A Box Marked “Fragile”

photo (2)So at the end of a beautiful Saturday with my wife, Sena, we drove home. As we pulled into the driveway, Sena spied and, with embarrassment, mentioned that a box containing my gift for my upcoming birthday  had been delivered a bit too early. It was on our front porch.

I got to carry it in. I couldn’t tell what was in it. It was one of those plain brown rectangles marked “FRAGILE” on both sides. I was careful not to shake it and set it on the kitchen table. I tried hard not to peek at anything else on the box.

But I did. I still couldn’t tell what what was in it.

We spent the day together. It was sort of a date and we had a lot of fun just hanging out.

The day didn’t start out so pretty. Sena described attending a workshop exploring the ways that we experience grief and loss on Wednesday entitled “The Journey Through Loss: Strategies for Professional Caregivers.” It was sponsored by Lensing Funeral and Cremation Service and Iowa City Hospice here in town. The speakers are well known although I had not heard of them, Dr. Kenneth Doka, PhD and Deborah Grassman.

The workshop title suggests that it was for professionals, maybe healthcare professionals like me. Unfortunately I couldn’t go and ironically, as a psychiatric consultant in the general hospital on the day of that workshop as on almost every other day, I was trying to help others cope with grief and what some call anticipatory mourning as well,

Sena pointed out that Grassman had a name for those health care professionals who advise patients on how to cope with stress and grieving but don’t take the time to nurture themselves or heed their own counsel–“hypocrites.”

I cringed. Sena didn’t mention it as a message for me but I felt it anyway. One attendee told a harrowing story “triggered” by the workshop. She had been a medic in Vietnam. After a particularly bloody battle, she and the other members of her team had to choose which soldiers to try to save and who to lay under the shade of a tree and comfort as much as they could with morphine. It was called “triage,” a word doctors, including me, use every day at my hospital. Comparing the two situations, the word could not possibly mean the same thing for both.

Sena and I shared stories about our own losses, a list which tends to get longer the older we get. We’ve struggled with illnesses within the last year which reminded us of our mortality though we were never near death.

But we are fragile. We talked of our doubts about what we would do when we lose each other. It was hard just to write that, consciously using the word “when.” She confronted it and wept. I looked away and did not.

And so we talked of the time we have left together and what we ought to do with it. We’re saving for retirement and, like many, can occasionally get caught up in feathering the nest egg and finding ways to save money for the now not-so-far-off future–forgetting what we can do together now. And then we reminisce about how much we enjoyed a simple lunch out on the patio of Paisan’s in Madison, Wisconsin, overlooking Lake Monona. We have that memory, oh, so fragile.Lake Monona from Paisan's


And so many others crowd in. We spent a fair amount of money on some but on most of them, not so much. Most of them are stashed away in a box marked “FRAGILE” in what the Grateful Dead called the “attics of my life.”

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  1. Happy almost birthday.

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