Dear Dr. C,
Eight years ago, I sat in your office trembling… Because I was going to have to ask for help. I was going to have to talk about things I didn’t want to talk about. I was going to have to say the word ‘depression’ out loud.
And I did. And I promptly ran away from it and denied that it could have anything to do with me.
You didn’t run away from it. Or from me and my tears and my over-talking and my telling you about a few years worth of grief and challenge.
You listened. You handed me a tissue. And then you helped me want to get better.
There are these holy moments that happen during our ordinary days. Both of us thought that visit would be pretty ordinary. I mean, I knew it would be uncomfortable and that it was a big step to ask for help… but I also knew that it was a 15 minute appointment in the middle of your day that was crammed full of appointments.
You couldn’t have known that the words that you would say that day would be words I called up continually 8 years later. Or that you shared such wisdom and such insight into my life that day that I would use the same wisdom and insight to unpack events that would happen far into the future.
I must have seemed like a tea pot just hissing and spitting out water uncontrollably at you that day. I cried. I recounted the two years prior–the deployments. Losing my Mom. Her illness. Being pregnant and all the memories it stirred up.
As much as I didn’t want it to be depression, I didn’t want it to be grief even more. And you called me out on it.
You watched my body language. You said you saw me actually try to push the words down and away from me as I told you that it wasn’t grief I was dealing with.
I was so angry that my body betrayed me to you.
But I have always felt a sense of grateful awe that you paid such close attention.
You said the word “bereavement,” and I recoiled…
I was supposed to be over the grief by then, I thought. Only two years out from losing my Mama and I wanted it to be “over.”
You told me there was no finish line…. and that it was ok that I wasn’t through this yet. You said it wasn’t a race and that there was all the time in the world to feel what I needed and get to the other side.
And then you cast a vision for me…. You helped me look forward in a place where all I could do was look back… and then see where I was in that moment and feel stuck. Just so very stuck in depression and sadness and things I just couldn’t seem to get over.
You helped me believe that it could be better and that happier moments were coming.
You told me that day, “Val. You have faced a lot of challenges. I can see that. And I believe that in the not too distant future, you are going to look back at this time and say, ‘I got through that too.'”
I have echoed those words more times than I can count. I have said it to women who were battling with postpartum illnesses. I have said it to friends who were overwhelmed with challenges.
I have said it to myself when the mountains loomed high and my fear felt even higher.
I have gone over and over those words that happened in that one simple office visit for eight years now. But I have also referenced those words in conversations with others, in speeches, and at retreats.
Holy moments that echoed deeply into the future that came out of you just doing your job. Listening. Paying attention. Taking the time to be compassionate.
8 years later, and you no longer practice medicine here. In fact, I heard through the grapevine that you aren’t even in the state anymore.
But tonight as I reference your wisdom yet again and think about that day and how deeply caught and cared for I felt, gratitude springs up in me. And I desperately want the chance to just say THANK YOU.
Thank you for showing up. Thank you for doing your job well. Thank you for practicing the kind of medicine that sees people–even in a system that tends to push people through like an assembly line of illness.
You did cast a vision for me that day, and I grabbed on and held tight for dear life. Your words stayed with me and have reverberated into other challenges. You helped me get through cancer with those words–and that was years before I’d even feel a lump. You gave me those words to call on during deployments, and other bouts of depression.
You reminded me that life would be a string of “I got through that too,” and that rather than that meaning that life was a string of challenges, it would mean that life was a string of triumphs.
Dr. C, wherever you are I hope you know that you make a difference. I hope you are still showing up with compassion and really listening. I hope your detective skills and your perceptiveness of body language is still just as keen.
It was an ordinary moment on what, I assume, was a very ordinary day of office visits for you.
But it changed my life in ways that continue to echo on.
It was the definition of the holy ordinary.
That’s what real healing looks like. That’s good medicine.