Big Man Wears His Doctor Hat

I hesitate to say our crisis has passed. We aren't planning a funeral. This is good, but the recovery road is long and as I type, The Original Big Man is still in the ICU. 

The family is made of strong stuff. The sisters, Big Man, and their mom have donned their cheerleading outfits with a resolve that doesn't seem to be waning.  

It's been weird and interesting for me to observe Big Man in his role as son and physician. As I have watched the family hang on the doctor's every word, I have been struck by the position of power the doctors seem to be in.  They have the ability to couch their language in such a way that can draw people to the conclusions they wish them to draw and in some instances, toy with their emotions.  At one point, Big Man told me about medical school in Rochester. As a grunt student, he said he would go into room after room with this or that expert and listen to these doctors give families brilliant little mini-lectures on whatever the disease of the day was. As a student he learned some great science, but when the doctor left and he remained to do whatever medical students do the families would look stunned and baffled. He wondered why they didn't ask questions. Often, they didn't know where to start and worried about feeling stupid. It was there that he learned what it meant to be a meaningful communicator. Later on, he had a supervising physician in residency who was so perfect with patients. She knew how to talk and read between the lines of what wasn't said and draw out their concerns and explain without condescending and again, Big Man took notes. These experiences have colored his whole approach to talking with patients and their families.

Since my life with Big Man isn't about medicine, I can freely admit I haven't always appreciated what he does. I got to watch him in action and struggle to find a balance between son, interpreter for his family, and just his own natural interest in the medicine of a case that happens to be his father's. He's gone over how he would have handled things, and I can't begin to explain the nuances of what he would have done things differently. But I have seen a glimpse of why our little town has been fortunate to have him in their medical community. He is very good at what he does. 

I am proud of how he has handled himself as a son who happens to be a physician. He hasn't been overbearing, but they are well aware that he's watching and that he's no slouch.

We don't often see our spouses in the action of their daily lives. I am not sure what I thought he was like and while I can't say I am surprised, I do know I felt pride.  

But mostly, he was the kind of son his dad would want him to be- kind, funny when needed, compassionate towards his family and all the medical personnel, and loyal to his tribe.  

As for me, I felt a renewed sense of gratitude for my guy and who he is as a person. When you are young, love goggles can sometimes make things seem rosey. Later, the grit of daily life can cast shadows. But moments of clarity abound in any relationship...if you are willing to see them. 

I looked.  And it will come as no surprise that I liked what I saw.

Things can turn on a dime...

Paul Wilfahrt, the original Big Man, is in the hospital. He's battling a horrible infection and the outcome is dicey.  It was one of those, "Hey Bob! Could you call me? Dad's back is hurting and I can't seem to help him get comfortable" to an admission to the ICU to soon-to-be-made major decisions about end-of-life care. 

It can happen that fast and while miracles present themselves, we are preparing for any eventuality.

My head is spinning, my heart is pounding, my fingers are itching to write something but nothing seems quite right so let me just tell you this:   Paul and I had a difficult relationship.  Of course, it was probably only difficult on my side. He admitted I scared him and friends counselled that this was a good place for an in-law to be.  I never meant to scare him. He was just so BIG and so OPINIONATED and so EVERYTHING that I don't know if I ever found my footing with him. But he loved me and I loved him in our wonky and sometimes misguided way.  

His greatest gift is his passion for his own children and grandchildren and his bride. This is where our thoughts are now as we wait to see what might happen and the family will focus on this as they face some tough decisions.

Bob's admitted he's been preparing for this type of week since 2000. He's had dreams about how things might go down, he and his dad have had some frank conversations, and in between they have acted like school boys together playing with lawn mowers and trains and tractors and working on creepy special effects for the next haunted house. The love between these two men has always been active and fun. 

I've spent a good portion of our marriage trying to understand Wilfahrt men and love. It hasn't always been easy, but I have found that between the cracks and crevices is where the bounty resides. 

We all know that things could turn again, but it seem impossible, ridiculously not doable, to balance on a dime.


We went to The National Archives. This was on my D.C. list though I was in no way prepared for how emotional I would be. I saw The Constitution and one of four replications of The Magna Carta, which hugely inspired the creation of our constitution. Holy smokes!! I wasn't expecting to be blown away and I confess to getting teary-eyed. "Those are some old pieces of paper," is what Ben had to say. And me?  I felt humbled and full of gratitude while thinking of those guys hammering out the details to what has become the foundation of what we are all about. I couldn't begin to wrap my brain around what I was really looking at...and since I haven't always been a diligent student of history,  I wasn't expecting to feel much of anything.

But I did, and the other thing that kept niggling at me was that despite that whole 'liberty and justice for all' thing, women and LGBT folks and African Americans have miles to go before they sleep despite our founders clearly- worded intentions. I guess the beauty then, is that we can still fight. That, too, is basis of our democracy.

I don't know if patriotism is the right word to describe my feelings. It's more of a renewed sense of appreciation for who we are as a nation.

 A full circle moment came when we visited a museum dedicated to the idea of free speech. One of the first items you see when you walk through this place is a world map colored according to the countries who have free, limited, or completely censored speech. That was sobering and you can guess without really knowing what the color red means.

