a story about a pen

letting go

I do not have a recipe for you today, though I will have one for you soon. First, I must tell you a story about a pen. I wasn’t planning on telling any pen stories, because who tells stories about pens? But then I started writing, and this is what needed to come out. A story about a pen.

Or maybe it’s just a story about loss.

*   *   *   *   *

I lost my favorite pen two days ago. When I left my clinic the evening before, I had left it there, on accident. I knew that it was there; I realized it as soon as I walked out of the building to head to my office, in another building. I stopped walking when I thought of it. I paused on the sidewalk, and patients who were leaving their various appointments had to walk around me.

My pen, I thought. I should go back for it.

But…no. Who goes back for a pen? That would be ridiculous. I would not go back into the building, up the stairs, through the clinic space and into the doctors’ workroom…just for a pen. I would have gone back for my wallet, or my ID badge, but not for a silly pen. So I did not go back.

I had left my favorite pen in my white coat pocket; the upper left one, along with a couple of other black-ink pens, the same pocket I keep my iPhone and reading glasses in when I’m seeing patients in clinic. And if it wasn’t there, I could swear I left it right on the desk, nestled up next to the keyboard.

My pen is a black fountain pen, a Pilot Vanishing Point with a blue ink cartridge inside. It’s an expensive pen, the most expensive pen I own, and certainly the most expensive pen I’ve ever brought to work. The point on the pen is very fine, and writing with it is addictive. The pen’s nib glides across paper without a hitch, leaving a smooth line of ink in its wake. It feels good in my hand, and it makes me want to write.

The following morning, after first attending a 7:30 a.m. conference, I walked over to my clinic. When I arrived at my desk, I leaned over the desk chair to put my bag on the floor, and I noticed that there were only two pens in my coat pocket, neither of which was my favorite pen. I tried not to panic. I followed my usual routine – I removed my cell phone and my reading glasses from my bag and placed them on the desk. I draped the lanyard holding my ID badge around my neck, while I waited for my computer to wake up. I lifted the keyboard to check underneath. No pen. I looked behind the computer monitor, and I pushed the rolling chair back from the desk and looked underneath, but no pen.

It was gone. My pen must have been stolen, right out of my coat, or right off my desk. Maybe the janitorial staff did it? A sense of loss overcame me. My pen was gone, and I had been so careless as to bring it to work, to think that I could use it in a crowded clinic, with doctors and staff in and out all day long, without losing it.

I realized then exactly how important that pen had become to me.

Half and hour later, or maybe less, my nurse, Eric, appeared at my side, as he often does, to see if I needed anything. I probably should have told him about the patient who needed to be called about some test results, or about the upcoming chemotherapy plan on that other patient, or an update on another patient who’d developed a recurrence.

Instead, I said, “I lost my pen.” I tried to keep the panic out of my voice.

I described my pen to him, and how it was really no big deal (it was), but I’d really love it if someone turned found it and turned it in. He remembered it. He had seen it, when I left the pen lying on my desk at some point, and he’d used it to sign something. He remarked on how nice the pen wrote.

Eric turned to leave the room, promising to let me know if it turned up, and I turned back to my computer screen. A patient’s record was on the screen, but in my head I was berating myself for being so stupid, for bringing that pen to work. I mean, really. Who needs a nice writing pen when the clinic uses an electronic medical record? I couldn’t believe I’d been so dumb.

“Is this it?” my nurse asked, turning back to me from the doorway. He was holding up a distinctive black pen – my pen! – that he’d just picked up off another desk near the workroom door.

I did not hug Eric, but I wanted to and I should have.

*   *   *   *   *

A couple of weeks ago, which was about a month after my father died of the stroke, I had a night of fitful dreams. This was not uncommon then. Nor is it uncommon now.

But that night, my father was there, in his hospital bed, in the nursing home right next to the hospital in which I work. Even though he was completely disabled in my dream, just as he was at the end, he was fully aware – of his condition, of his impending death, of me, and of my grief at losing him slowly (or maybe not so slowly) to dementia. In life, he had not had that awareness. In life, he had denied his dementia thoroughly and adamantly. But the father who returned to me in my dream was completely aware. In that dream, he and I both knew what was coming.

In my dream, I knew that he and I would go through his death again, and it would be just as hard to lose him a second time, if not harder. There was a sense of urgency, of time passing at triple speed, of time running out.

