Russell

Our family cat Russell died this week.  He was eighteen years old.

My brother and I adopted Rus from a city animal shelter in the aftermath of the May 3rd 1999 tornado in Oklahoma City.  At the time, we were 9 and 12 years old, respectively.  Russ was three weeks old.  Over the ensuing two decades, we three boys grew up together.

When we adopted him, Rus weighed less than a pound and didn’t know how to drink water from a bowl.  My brother and I took turns dipping our fingers in water and letting Rus lick the drops.  For the remainder of his life, he “drank” by putting his paws in the water bowl and then licking them dry.  We build giant Lego houses for him in our bedroom.  We dressed him up as the Pope for one Halloween.  He was the reliable constant during our turbulent adolescent years.  He was fearless, intelligent, and fiercely loyal to his two boys.  He once chased a neighborhood kid into a bathroom because the kid had pantomimed punching my brother.  He slept in our beds at night, keeping some sort of internal schedule by which he rotated between my brother and me.  His favorite toys were rabbit foot tchotchkes.  We trained him to walk on a leash, and he loved going for long explorations outside.  He was the third son of our family.  We nicknamed him “Tubbs.”

By the time I was in medical school, Rus had developed diabetes.  Because he was otherwise healthy, we chose to treat him with insulin, and he thrived for another four wonderful years.  This week, the inexorable hand of age caught up with him, and he passed peacefully of kidney failure.  He fell asleep for the last time on his favorite blanket: a red Christmas tree skirt with white fringe.

It is hard to believe that you’re not here anymore, Russell; you were a constant for so many years.  I know you loved us as much as we loved you.  Thank you for everything.

I’ll miss you, Tubbs.

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Hold a Child

I lost a kid in the ER today.  Only the second one in my career.  Nothing in medicine or in life is more devastating.

I wept as I drove home.  I wept for the girl.  I wept for her parents.  I wept for a fucked up universe in which children die.

Whoever you are, wherever you live or work, whatever your family situation, hold a child today.  Your son or daughter, sullen teen or ebullient toddler, little brother or sister, baby niece or nephew: it doesn’t matter.  If there exists a child in your life who means something to you, tell them so.  Wrap them in your arms, hug them tightly, sit in the sunlight with them.  Say you love them.

Please.  Hold them.

Elegy for Stephanie

Late at night, silence and snowflakes fill corners of windowpanes.  Phone call.
On your sled, hit by a truck.  Time and breath slow to a crawl.
Hearing but not understanding, I sit on the couch in the darkness.
Fuck god or infinite space, this is supposed to be justice?
There are no tears
for pain beyond a certain deep.
This I discover
on the day you sleep.

Brilliant, industrious, brave, and compassionate, you were my best friend.
Greater than I were you, though: seeking our world to mend.
Founder of medical clinics, staunch steward of Earth, leader.  You cared,
Never gave up on your dreams, accomplishing more than most dare.
A passing light,
what did you leave
but kindness, health,
and joie de vivre?

Springtime has come, but within my heart, snow remains. How do I move on?
Formerly, I would ask you.  Where do I turn with you gone?
Distance and wisdom will show me one day that the truth is plain: you stayed
Endless, immortal, and here, alive in the lives you have changed.
So, half as good as thou
I’ll try to be,
For I love you,
Stephanie.