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  • Writer's picturehayley cagan kamis

Peaceful Coexistence in the Greatest Pain?

Dear Dr. X,

What a nice surprise it was to bump into you today outside of the hospital, neither one of us a patient or an employee. As always, I would very much like to talk shop & catch up, but I have another, much more sensitive issue on my mind.

I've been having great difficulty finding a "norm" for myself these days. Everything is different now since my illness, and I can't seem to find my footing.

I'm feeling a lot of pressure from people around me to move forward, put the past behind me, and focus on how well I'm doing now. Whereas I am appreciative & grateful every single day that I survived my medical nightmare, the reality and seriousness of it all -- the very fact I’ve ignored in order to focus on regaining my health without distraction -- has caught up with me. Memories and unexpected flashbacks sneak up out of nowhere, and events that I previously recalled without emotion now leave me breathless, panicked, frozen.

It would be so helpful to mull this over with you because I believe you’ll understand better than most, given your own recent medical trials and challenges. But I can’t imagine asking you to hear me out for one very serious reason:

Because I lived, and your son did not.

I wonder if it offends you, or if you ever wonder why it was me who survived and not him. I think about it often, all the while fully aware that it's a question we'll never discuss or even remotely be able to answer. Still, no matter what I do or think or say, I can't help but feel I'm letting your son down, along with all of the other people who passed away unexpectedly while I struggled to stay alive...My son’s friend. My friend's sister-in-law. My client's boyfriend. And your oldest child. All were shocking, completely unexpected health emergencies, just like mine. But, why is it that I am still here - the 20%, the one out of five? It doesn't feel fair or right, and I don't know how I can make it so. Every moment of procrastination, each instance of potential opportunities lost, feels like an act of great disrespect to them. Does it make those around me angry or resentful that I’m wasting the precious gift of time that their families lost? That others invested in my survival? Who do I owe, what do I owe, and will my debt ever be paid? Can I ever forgive myself?

Running in circles with these thoughts in my mind is is dizzying. SO. MANY. QUESTIONS: Am I crazy? Is crazy okay? Does it matter? Will life just keep throwing curveballs at all of us like this? If so, am I obligated to swing, or can I just accept the strike? What if I just want to be the benchwarmer for a while rather than suck it up and take another one for the team? What is the price for survival? When, if ever, will this tallying end?

I know there is nothing you can say or do for me, nor do you owe me anything. It's not your burden to bear or your question to answer, and to assume otherwise would be insensitive and cruel. And yet, I can't help but wonder if you consider it yourself, too: Why him and not Hayley? Why Hayley and not him? Do you think I would be offended or hurt to know that this thought crosses your mind? I most certainly wouldn't blame you - it's an impossible rabbit-hole to avoid in the most manicured gardens of unfathomable "why's". But still, one more experience we potentially share in common that we'll avoid at all costs.

I honor your son's life - all of the lives lost - while mine was solidified, the result of no more or fewer prayers or efforts than anyone else's; just unexplainable outcomes. Equally valued and loved, cherished and precious. I want my life to make sense, to even the score, to provide meaning and justice. Is that unfair to expect? and is it really mine to carry?

Sharing the space of celebrating life and mourning death is a slippery slope. It seems so illogical, and yet it just is. Both exist, nor more or less real than the other. Oh, how I pray we can each peacefully co-exist with them, too.

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