In the dream, my father wanted me to find a fountain pen. He needed me to find a specific pen, one he had been searching for. This pen he wanted me to find was to be for me, though, not for him. He needed me to have it before he died. In that dream, I was with him at one moment, and in the next, I was in an antique shop or in a thrift shop, looking through boxes and bags and drawers of old pens. They were all fountain pens, these pens, and I knew that was the kind of pen Dad wanted me to find. In one dust-covered shoebox filled with old pens and half-filled ink bottles, I found it. I held up the pen, a black fountain pen with a shiny, silver nib – yes, this was the one Dad wanted. I needed to get it to him before time ran out.

And then I woke up.

The next day, I bought a fountain pen online. It was an impulsive decision, just like getting a new kitten. But it felt right, just like the kitten did, and in my dream, my father had wanted me to have a fountain pen.

The pen came in the mail a couple of days later. I fell in love with it immediately. Writing with it feels luxurious. The words seemed to flow more easily out of my head and onto the paper. It is heavy in my hand, with a weight that feels comfortable and comforting.

The silliest thing of all? I feel connected to my father when I write with this pen.

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34 Responses to “regrets”

  1. Janis — February 22, 2014 @ 7:13 pm

    I wish I knew what to say. I wish I could give you a hug. I know how it feels and I am hurting for my friend. Take care of yourself through this sweetie.

  2. Aimee — February 22, 2014 @ 7:32 pm

    I am so so sorry, my friend. Please know I am thinking of you and praying for strength for you.

  3. Sabrina Modelle — February 22, 2014 @ 7:45 pm

    I am so very sorry about your dad’s stroke. I am thinking of you and your family.
    Thank you (as always) for your honesty and raw truth on this blog.

  4. Elizabeth — February 22, 2014 @ 7:48 pm

    Prayers are with you and your family.

  5. Lana — February 22, 2014 @ 8:03 pm

    MJ, your post brought me to tears. My father suffered a massive stroke last fall and no one thought he would recover. Being a tough old goat with a very strong heart, he was declared a miracle and sent home. But even though he is alive, he is not the same dignified, handsome man he used to be just a year ago. And just like you, I regret my impatience with him, my lack of time to listen to his “digressions” and memories, my selfish, silent desires that he would find someone else to bore with his interminable stories. It hurts and it will hurt for a long time.

    I wish I could give you a big bear hug and cry with you right now. Kiss your dad’s cheek for me, too. and wish him peace.



  6. Lisa @ Garnish with Lemon — February 22, 2014 @ 8:07 pm

    Merry Jennifer, many prayers for you and your family during this difficult time. It’s so hard to watch our parents suffer. Sending lots of hugs and peaceful prayers your way.

  7. Aces — February 22, 2014 @ 8:08 pm

    Oh, Merry, so sorry. Being a physician in instances like this sucks. I hope for the best for your dad.

  8. Beth S — February 22, 2014 @ 8:25 pm

    So sorry to hear about your father. My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family.

  9. Jen Schall — February 22, 2014 @ 8:40 pm

    I’m so sorry, MJ… We went through something similar with my grandfather, and reading this post brought back many memories and tears. I hope you will find some peace in all of it. Thank you for sharing something so vulnerable and beautiful. I’m sending my love and prayers your way.

  10. Macaroni Mama — February 22, 2014 @ 9:43 pm

    I love how you captured this moment. One day soon, you will bake or cook and awe your food bloggers about your wonderful recipes. Love you.

  11. Jayne — February 23, 2014 @ 2:10 am

    So sorry to hear this MJ. x

  12. Steph — February 23, 2014 @ 8:51 am

    Oh, MJ, I’m so sorry to hear this. Regret is so difficult to deal with. I still harbor a great deal of it from the loss of my mom almost 17 years ago. I never got to be an adult with her, really. She died when I was still a selfish brat.
    Anyway, I am sorry for what you are enduring right now. Hugs.

  13. MJ, I don’t really know what to say but I know your dad knows he is loved and cared for and I know if he could talk to you now he would tell you want a wonderful daughter you are. He’s a lucky man. Try not to focus on what you regret, please. Sending hugs and strength, always XO

  14. Kathleen S — February 23, 2014 @ 9:49 am

    I’m so sorry you and your family have to face this. Watching helplessly is hard and horrible.

    I’ll share something that helped me last year. http://fuckingcancerblog.com/2013/07/02/the-importance-of-the-last-breath/

    Last words are not that important, all the words he’s said before are what matter. His life with you, love for you and your family. That’s the sum of a life.

    I understand the regret from having imperfect memories. I started a Memories Journal and I put everything I can remember into it, from stories to the quiet ways we interacted.

