FORGET ME NOT
Last week, I made a patient cry. It certainly wasn’t on purpose. I just asked if she had plans for Valentine’s Day and she burst into tears. I handed her tissues as she told me about the recent breakup of her relationship. She said it had been a “real” relationship and she thought it would end in marriage. He ended it about a month ago. She states she is staying busy with her family and friends but still feels pretty weepy.
I know the pain of heartache and I felt enormous empathy for my twenty something patient. I gave her another tissue and told her I was going to tell her something that I’ve figured out recently. My husband would call this phrase a code for “the sermon will begin now.”
I was cleaning out a box of old cards and letters that I’ve kept through the years. I had two baskets labeled save and shred to place these cards and letters in after I decided what to do with them. I started pulling out cards to review. Some of the signatures at the bottom of those cards were completely unknown to me. That was actually a bit unsettling. When “Doug” wrote “we sure had fun at the movies! Ha! Ha!” I was clueless what that meant and who Doug even was. Did we go to a funny movie? Or, maybe we didn’t go to the movie and we did something else. Good grief! That card got tossed into the shred basket. There were other names that were vaguely familiar but they didn’t warm my heart when I saw their name. There was “Ben” a serial cheater, “Scott” who charged me gas money on a date and “Michael” who gave me frequent lectures that I was going to Hell because I wasn’t Catholic like him. Those cards, like those guys, went bye-bye.
Other cards were hard to decide. Sweet boyfriends, young and sincere, wrote of things we did and feelings we shared. Although these young men are no longer a part of my life, these cards and letters are like a time capsule of who I was at that time in my life. I save a few and shred the rest. I also sift though cards and letters from friends. I always like the cards that include pictures. It is a bit of a treasure hunt finding snapshots of long-ago faces and places. Some of writers of these cards and letters are still friends today -mainly through Facebook and some were just friends for a season. I pick out my favorites to save and shred the rest.
When I was my patient’s age, I, too, had a boyfriend I thought I would marry. After the most painful breakup of my life, I took all the cards and letters he gave me and wrapped them together in an envelope. I could never look at them again and eventually forgot about them until this day. It is amazing how 20 plus years can help diminish pain. I read them and realized he loved me the best he could for who he was and where he was in his life and that despite his rejection, I was and still am loveable. I am so grateful our relationship ended because I wouldn’t be here today with my husband and daughter now. Those letters and cards went into the shred pile.
The biggest takeaway from this project was that the letters and cards in that box that were the dearest to me weren’t from any boyfriend. It was the cards and letters from my mom and dad. When I saw the cherished familiar handwriting on the envelopes, letters or cards, I felt my knees weaken and my breath taken away. My mother wrote, “I can’t wait to see you this weekend! We will have fun!” on an Easter card. She wrote, “To my darling baby who grew up to be my best friend! I will love you always!” in a birthday card. My dad wrote often of how glad he was that I was his daughter. He wrote in a letter “I am so proud of you and I can’t wait to see you again!” They both wrote cautioning me to be careful when driving on the roads. “Watch out for deer when you come home!” they both admonish me in separate letters.
What makes these letters all the more poignant is that my father has been dead since 2011 and my mother is in the nursing home with dementia. I am so glad I had the foresight to save them. As I was placing them to the top of the save pile, I notice the back of one of my mom’s cards. The brand of the card was “Forget-me-not”. My mom had drawn a heart around those three words and put an exclamation mark next to it. It seems almost ironic now with her dementia. I kiss the back of the card with those precious words that were so important that she made a point to note them with her pen and I whisper to no one in particular “Never, momma.”
OK, so I didn’t go through all this with my patient but just the highlights and that the bottom line is that Valentine’s Day is about all different kinds of love. I told her that I have come to think the heartbreaks I endured with boyfriends when I was younger simply helped my heart to develop scar tissue so it could withstand the bigger heartbreaks that would come along as I got older. The death of my father and coping with my mother’s loss of memory have been the two most crushing blows I’ve ever experienced.
“As much as this hurts today, I promise, someday, this will not hurt as badly.” I remind her. “Two things to remember. You are still loveable and secondly, make sure you are spending time with the people who have loved you from the start and you will miss always when they are gone.”
My patient wipes her eyes with tissues. Through her tears, she says, “My friend comes to you and says you always make her laugh and cry too.” I laugh and reassure that I like that I make her friend laugh but that I never mean to make people cry and certainly don’t need that reputation. Now she laughs and reassures me. “No. No. It’s good. I needed this and you helped me a lot. “
As she leaves the office, she gives me a final hug. I go to my office and place a phone call to the nursing home where my mother is now living. Just because my mom has dementia doesn’t mean she cannot give or receive love. As I dial the number, I think of the heart she drew around those three little words all those years ago. Forget me not. “Not a chance, Momma,” I whisper as the phone rings. “Not a chance!”
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY