reunions. She stayed in touch with her closest high school friends over the years, and they have shared some of their memories of her. I am as grateful for that as much as I am saddened that I did not have the chance to reconnect myself.
I have been reaching out and reconnecting with family and old friends. It is one of the benefits, even blessings, of the internet and social media. It is possible now, not difficult and daunting as in older times. It has been too easy, if not inevitable, for old ties to loosen and slip away. Medical school, residency training, practice, each so all-consuming. But that will be a topic for discussion another day.
I remarked recently to a Facebook friend, during an exchange over reconnection, that it is never too late to reconnect. Was I wrong?
I am too late to exchange a hug or a handshake. Too late to catch up over a coffee, or a beer, or a bottle of wine. Reminisce as we sit at around a table, then plan to stay in touch. Staying in touch even if our paths don’t intersect, but can be brought in parallel so that we can share with each other as we move forward, even if we are in separate worlds, traveling along different paths.
But it is never too late to conjure up my old friend, all of my friends, in memory. Really, we do that all the time, both the living and the dead. Keeping old friends in mind, the old memories and the new. It is just that with the living, there is the chance to add to that archive of memories.
In a way, we really only live in the past. If you think about it, each sensation or experience can only be perceived in those short moments after it actually happens. If something alters that perception, such as a head injury or anesthetic, it is as if it never happened. At least as far as memory, the experience, goes. That is how it has felt to me, with my own experiences with anesthesia and head injury.
So, yes, it is never too late to reconnect, as long as we can connect to our memories.
I invite us all, then, during this time of year when we reflect over the past and anticipate the new year; during this time of celebration and holidays for so many cultures and religions; this time when friends and family, colleague and coworkers gather to celebrate –
To invite also the old friends, the ones we have lost. Remember them, as a part of the reflections and celebrations this time of year. Miss them, honor them, appreciate them. Keeping them alive, and always with us, forever young in our minds.
So, Lisa, I remember you. Full of life, always at a mile-a-minute, making the Energizer Bunny look like a slug. Talking faster than I could hear. Always seeming cheerful and upbeat, a positive attitude. I am told this never changed. And though we did see each other a bit as grown-ups, in my mind’s eye, I see you as that dynamo from Junior High and High School. And I will remember that Lisa, full of life and vitality with her future ahead of her. You will remain forever young.
Remembering Lisa. And Carter, Sharon, Rob, Neal, Todd. To Paige, Marc, Marcus. My old friends, forever young.