Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Book Review: 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, by Rebecca Goldstein

I finished this a few weeks ago, and have been trying to think of how to review it since. A good book can make you learn something about yourself. This one did that for me. I had the strange realization that while most of my childhood friends wanted to grow up to be famous celebrities or rock stars, I wanted to be Brilliant, with a capital B. The characters in this book are Brilliant, and so for me it read a little bit like a summer beach paperback about a rich debutante. Turns out I'm far from Brilliant, just bright (lowercase) with an aptitude for standardized tests. The story is about a university professor, who is being courted by the public and Harvard University due to his status as a newly christened intellectual celebrity, and a series of explorations about his personal relationships. It's a bit of a fictional peek inside the world of the intellectual elite. Along the way it explores a lot about the meaning of religion, which is of course very different from the meaning or existence of god.

This, as a sidebar, is my beef with the "atheist movement". The Dawkins crowd misses the importance of that difference.

Anyway, the author is clearly intelligent. It's the first book that I've ever read where I needed to consult a dictionary repeatedly. There are lots of big, intellectual words. Theodicy. Tautology. Disquisitions. There is a lot of philosophic arguments, that for the philosophy-naive is a fun re-exploration, almost made me feel like I was taking a college class on the philosophy of religion. There's higher math, game theory, religious history.

If you want a little of a mental workout, and a secular humanist viewpoint doesn't offend you, consider checking it out.

ShrinkRap just referenced a book that I'm going to order next.

Monday, April 19, 2010


She was in, with a beautiful new infant, for his first checkup. Vigorous, rooting, crying, reaching, full of life and zest.

She had lost an infant, not long ago.

As I wrapped up his visit, I asked how she was managing the difficult emotions she must be having. Doctor to patient.

What I really wanted to do was to ask, mother to mother: How did it feel to give birth to a child knowing that last one that made that violent trip from your womb to the world is no longer with you? Did you sob with joy, or grief? When you hold him, does it pain you to see the blood filling his fingers? When he suckles your breast, do you see her face? Or does this amazing gift of life, again, ease your loss?

She was managing, she said. And smiled. She looked like she meant it. She looked happy.

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Grief has been my kidney stone recently.

Most injuries, most illnesses that result in pain, make people motionless. If I don't move my broken arm, it won't hurt. Not kidney stones. That sharp edged stone just doesn't settle into a comfortable spot in the ureter with it's smooth walls. So most people with kidney stones are constantly shifting, trying without success to find that one position where it doesn't hurt.

This has been my recent MO. Henry's absence has been a constant presence for me. My middling and I scrubbed fingerprints off of doors this morning, and all I could think was that none of them were Henry's anymore. We went to a high school production last night, and ordered 4 tickets. Not 5. I spent it wondering if he would have liked it (decided he wouldn't have). My middling is lying on the floor building with Legos as I type. Alone. Without her brother.

And the discomfort that is leading to has me constantly looking, without success, for that position of relief. When I'm at work, I'm wishing I wasn't, wanting to be home where I can be alone with my pain, take off the happy face. Home hasn't been much of a relief either. My impulse is to push the girls away, though I feel terrible about it. Being along doesn't help much either, I spend it wishing my family was with me again.

I do feel the need for a support group, that I have yet to find. Our family grief group is useful, and I am grateful for it, but it's brief, far away, and we have trouble getting there now that soccer season is in full swing. I have not found an online group that I feel I can participate with. Most parents seem to turn to religion and the afterlife to comfort themselves, and I can't find any solace there. To boot, I have a realistic fear that I'm just barely hanging in there right now, and I am afraid of someone else's naked grief pulling me under.

I have also recognized that I have significant anxiety about three upcoming events. They are all very public fundraising events where people we love and who loved Henry give their time and money to support. I've admitted to myself that I'm dreading each one. Social events suck me dry of all energy on a good day; to stand and welcome friends, and strangers, and thank them genuinely, as they deserve, is exhausting. I feel like I have a scarlet letter on my chest, whatever letter you'd wear as a bereaved parent. It's awkward, and uncomfortable, and I wish they were over. These events are important, and I'm so appreciative of the work that goes into them, and the fundraising that results, but I just want them to be done.

So, this post was my attempt at lithotripsy, to break that damn stone up a little bit so I can pass it soon. I continue to find this blog a huge source of support; I remain grateful to all of you.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sad, and Mad

I'm so sad. A girl we met, on our first chemo admission, is at the end of the line. Her tumor won't quit. The writing is on the wall.

This has been a long and painful journey for her family.

And I'm so very mad. Her blog is full of messages to her mother. Her poor mother, who has just been told that her daughter is going to die of this tumor, is getting message after message from people telling her to "keep believing." Keep praying. Keep trying. Don't give up.

I could scream.

As if this woman doesn't have enough on her plate. As if she hasn't hoped, prayed, and believed enough in the last 3 years, through 3 resections, chemo, radiation, chemo again....

Over and over and over again, people say this garbage, all the time. "Prayer really works". "Faith saved my mother's life", not the stent placed to open up her blocked coronary artery. "Jesus can heal any cancer." Without ever thinking, wondering, if the person that is sitting through such nonsense ever lost a parent, a spouse, a child. Ever loved someone, prayed they would make it through that surgery, that MI, that car accident.

The insensitivity amazes me. Spend some time on the pediatric oncology ward, and then run around spouting that crap.

Keep your goddamn magical thinking to yourself. This woman's child is dying. She's about to make the hardest decisions of her life, and she's going to lose the prize no matter what. She needs support.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Like so many of you, spring is my favorite season.

I love to garden. I love to go my local nurseries, see what new colors they have in pansies this year. I love the sun (and no, I'm not good about sunblock, though I counsel my patients to be.) I love the warmth, and would prefer to have the house open and a fresh breeze than the AC on. Who doesn't love spring?

Last year I didn't love spring. It was still warm, breezy, beautiful, but I didn't enjoy it. At all. I wasn't surprised, things were still too fresh, obviously. The things that I normally take great pleasure in, particularly gardening, were a chore to me. I did them poorly and half-heartedly. I was still emotionally hemorrhaging, going through the motions of life because I didn't know what else to do to distract myself.

In retrospect, I've had a rough few weeks. It's odd to me that I have such difficulty recognizing my grief cycles, until I'm looking back on them. And it's so strange to feel COMPLETELY out of control of them. I truly do not feel like I can "pull out" of a down cycle thru my own volition. Grief happens to me. I think that's where my last post was born; my sense of lack of control is frustrating to me.

But last week, one day I woke up and it was gone. It was there when I went to bed, and simply gone in the morning. I was energetic, positive thinking, engaged, all before I hit the shower. And it's a short walk from the bed to the shower. Since then, I've felt great. I've had some difficult moments, cried some, missed Henry a lot, but it was all from such a different perspective than where I was just a week ago. Last week I was considering putting away some pictures of him since they pained me when his eyes caught me off guard. This week the same pictures are making me smile.

Another grief lesson learned, I guess. But I'm glad that I'm enjoying spring.