remembering to breathe

remembering to breathe | the merry gourmet

My mother, brother, and me.

In January, I gave myself the gift of trying a barre class. The studio offers one week of unlimited classes free when you first sign up, and after my first class, I immediately signed up for another. After the first week, I’d taken three classes and felt sore in places I didn’t think possible. I remember getting up in the middle of the night to pee and wishing that my bathroom had rails along the walls so that I could hold on as I gingerly eased myself down and then up again, holding my breath with the pain. The soreness reminded me of the existence of so many individual muscles, but I liked knowing they were there. There was potential in that pain.

This morning, I took another barre class. It was my 141st class since the year began. Toward the end of class, during the final stretching period when the lights were dimmed and the music slowed down, I found my thoughts drifting to a place outside that room. I inhaled deeply, exhaled, and brought myself back. I understood again – because I’ve known this all year, but I love when I remember it – what a true gift barre has been and how necessary it has become to me. For a solid hour of class, I have allowed myself to focus only on myself, on remembering to breathe (especially through the pain), on becoming stronger than I was when I walked in the door.

Barre has been therapy for me. I mean that figuratively, of course, but also literally. In January, I was faced with a choice of what to do with two or three spare hours of my time each week. I could either continue seeing the therapist I’d begun seeing while trying to come to terms with my mother’s alcoholism and my brother’s mental illness and drug addiction, or, I could take barre classes. For that first week, I did both – a few barre classes and a therapy session. After that week, I realized that I felt physically better, but also mentally better, after a barre class. After a therapy session, I mostly just cried. The decision was an easy one.

When my father died, my grief was easy to name. He was physically gone, there was a funeral, and there was an obituary, which I wrote. I can walk to my living room and pick up the blue mason jar that holds some of his ashes, cradling it in my hands. I have a photograph of Dad’s headstone, the one that my husband and I paid for, and I have touched the cold granite of it. I have sympathy cards and email messages that I have saved. They are evidence of my father’s impact on this world. I grieved, and I knew it as that.

The pain that I have felt over these past many months was named by that therapist I saw (before I replaced her with barre classes). I didn’t realize that my feelings had a name, even though they felt familiar, but she pointed out the obvious for me: I’d lost my father when he died of a stroke, I’d lost my mother to alcoholism, and I’d lost my brother to addiction and mental illness. I was grieving, she pointed out, at losing my entire family. I remember thinking: Yes, that’s it exactly.

Knowing that I have been grieving  — that that’s the name for it — hasn’t made it any easier, except that now I can label it. Over this year, I’ve finally accepted that there is nothing I can do about my mother’s alcoholism, despite the many times I’ve tried to intervene. Cutting all contact is what I should do. That’s what all the online forums say, and I know that this would be the best for my self-preservation. I’ve minimized my contact with her, but I can’t cut off all communication yet. She’s still taking care of my grandmother, for one thing. And that one thing is a very big thing.

And she is my mother. I still hold out hope, even though it is very small, that she’ll return to living again. That she’ll want me in her life again one day.

For now, I’m focusing on remembering to breathe, especially through the pain. I’m also focusing on becoming stronger than I was before all of this happened. Just like in barre class.

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15 Responses to “the nurse”

  1. Gail — October 3, 2014 @ 10:46 am

    This is just one of the reasons why I love you. xoxoxo

  2. Maria Raynal — October 3, 2014 @ 11:22 am

    Me too. That inevitable intersection where life, death, hope and heartbreak collide … it sneaks up on us in so many ways.

  3. Cookin Canuck — October 3, 2014 @ 11:30 am

    You took me by surprise with this, MJ, and I’m having difficulties fighting back the tears. Thank you for sharing your emotions in such a raw, honest way. I can imagine that your own experiences make you even better at your job. That man is very lucky to have you as his doctor.

  4. Carolyn — October 3, 2014 @ 11:40 am

    I was going to say pretty much exactly what Dara said — about the tears, the honesty, the way that living your life fully can only make you better and better at your job. Instead I”ll just say: you’re wonderful. xx

  5. Paula — October 3, 2014 @ 11:42 am

    For many, it is hard to put words to our grief. I have so much respect and admiration for you and for your ability to finds words that so eloquently and meaningfully convey what you are feeling. Your writing is intensely beautiful, much like your spirit I’m sure.

  6. Susan - ofeverymoment — October 3, 2014 @ 11:53 am

    As a nurse, it warms my heart to read of such compassion by a person in my profession. As a caregiver who has lost a special person when being cared for in a hospital, I understand how hard it was for you to enter that IMC.
    Your father’s illness gave you insight that cannot be learned in medical school, and it is his legacy to all your patients. Thank you for writing this beautiful piece.

  7. Sabrina Modelle — October 3, 2014 @ 12:19 pm

    MJ,
    You are pretty freaking amazing. That is all.
    X
    Sabrina

  8. Liz Larkin — October 3, 2014 @ 1:18 pm

    I love your writing, MJ. it’s heartfelt, and true, and so lovely.

  9. Janis — October 3, 2014 @ 2:47 pm

    you are such a good writer.

  10. Mimi — October 3, 2014 @ 6:38 pm

    I just wish there were more female doctors. A beautiful post.

  11. cherie — October 3, 2014 @ 6:57 pm

    You are so compassionate because you are so aware of your OWN feelings. No matter the outcome, you are a blessing to your patients. I am very grateful to know there are doctors like you in the world.

    I’m typing through tears, wishing I could give you a hug myself. Yet another reminder that everyone is struggling.

  12. Liz @ The Lemon Bowl — October 3, 2014 @ 9:29 pm

    Youe strength and vulnerability is such an inspiration. Xoxo

  13. Rachel — October 5, 2014 @ 8:00 am

    You are incredible. Patients are lucky to have you as their physician.
    Know this was hard.

  14. Laura — October 8, 2014 @ 9:05 pm

    So heartfelt. Beautiful. Thank you.

  15. Mallory+@forkvsspoon — October 14, 2014 @ 10:32 am

    You are amazing. I have no other words. This post, like so many others of yours, has left me in awe. Thank you for being so vulnerable.

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