    I hope by sharing I can make your days a little lighter…

  15. Wendy Read — February 23, 2014 @ 9:57 am

    MJ, my heart goes out to you as I have walked the road that you are on. Coming to terms with your regrets is a process as you well know, but it is very raw right now and will be until it just isn’t anymore. I wish you grace and tranquility to get through the next few weeks and to be a support for your Mom as well. Hold her hand the best that you know how and hold each other up.

  16. Lizthechef — February 23, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    Such a hard time for you and your family. My thoughts are with you all.

  17. Lynda - TasteFood — February 23, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    My thoughts and prayers are with you, MJ. I lost my father just before Christmas. Try not to let regrets consume you at this time – you have done your utmost and he knows it.

  18. Katy — February 23, 2014 @ 11:23 am

    My heart aches with yours. May you find peace and joy in the good memories!

  19. Sharon — February 23, 2014 @ 11:56 am

    Your post brought me to tears. You gave been a wonderful daughter to your father. We can all look back and think we should have cancelled this or changed a moment (with regrets) but you were there with your father when he knew you were and he would want you to have no regrets.

  20. Smith Bites — February 23, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    It seems from the comments above as well as my own will tell you there are many of us with regrets similar to yours; and you also know that in the depths of your gut that yes, even had you been there, nothing would have changed. I also think regret is part of grieving: the ‘what ifs, what might have beens, the future, the past’ – all of it. but you are not alone and i know that leaving my comment won’t change it or make this process any less painful. but i hope it helps, even if it’s for a blip of a second, that you feel the love that is surrounding you now. (((hugs)))

  21. jacquie — February 23, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

    I’m so sorry. my thoughts are with you and your family. and though it doesn’t help hugs to all

  22. Nancie McDermott — February 23, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

    I am thinking of you up here in North Carolina, dealing with these things that cannot be fixed. I am so sorry. It means so much to me to read your words and see your photographs, when they are delightful and delicious, and also when they are poignant and profound and sad.

  23. Gail — February 23, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

    Oh, MJ, my heart goes out to you.
    I felt the same way when my dad was dying. It was as though a big bag of marbles spilled on the floor, and I was scrambling to gather them up as quickly as possible. But, the more I rushed to get them, the faster they rolled away from me.

    Do not beat yourself up. Don’t be hard on yourself.

  24. Alice Martin — February 23, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

    Merry Jennifer, I have known you since you were a little girl and I want you to know that your dad has always been so proud of you. I remember how happy he was on your wedding day. You filled his life with joy! I am thinking of you and your mom and brother. I love you.

  25. DrAttai — February 23, 2014 @ 10:43 pm

    So very sorry. Please know that you and your family are in my thoughts.

  26. Amy @ The Nifty Foodie — February 23, 2014 @ 11:27 pm

    I’m so sorry. You, your father and your family are in my thoughts and prayers right now.

  27. Leigh — February 24, 2014 @ 6:57 am

    MJ, I am so sorry for what you are going through. This was beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this piece of yourself. We’re here to do whatever we can. xoxo

  28. Di — February 24, 2014 @ 11:44 am

    Taking of leave of this world is often hard and agonizing work; bearing witness to it when it’s your loved one is heart-breaking. With sorrow for you and your family, I will pray.

  29. Bridget — February 24, 2014 @ 3:17 pm

    I’m so sorry. I’ll be thinking of you and your family, and wishing you all the best.

  30. Paula — February 24, 2014 @ 3:26 pm

    My heart goes put to you and your family, not to mention my prayers. I know that you know that your father loves you, then, now and always…without regret. Sending you heartfelt hugs.

  31. Kathy — February 24, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

    I ache for you. May you all find peace in the days ahead.

  32. Christine (Cook the Story) — February 26, 2014 @ 4:23 pm

    Oh, my friend. I am so sorry for your Dad’s illness and that you feel in any way to blame. You can’t live in the past and think what if because all the what ifs in the world can’t change it. But you can savor time together now. And I can tell that that is what you’re doing (you’re always so wise. You don’t need me to tell you anything like that!). You and your family are in my thoughts.

  33. vagabonde — February 28, 2014 @ 11:36 am

    I came to your blog from Sam’s My Carolina Kitchen and expected a merry recipe. I read your post and it really affected me. I am deeply sorry for your father, for you and your family. I also read your post A nursing Home Visit – so very sad. My husband has been diagnosed with Onset Alzheimer and reading your post – I realized this will come to pass for me too – not easy.

  34. Mary — March 1, 2014 @ 5:39 pm

    I’m so sorry to read that your dad passed. I have been reading your great stories about him and I think he was a loved man. My dad passed five years ago this year and I still cry everyday. I’m sure you will also but that’s alright. Thank you for sharing all these stories.

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