Bruce Campbell MD
Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.
I pick up the framed photograph of the woman and am astonished how clearly the image evokes a sense of peace. Such tranquility could only have sprung naturally from a depth of character; in her presence, everyone had felt warmth and a sense of stillness. As her cancer returned, each time more aggressively, she worried, not for herself, but for her husband and daughters. Her tears at each setback were as much for them as for herself.
Her eventual death was not a surprise. For the visitation, her family has assembled photos and keepsakes of their collective time together. I stop in front of each of the images, gazing at the smiling woman who later became my patient. Photographs with bent, fingered edges record moments in her life as she holds children, celebrates holidays, vacations, and stands proudly at graduations.
Among all of the souvenirs, this one image captures me. She sits in three-quarter profile on a screen porch surrounded by summer foliage. Her scars are not visible from this angle. It appears that she had been writing but has paused for a moment to read what she has just written, pen in hand and notebook on her knees. A coffee cup and a pair of binoculars rest on a table beside her while sunlight filters through the slats of the railings. The viewer is invited to listen to the birds, gaze at the lake through the trees, smell the pine forest, hear the creak of the the stained clapboards of the old cabin, feel the familiar roughness of the wicker furniture, and then slip quietly away, attempting not to disturb her in her moment of solitude. The photograph captures the most peaceful place on the planet.
As I hold the image, her husband unwraps the story that accompanies it. “That photo was taken at a cottage in New England that we first visited on our honeymoon. We returned many times over the years. The cabin is on a hillside near the shoreline so you get the feeling that you are up in the tops of the trees as you sit on the porch; they even call it The Crow’s Nest. She absolutely loved to sit there and read. One day, I went looking for her and there she was. Later, when I showed her the photo, she was surprised. She never even knew I that had been there. It was her favorite spot on Earth.”
We stand and admire the image for a few moments, and then I set the photo back down carefully and take a step backwards. Two-and-a-half years later, she is gone, but, for that one moment, she returns to the place that most embodied peace, both for her and for those whose lives she graced.
Orignially published in my blog, Reflections in a Head Mirror, 2008.