Monday, January 11, 2010

Adagio for Strings

I grew up on classical music. Saturday mornings we'd watch a little television and then the records came out. I can remember driving in the car listening to particular pieces of music, impressed my dad always seemed to know the composer. (I now can identify pieces like him.) Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto Number Two, for example, driving through mountains of North Carolina. I was fifteen. I was sick of listening to my dad's music on our long drive home from South Carolina to Michigan. I complained bitterly. My dad said to me, "Someday you will listen to this and think of me. You will think about how this was my favorite piece." That's all it took for my little sensitive 15 year old soul to burst into tears in the back of the Ford Econoline Van. It's always been easy for me to see the sadness, the drama. I'm a Libra, what can I say?

I know that I heard Barber's Adagio for Strings before I was in college, but I didn't own it as part of my own collection until I was probably twenty. It's been played so much now that it's almost a cliche, but the first time I listened to it, sitting still, with earphones on, I was overtaken with the sense of grief the piece imparts. There's a lot of sad music out there, but this piece is one of the most sorrowful haunts I have heard. (A few years ago, Brother K imparted to me the only other piece I know that is on par for sorrow: Henryk Gorecki's Symphony number 3, the "Sorrowful Songs".)

But back to the Barber: so there I am, an innocent, really, in terms of suffering in my life, and I never deluded myself I was anything but. I can go back to my journals of that time and I am fully aware of how lucky my life had been, how full of love. The worst thing I could imagine at the time was my grandmother's death, yet to come sooner than I would like. What though, I thought, had Barber seen that inspired such anguish?

I thought he must have written it in the aftermath of war, tumult, large scale destruction. Even the worst loss I could imagine didn't seem quite large enough for the music. (I was wrong, of course, imagining the loss of my Gramma was not nearly as awful as it was in reality. Yet still the Adagio wasn't the right music for her loss.) I always think of bombed out cities, starvation, weeping and gnashing of the teeth.

The other day I had on my iPod for my walk into work. I usually try to play upbeat songs on my walk in, something that will propel me through my shift, but as my iPod was on shuffle, the Adagio showed up unbidden. I passed it by quickly: my mood lately cannot handle Barber unless I am prepared with tissues and a bed to hide my tears in, but for some reason I went back to the work. It struck me that it was the perfect soundtrack for my job.

Don't get me wrong: There is much uplifting about my job. Some people do get better. Some people are here because they got themselves here or they are old and their families haven't realized it and want to hold on to them for some selfish reasons. But there are patients that don't belong here. That die here. They get worse and worse and their appearance in the ICU is a surprise to everyone. I listened to the Adagio on that walk into work without tears, thinking about the spread of humanity that is presented to me each day or night that I am here. I walked into the doors of my unit as the Adagio was coming to it's crescendo and turned it off to walk into a code of a 38 year old. We coded the patient for half an hour, four of us rotating out chest compressions. No one wanted to stop. The code was run beautifully. In any code here, I always talk to the patient, sometimes to tell him or her to fight, or sometimes I talk to the patient when it's over, or near time to be done, and tell him or her it's okay to stop fighting. I was sore for a day after this last code, my muscles aching from trying to keep someone alive. We coded again tonight. We code a lot. It's an ICU. I think now of these souls here in this unit, their families, for all the funerals and children, many of them young, left behind. I mostly love that I can be there for people in their final moments. I try to let them go after they are gone too. I can't keep every family in my heart.

I can listen to the Adagio and think of my own life now and an entirely new anguish I know: my child living half his life without me. Going to bed in a house that is equally his but is not mine. That some nights he will wake up sick, and I will not be there. That he will fall, and it will not be my kiss that makes him better. It's sad, but another blessing of this job is to recognize even this is not that bad. He has two parents who love him. He won't be with me, but the person he will be with does love him too. He's incredibly happy and smart. He's healthy.

It's perspective-- perspective on sadness and happiness. I only hope that I can keep that somehow as we go forward. Otherwise the waves threaten to bring me down, and I've always been a strong swimmer. I don't intend to stop now.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Sleep Music

Long drawn out fight/conversation this morning, which I have said repeatedly I don't want to do in front of Cricket. It revolves around Partner saying she is leaving in February. I am not sure this gives us enough time to get into therapy and be guided on how to best separate for our Cricket. I might know enough to know it will be better, but I think this whole thing is going to suck for Cricket. For the most part, we have not fought in front of him.

Did I mention I go back to nights tonight?

When Cricket and Partner leave to do shopping, I keen. I outright keen. I can't stand the thought of being away from Cricket, not having him. We have been spending so much time together in the past few months. I need to be sleeping since it's the first night of three, but I can't sleep and I feel somewhat similar to how I did after he was born, so I tell myself to pay attention to the feeling, since this is the second time in life I have felt that way. All I can think now is that it's a feeling related to being forced to be apart from him, like those early days when he had to stay in the NICU. I get out of bed, I walk around the house. I tell myself it's going to be okay. I get back into bed. I try to pray, I talk to a friend, I practice deep breaths.

And then they come home. Part of me thinks, "Great, now I will never get to sleep." Cricket is not exactly the quietest kid on the block, full as he is of exuberance and joy. But the irony? Oh, the irony. It's that that I ended up sleeping full on five minutes after he got back and I heard his voice. He sweet little voice.

Preparing self and readers for sad times to come.