Me and the Miracle of the Pink Bear

“Why didn’t you quit?” a young medical student recently asked me. Her eyes suggested she could relate to the med school challenges I had just shared with her. “I knew being a doctor was what I wanted to do, and that made the difficulties just bumps in the road,” I explained. Later, as I thought about it more, I realized it was also because there were people along the way who made it worth all the struggles.

One was an 8-year-old boy whose cancer was advanced by the time I met him. Hospitalized for a bone marrow transplant at the university where I was an intern, his body had rejected the treatment, and he was dying. I was the one assigned to draw his blood every morning, and I was terrible at it. My only saving grace was that he was so sick he didn’t always wake up as I stuck and re-stuck every morning. Continue reading →

Exciting News: Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

On October 31 the newest Chicken Soup for the Soul book will be released, and guess what? On page 54 you’ll find one of my stories!

But here’s even better news: subscribe to my blog by email, and you’ll be entered in a drawing to win a free copy of the book. Not only will you get my posts delivered straight to your inbox twice a month, but you might be one of three lucky winners of Step Outside Your Comfort Zone: 101 Stories About Trying New Things, Overcoming Fears and Broadening Your World.

It’s a win-win! If you already subscribe – you’re automatically entered in the contest. And if you’re curious to check it out, the book is  already available on  amazon.com.

colleen

 

 

Darn my stubborn streak!

Most of you know the story of how Neil and I met the first time in the Emergency Department. You may not know the rest of the story, but it’s a good reminder about how stubborn streaks can get us into trouble.

The second time Neil and I saw each other was at a wedding. His restaurant manager was marrying my daughter’s nanny. It was a beautiful outdoor wedding, the bride glowing, the groom ecstatic, and my sweet daughter having the time of her life as the flower girl. After the ceremony, while the bridal party was taking pictures, I wandered over to where Neil sat in the bright sunshine.

I said hello and asked if he remembered me, and he admitted that he didn’t. His version of the story was that next I asked, ‘Would a hypodermic needle up your nose remind you?” I don’t think I ever said the phrase “hypodermic needle’ in my life – only TV doctors do, so I am sure he was wrong. Continue reading →

Finding God in the Irish Countryside

Recently I was asked how my trip to Ireland impacted my faith and spirituality. I loved this question because it wasn’t in the Irish people or even in the Irish Churches that I felt God’s hand. It was in the land itself, three places in particular.

The first was in the Burren, an otherworldly expanse of limestone rock landscape that stretches for 150 square miles through Counties Clare and Galway, and in some places, is a half mile thick. The area gets even more rain than the rest of Ireland, and the climate is oddly temperate, so the rock is dotted with an unusual variety of plants and animals tucked into its crevices.

In the midst of this desolate appearing region is a structure called the Poulnabrone Dolmen, an ancient portal tomb dating back to sometime around 3500 BC. This tomb wasn’t the original resting place of its inhabitants– their bodies were kept somewhere safe until only the bones remained, then the bones and special personal objects were placed into the tomb. It is atop a small hill, so it can be seen as an eerie focal point from surrounding areas.

As I climbed up that small hill, the heavy rain let up. Gusts of wind swirled around me and Irish mist kissed my face. Although not allowed past the rope that loosely surrounds the structure, I was close enough to be awestruck by beauty of those ancient stones.

My daughter wandered a few feet away on her own, and I thought about the families who once lived here. Their lives were so different from mine -different worries, different fears, different struggles, different joys. And yet, here was a sacred place where they felt a lot like I have, a place where they honored and mourned their dead, sending them on their eternal journey with personal objects to comfort them. Over five thousand years ago they cared for their dead and grieved just like we do. Throughout the whole world and throughout time, human beings all share this common experience of sorrow and loss, a fact that should make us all a bit more compassionate and charitable to each other. Continue reading →

Oh No, It’s Dark in Here!

I was finally at the writers’ conference I had anticipated all year. The first day was full of networking (which I hate) and learning (which I love). It was a long day, and coming on the heels of my trip to Ireland, I was tired. I was relaxing in my hotel room, sipping my nightly glass of wine and chewing Skittles, when the lights flickered and went out.

What’s going on? I thought. It had been incredibly hot that day – over a hundred degrees, with a high chance of thunderstorms. My first thought was a lightning strike, but then I realized it wasn’t storming. Next, the ER doctor in me thought, I wonder if a car accident hit a local transformer – I hope everyone is ok. Finally, the worrier in me thought, Oh no, what if its terrorists, or the end of the world?

