Since 2006, for me, September has been a period of reflecting on beginnings and ends…the summer ends, and the new school year starts. The birth of my older daughter and the death of my father are separated by 5 days. We celebrated her 6th birthday 5 days before he died. As part of my “getting through September” this year, I went to my journal for solace, and in re-reading past entries, was reminded of a life changing event that happened in August 2011. I think that event was a first wake-up call, and helped to lay the foundation for the sense of peace and gratitude that made this September different from the previous ones. The story of that event and what I gained from it felt like a good way to mark the 11 year anniversary of an even bigger event in my life…the loss of a parent. So here goes…
Six years ago, on a quiet Friday morning at my Shortwood family practice, minutes after I entered the building, two men walked through our open front door. Unbeknown to us they passed the lone patient sitting in the waiting room, entered my office and stole to my handbag which was sitting on my desk. Next, they went to the treatment room, where my nurse’s handbag was secured in the back of a cupboard with a closed door, and took that too. All of this occurred in less than 10 minutes while I was talking to my staff in our lunch/sitting room about the schedule for the rest of the day. None of us saw the men, and we did not even realise we had been robbed until I returned to my office to get my cell phone from my bag. My staff and I were in shock, at the audacity of the robbery, as well as the fact that it must have been someone who knew where my nurse “secured” her handbag. We could only conclude it must have been a patient or someone who posed as a patient or relative of a patient and spent time watching how we work in order to execute the theft so efficiently. We only knew it was two men because the lone patient sitting in the waiting room said he saw the men come in right behind me. He claimed that he thought that they were people I knew. Needless to say, all plans for the rest of that day flew out the window, as we struggled to deal with not only anger and grief at the loss and betrayal of trust, but also the practical details of making a police report, and cancelling bank cards and cell phone services.
When I discovered that my bag was gone, I said to more than one person that my life was in that bag. As I thought about it later, I realised that saying such a thing was an insult to my life and to who I am. My life was so not in that bag…and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I did not lose my life. It was just a handbag. Okay, it was a handbag that had memories of a 2006 trip to New Orleans to visit my best friend, attached to its purchase. It contained a wallet that had attached memories of a 1996 trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts to visit the man I would later marry. In the wallet were the plastic bits that one needs to drive a car and buy stuff. Also in the handbag were two cell phones with contacts, and a treasured letter from my sister about the ways in which humans sometimes behave like puffer fish when they feel threatened. The memories that made these items unique were still intact in my head, and all the physical stuff was replaceable. None of these things remotely represented anything like my life.
My life was my precious children, my mother, my husband, and my sister who were still alive and around for me to talk to. My life was my sistren who gathered around later on the evening after the theft to drink tea and grieve over losses bigger than handbags. My life was my patients and the people I came into contact with regularly at work. Their unanimous shock at the theft, and their support in the aftermath validated my presence in both the physical community around Shortwood Medical Centre, as well as the community of the practice itself which included people from a much wider area. My life has always been and always will be about people, not “stuff”
I can choose to continue to mourn for the things that are gone or to celebrate daily the things that can never be stolen. Love, trust, acceptance and support in times of need from the people who are my life cannot fit in a bag and can never be taken from me. I found the strength to overcome grief for what I lost when I chose to be consciously grateful for all that I still had. Sometimes having distractions wrenched from our possession is the best way to direct our attentions to what is truly important in life. Sometimes we have to lose something to spur us to seek… And what we find when we seek can be more valuable than what we lost in the first place.