If you follow THIS link, you can poke around each country and learn about the criteria they used for qualifying the press and speech rights. 

As riled up as people can get about their beliefs, the great thing is that we CAN get riled up and all of our opinions matter.  We can agree to disagree and still be kind and thoughtful. And we don't have to read everything that is written.  

This is just one little nugget of a big week that was hard for me to take in. There is more to come as I process it all.

But let me be clear in saying that while my kids took in the history, asked some good questions, and were game for most of what came their way, their favorite part was the zoo.

Finding a writing community

I have some writing "friends" I never would have imagined having two short years ago. Granted, it's on Facebook only, but the virtual support I have has grown by leaps and bounds.  I will not overstate these friendships, but I do leave quick questions, comments, or observations and the writing people I have befriended respond in a kind, caring, compassionate way. Every time. Every single one of them.

I am learning simply by inhaling what they say and share. The peaks I have gotten into their writing world have left me feeling 1). Not quite so alone 2). Comforted in the fact that writing is as necessary as breathing if you are, indeed, a writer and 
3). There is no one way to write.  

It has been freeing to learn so much from people I truly admire.  And when I get down by my lack of progress or intimidated by the wall I put up entirely by myself,  I think of Michael Perry who simply puts his butt in the chair (and now on the walking office treadmill) every day and DOES the work, or Lidia Yukavitch who says that she writes in bursts but not every day and it's ok.  Or of Diana Joseph who is mothering a toddler and feels thrilled when her often hilarious and dead-on posts about motherhood are her major writing accomplishment for the day. 

I am making progress in my writing life, but it's more in my head than on the page.

It's no secret that my head has always given me more problems than anything else
in life.  I have stopped or thwarted or talked myself out of more things than I can count. It is only when I let go and stop thinking so much that I take risks.

That is what propelled me to try to get a spot in this class. I sent some writing in and they accepted me. It wasn't a competition. I'm sure they just wanted to see if I could string some sentences together, and while it's tempting to say it's no big deal, it is a huge deal to me. Every single writing teacher is fabulous. I will be working with Cheryl Strayed and learning so about the art of memoir. She started as an essay writer, which is my favorite genre so I feel hope for myself.

I also feel extremely scared.

But fear is good when it's causing you to stretch and grow and push yourself. Otherwise, what's the point?

It's a long way off, this class. Until then, I am soaking up the words of my mentors and reaching for the keyboard in frustration, anxiety, and joy all at once. 

It turns out that everyone I admire feels just like I at least I am in good company.

So People

As a kid did you ever just stand in a circle and spin until you were so dizzy that it was a relief when you finally fell?

People are going through some challenging things and I want to fall just through my listening.  Aging parents, depression, chronic pain, troubled marriages, distraught children. The list goes on and yet it's nothing new.

I meet people through my job in retail that I like to call the So People. They are So persnickety, So obsessive, So demanding, So irritated, SO SO SO! Fortunately, there are those that balance this because they are So kind, So happy, So excited by the fact that The Book Shelf simply exists.

But it reminds me of how fragile we all are.  A brief encounter at the book store the other day ended when a customer just blurted out, "Oh God! It's just so hard!"

What I said was, "You are doing the best you can."

What I was thinking was, "Yes it is."

Come on. We all know what we need to do, especially at this time of year in cloudy Minnesota. Exercise. Eat right. Practice a mindful way of being. Seek a heat/light lamp.  I can say with confidence, I know. Many of us know, but no amount of self care detracts from the point that it can still be hard.

And so we are left to figure it out. And I just think as much as we feel alone, we are not. We are not alone in our frustration, our worry, our pain, our anger, our inability to brush it off, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to muddle through.

I appreciated that admission of "It's so hard!" as much as I appreciated a friend who outright admitted to her fragility. She was suggesting I be extra-careful in my words with her because she was ready to crack open.  I loved this because so many of us walk around with armor trying to bear it all as if an award might be waiting if you are simply tough.  No awards are ever given no matter how we wear our pain. It's true that we can't tiptoe around life, but sometimes there is nothing wrong with using just a little extra care. Or admitting that we ourselves might need it.

People who have kids know how they keep things real in an almost bizarre fashion. I still have to remind at least one of them to wipe and flush and wash their hands and stop picking their nose and check that the sandwich contains protein since the cheese on their favorite popcorn does not count. Or, maybe that's just me.

It can be weirdly funny to issue a command to flush while toiling over how to you are going to get to that funeral or make an appointment for your depressed child or figure how you are going to have a difficult conversation with a spouse. The wonky fun house mirror of life makes it hard to see a clear picture. 

I think what I am learning is that the picture is never really clear. 

Fold the laundry after choosing the headstone. Thaw the lasagna after the cancer's been diagnosed because the kids still need to eat. Set the garbage out before the hospice care comes. None of this is me specifically, but it is me and everyone because it's all such a jumble. Move on, trudge through, hang tight, let go. 

I am trying to remind myself of all of this as we sit on the cusp of March, that unpredictably wild gateway to sunnier days. 

We are all So People. 

So fragile and So resilient and So strong.

And So Not Alone.