I sat on the plump, comfortable hotel bed in pitch darkness, trying to decide what to do and how upset I should be. I didn’t hear any sirens or screams to suggest something serious. The bed was cozy and the wine was the perfect temperature. I could still feel the Skittles in their open bag on the bedside table. The power is probably going to come back on any second, I thought, After a few minutes it was still dark, and I knew I needed to investigate. After all, if it was the end of the world, shouldn’t I call my daughters? Continue reading →

What Other People Think Only Matters If You Let It

Neil and I had some rough spots over the years. What marriage doesn’t? We tend to suppress those memories or gloss over them in time with a more favorable lens. Recently, I went to a concert that forced me to confront one of those memories.

Twenty some years ago, Neil and I planned to attend a concert at that particular lovely outdoor venue called Lime Kiln Theater. It’s made up of several different  stages hewn out of ancient quarry rocks and man-made refreshment stands where you can buy  beer or a glass of wine. The gates open early so people can bring picnics and relax under the stars before the show. I didn’t get off work that evening until 8 pm, so Neil suggested I meet him there. He got there at least an hour before me and started “relaxing.” He was very drunk by the time I arrived.

He slept in his seat through the whole first half of the concert. He snored forcefully once or twice, but a quick jab with my elbow took care of that. In the middle of the second set, he woke up and loudly announced that it was time to go. Embarrassed, I quietly shuffled along behind him, hunched over so I didn’t obstruct anyone’s view of the show. We left the audience area and had slowly climbed about half way up the path that leads to the parking lot, when Neil decided to take a nap. Yes, right there in the middle of the pine straw path, he laid down on his side, curled into a little ball with his face on a rock and told me, “Night night.”
Continue reading →

Two Songs: ‘The Circle of Life’ and ‘We are Family’

Twenty-two years ago, my baby sister got married and recently I  reminisced about little snippets of that day.

I remember my sister’s beautiful dress and how sweet and young she looked. I remember mixed look of pride and hope and worry on my parents’ faces. I remember Neil sneaking outside to take a few quick puffs on his cigarette anytime an opportunity presented itself, meeting other relatives over their common vice. I remember Gina twirling and twirling with abandon on the reception dance floor as her dress flew in wide circles around her. And I remember dancing a bit crazily myself with my sisters to the immortal words of Sister Sledge: “We are family. I got all my sisters with me…all the people say can they be that close?”
Continue reading →

Is There a Lesson in Those Memories?

It was one of those unusual days in the ER when nothing was going on. No car accidents, no sick kids, no broken bones – and the nurses left the department in a rare opportunity to relax at the cafeteria for lunch. Alone in the department I strolled around looking through the windows to the sunny summer day outside. As I watched, the glass ambulance doors opened and a man wandered through. He had a distinctive swaggering walk and blond hair that was long enough to fall in soft curls, but I couldn’t see his face behind the bloody towel he clutched
over it. Continue reading →

Three Ways to Overcome the Lies of a Mourning Heart

All of us will mourn in our lives. Perhaps it will be the death of someone we love, or a relationship gone wrong, a loss of health, or a job terminated.  A mourning heart can convince itself of all sorts of things that aren’t true: My husband didn’t really love me or I could’ve made him stop smoking if I really wanted to. Maybe you’ve heard some of its criticism, too: My friend never liked me.  I didn’t deserve that job.
And, of course: It’s all my fault. Continue reading →

When Your Heart Wants To Help, But Your Head Has No Idea What To Say

I recently had a request to resurrect this post from back in 2015. It’s still true…..

People respond to me in different ways now that Neil has died. Some people pretend they don’t see me because they don’t know what to say. Others pretend nothing has changed. Some offer advice and worst of all, some people tell me it’s time to move on. I know they all mean well and want to help; they just don’t know how to do it. How do you help someone who’s faced a great loss when you don’t know what to say? It’s actually easier than you think. You don’t have to say a thing; you just listen.

Recently, a dear friend brought me dinner. We sat at the table long after the food had grown cold and she invited me to reminisce. She didn’t find it awkward or uncomfortable to be speaking about the dead and listened intently as I rambled on about how Neil and I met and fell in love. She chuckled with me over funny family stories and laughed at some of the ridiculous arguments Neil and I had over the years. She loved when I showed her my collection of the crazy little frogs that Neil drew on everything he wrote – messages in the girl’s lunch boxes, notes he left for us around the house, and especially on his signature homemade holiday cards. Continue reading →