When Caitlin was a small, small person and had frequent hospitalizations and weeks of home courses of IVs and then a long, serious surgery at age 11, my mother would always marvel at her. “She’s so stoic,” she would say.
But it wasn’t like Caitlin didn’t have fears or anxiety. It was just that she pretty much kept all of that to herself.
Once, when she was about 3, I heard her in her bed talking to herself. “Always have to cough, don’t know why.”
And one day I found this little drawing:
Like the frog in the slowly-boiling water, you get used to dealing with what you have to deal with, and it becomes the norm. I’ve been looking through old journals, and as I read through them, I kind of shudder. We always lived with held breath and a cracking heart. From the year she was 11 and spent months in the hospital, after surgery to remove part of her left lung:
I was just looking out the window and saw her clench her fists, then run up and down the yard. She’s trying to make herself better.
Last week, on Caitlin’s Boston bedside table, which was usually stuffed with toppling-over stacks of books, I was surprised to find only two items: one of Dr. Brian Weiss‘s soul/reincarnation books, and a little health journal she sporadically kept. In 2012, that year that I wrote was so great the other day, she had written:
Waiting on bloodwork and doctor’s call. Stressed. Scared. I don’t know if having another disease is something I can handle. So much time thinking about myself. Feel depleted. So much time just trying to care for myself that I have no energy left to really truly do something outside of me. Wish I could just forget about myself and throw myself into something meaningful but the mundane daily aspects of health keeps me tethered to my stupid problems.
Caitlin had cystic fibrosis, but by the end, she also had severe pulmonary hypertension, CFRD (diabetes), ocular migraines that put her at higher risk for stroke, blocked sinuses, and constant, painful total body aches that required round-the-clock doses of Tylenol. I’m sure I’m forgetting something, but the point is, all of these conditions required care. At her service in December, Andrew pointed out that every single day, Caitlin climbed a mountain. Every day involved so much more effort than any regular person can truly imagine.
This past week has been, for me, the hardest yet, the finality of her absence more fully real. It didn’t help that on Monday, I reached out to an MGH therapist who was supposedly outstanding—knew CF, transplant, ECMO, etc., someone who would understand the trauma of Caitlin’s life and last weeks without a lot of explaining by me. I waited for a reply, for a lifeline. On Tuesday, I received this email:
Thank you for your phone message. Unfortunately, I don’t have availability to see people for weekly therapy in my cystic fibrosis clinic at MGH given the limited time that I am there. Do you need to stay within your insurance network? If so, I can ask around in our department to see whether someone with experience dealing with illness and grief may have time.
We happened to be in Caitlin’s apartment when I received that email and I was livid and hysterical and couldn’t stop sobbing all night long. All night I thought: in the morning I am going post this callous person’s name on my blog then march down to MGH and accost her, in person!
I obviously needed to unleash some anger.
I sent a restrained reply instead:
Then I let it go. I have to let a lot of things go. Caitlin would be the first to say so.
She was such wise counsel to so many of us. After my inward rant, in that little black health record, I also found this:
September 12, 2012
Feel desperately hopeful now that Obama will win. Biden’s speech tonight about his grandmother and courage.
Courage. That word means it all to me.
When I feel myself flailing, grasping, panicking with pain or hurt, I get a notion in my head, always, and remember that there is courage. Courage is the answer. Because courage doesn’t negate the problem, it exists within the problem. And when you realize the answer lies in taking in the problem and living in spite of it, with full awareness of it, you feel a new option and a new sense of hope and life.