Thursday, November 26, 2009


I have a love-hate relationship with our bereavement group.

The first group we attended, I could barely speak. I spent the entire group fighting tears. The thought that all of the families in that room with us had lost what we had lost was heart-breaking. It was like a new club. We were no longer in the cancer club, now we were in the "lost a child" club.

But, like the cancer club, membership has it's privileges. Ok, maybe not. But just as the cancer club was not a bad place to be once you got over the fact you had to be there, this club is so valuable. I guess it's better to be in a club than on your own. The club part is your option, not the "lost a child" part.

In the cancer club you shared what to feed your kids when they had chemo, how bad certain meds were, where to park on which days in the hospital lot. In the "lost a child" club, you learn that Halloween is going to be more painful than you expected, how not to kill someone who tells you about their miraculous recovery because they prayed, what to do with the empty Christmas stocking.

This is the love part of the relationship.

I've noticed a pattern. A few days before we have a meeting, my emotional center of gravity shifts. I start to feel it pulling me down. Things that I often take in stride make me very sad. Last week the day of the bereavement group I cried all the way home from work. Our schedule so far has been every other week, but one month we went to 3 weeks in a row. Mr. Smak and I were both VERY down after that. Maybe it's coincidence, it's not like that's the only time it happens, but I'm seeing a pattern. This is the hate part.

Last week we went. The girls love to go, which continues to surprise me. It's a big time commitment for us, a long trip down and back, but they are disappointed when we can't make it. Anyway, last week we hit traffic, arrived quite late, and ended up driving a total of 3.5 hours for a 45 minute meeting. We sort of decided on the way down that we were probably going to quit going soon.

I don't know what word to put on it, but the group changes how I'm feeling. It is comforting, but that's not the word I'm looking for. There is something about taking the trip that we drove so many times with/for Henry that is in a sense honoring him. Invariably I cry, and leave emotionally drained. But there's a sense of relief....still not the right word. Kind of the emotional version of how your body feels after a very intense workout.

Mr. Smak and I were surprised at how good we felt when we left last week. The experience requires us to dedicate several hours to Henry, focus on him, his story, our pain and loss, and know that we are doing it again in a couple of weeks. In that sense it's meditative, or religious, I guess.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Alone, Part 2

What fabulous comments on my last post...I received several in private email as well. As always, thanks to you all for the support.

I do feel it important to clarify, however, that my many theist friends are not at all excluding of me, or proselytizing, or in any way pushing me away. Many many have been so helpful, and supportive. I guess it's sort of a cultural difference...a different map of the world that makes me feel isolated. What they turn to for comfort is not comforting to me.

There has been the occasional acquaintance who says something useful like "How can you believe you'll never see him again? Wouldn't it soothe you to know that you'll see him again in heaven?" to which I (would like to) reply, "I'd like to believe he'll be alive in my Christmas stocking on December 25, but that doesn't make it so." The truth is that I don't believe I'll ever see him, hold him, talk to him again. I think when you're done, when the neurons in the brain stop firing for long enough, that you're gone. What many see as the soul, I see as physics.

In so many ways, I think this is liberating. As a commenter noted, there is no "why" in physics. There is no blame, there is no plan. There is random chance that a cell in Henry's brain underwent a genetic transformation after which it no longer obeyed the laws of it's fellow brain cells, and grew and grew and grew until it killed him. It happens predictably, based on probability. There's nothing and no one to be angry about. I got to skip that part of grief.

There is of course a flip side. When there is no god, no one skippering the boat, the question of futility looms large. Perhaps that is something that theists struggle with as guess is that it has a different flavor.

I appreciate all of the support and suggestions, there were several leads I hope to pursue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


In the final analysis, we are all really alone.

Sometimes I feel more alone than others.

I have a very supportive family, and a wonderful network of friends.

The grieving support group has provided me with another group of people who can relate to me and to whom I can relate in ways that my friends and family thankfully cannot.

But I have yet to happen upon another non-theist** who has lost a child.

I've read, and continue to read, several blogs of parents who have lost a child. Most are openly religious, in a structured sense. Church, prayer, reading and quoting the bible. Some are less structured, and appear to believe in god but in a less formal way. Angels, seeing loved ones in heaven, more prayer.

Allow me to formally digress into a disclaimer. I have nothing against religion. It is a useful and powerful tool in the lives of many, including many people whom I love and respect. It's just that I don't believe in god, and I can't imagine ever believing in god, just as strongly as those who do fervently believe in god can't imagine not doing so. It's part of the deep fabric of my being since I went through my own self-directed religious journey in my late teens. It may be arrogance, but I think that I've thought about god a lot more than many people who believe in god.

Anyhoo, I feel like the only one (my husband excepted.) I haven't met/read/heard of a fellow non-theist grieving a child. Of course, they exist...they must. I wish I could find some. We as grieving parents have so many emotions and experiences in common; our real and cyber-relationships are so supportive. But I get lost, feel shut out at times, when the healing turns to god and the relief that people seem to get from that belief and relationship. I just can't go there.

Where is the nearest Pseudo-Buddhist Non-theist American Grieving Parent support group?

**My newly preferred word for my belief system. Atheist is so loaded these days. I'm not anti-god, I just don't believe in one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The end of Dr. Smak?

I'll skip to the end. I'm not going to quit blogging. Yet.

This blog is faltering for me. Like my life over the past few years, it has changed into something altogether different than when it started.

Initially, I started blogging after finding I really enjoyed the medical blogs I was reading. There's a camaraderie in medical blogging that was fun. I was new to being a family doctor, and found delight and wonder in my day to day interactions with patients.

Just as my creative juices for medblogging were beginning to dry up, Henry got sick. I really didn't intend for this blog to turn into my group therapy sessions, but somewhere it did. It's hard for me to put into words how valuable this, and you as my readers, have been through the last 2 years. There was such relief in getting my thoughts and feelings out into the keyboard, and such support with each comment left.

This stage seems to be evaporating as well. My emotions are more stable, less intense, and more consistent. Predictability does not make for interesting blogging. For two years I've yearned for predictability; I'm not complaining. But I find my inspiration for blogging has diminished.

So I'm not sure what to do with Dr. Smak. She loves her patients, but finds it less and less often that they surprise her (at least, in good ways that are worth blogging about.) She misses Henry, but there too finds that the poignant moments or memories are more and more rare. She has lots more going on in her life, but does not think much of it of interest to her blog audience.

In short, I'm still blogging. But less.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Greatest Generation

Dr. Smak: So I understand that your back has been hurting for a week?

85 year old with hearing aid either broken or off to save batteries: Huh?

Dr. Smak (yelling): Your back has been hurting?

85 year old: Yup. I think I might know why.

Dr. Smak: Why?

85 year old: I dug 100 bushels of potatoes out of the ground last week. Do you think that did it?

Dr. Smak: Yeah. That might have done it.

Folks, they don't make them like this anymore.