Sunday, January 25, 2015

In with the New, Missing the old

It is a big week in San Francisco. The new UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital (UCSF/BCH), as well as a woman's hospital and a cancer hospital are open for business on February 1. The project has been in the works for many many years. I have been involved in it for about the last nine years as a member of the Family Advisory Council at UCSF.

This is a big deal for this City. While there have certainly been remodels of existing hospitals over the years, I do not recall a brand new hospital (let alone THREE) opening in San Francisco in my lifetime. There will be lots of news coverage regarding this. I have already been interviewed by the SF Chronicle and will participate in a a press conference on Thursday. This is not the norm for me and it is a bit exhilarating.

But with one door opening, another closes. The current site of UCSF/BCH on Parnassus Ave will remain, but the Children's Hospital, which is located on three of the fifteen floors of that building,  won't be part of it. There's a lot of Maggie in that building. The place she received her care, the place her life ended will have a different role now.

Strange as it may seem, it feels like a little bit of a loss to me. Don't get me wrong, the new hospital is fantastic and will make things so much easier for patients and families. But there are so many memories in those hallways, some of them horrible, some of them great. It was a huge part of our life because so much of our life was spent there.

I work at the hospital two days a week and will move to the new hospital. People recognize that saying goodbye to Parnassus is difficult for many staff members. Folks were invited to take part in a video/slide show holding up a sign saying what they would miss. I saw signs that said things like "the fantastic views"(they are awesome) or "Sunday morning Bagels" or whatever other things. They were sweet. Though I'm certain it would have been welcome, I'm not sure any sign I might have held would have had the same light tone.

With all the loss we've experienced, this hospital move is really small potatoes. It is only a place where so many memories were made. The memories are still there, but the place will be different. But I have learned the importance of recognizing loss and its role.

I will miss Parnassus. Maggie spent time in every single room on 6Long or in either of the two PICU units at one point or another. My sons would spend time in there doing (or not doing) homework. They would play with the gloves and head down to the cafeteria to see how big they could make an Ice cream cone only to find out they charged by weight. (I think they are the only ones to make an $8 ice cream cone in the 90's). Steve would sneak wine for us to share while we ate takeout around Maggie's bed.  Maggie learned how to operate the bed and would make it go up and down even in her sickest days.

All of those memories will be relegated to the history of the building. No one there will remember Maggie or know any of us. New and better things are coming for the patients, but the history won't go with them. It is a bit like losing an old friend - or maybe more like saying goodbye to a teacher you didn't really like, but respected because you learned so much in that class.

Though ignorance is bliss, I definitely learned a lot in that place.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Going 'Round in Circles all the Time

Things feel different to me lately. Maybe it's because the holidays were so rough, maybe it's because the anniversary of Maggie's passing is rapidly approaching. I don't know for sure. But I know that I feel differently.

The first part of the grief journey is really shock, I suppose There is so much to deal with emotionally that one is simply on overload. Aside from the obvious emotional upset, though, there is so much more. The person who was the center of this household for 20 years was gone. Her physical presence was so much more than her person. The practical side of losing her was also daunting. Of course there were her clothes and personal items to deal with. And I will get to that, We had equipment and special furniture that we had to find homes for. We had to sell the wheelchair van and buy another car,  Her room was off the dining room and now sits underutilized because we don't know what to do with it.  We will get to it. All of it. Soon.  Or not.  The thing is, all of that takes time. We have been doing it all for the last 11 months -- slogging through emotionally and handling the practical things in somewhat of a fog.

For lack of a better description, we had to deal with the novelty of Maggie being gone.

It was new and different and terrible
Now it's just different and terrible.

It has become real. And that creates a whole new layer of grief.

There is so much written about the "stages of grief" and I admit I have used them myself. The idea has some validity. However, they seem to suggest some sort of order or resolution to grief and that simply does not happen. At least not for me.

For those of you unfamiliar, the seven stages are


Frankly, I think this model is better applied to a break up of a relationship or maybe to a lost job  than to a death - and especially to the death of a child.  Maybe some people go through these stages in an orderly fashion and feel better, but I am not one of them.  I jump through all or most of those stages randomly about 10 times a day in no particular order and start all over the next day.Admittedly the days that I experience more of the last three are better than the days that have the first four; but  I can't control it.

 Of course I accept that she has gone, which is the last stage of grief, but that doesn't make me feel any better.  There still isn't a resolution. People think enough time has passed. People don't want to see me sad.  People don't want to talk about Maggie to me. I get that. But no matter what people think, it's all still there.

Perhaps there is just a bit more depth to all of this than a pop psychology analysis. Perhaps the stages of grief are multi layered.  The best analogy I can come up with is the Earth's orbit in the solar system. The Earth is spinning on its axis and also making its rotation around the sun.

We have been spinning for 11 months now. Every day it starts again. We wake up and she's gone. We go to bed and she's gone. We sell the van, donate her equipment, slog through our days and keep going. We start again the next day.

But we are also making that slow trip around the sun. The seasons come and go (even in California). The days got longer and then shorter and now are starting to get longer again. Life goes on. And she's gone.  But we are moving forward - or at least in a bigger circle.

  Perhaps there isn't supposed to be a resolution.  Maybe my life is forever changed. And maybe, just maybe it is OK that my life is changed. The reason my life changed is not OK, but I have to recognize it that it has.  I can "accept" that, too.

So I will keep spinning and rotating and tilting this way and that on my axis. The seasons will change and the days will be longer and shorter. Maggie will still be gone, and I will be different, But I will keep spinning    


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Eight years

Frank Coghlan as the Third Base Coach in the movie Angels in the Outfield

Eight years ago today my father Frank Coghlan died. I still miss him and will forever.

Life with him was an adventure. He was an only child growing up. He was doted upon by his mother. Then he met my mother who doted on him even more. Even as each of the seven children arrived and their personalities grew, Frank stayed at the center of everything. We knew who was boss. We knew the rules and the consequences for breaking them, but we broke them all the time anyway.

We went on vacations together packed into a station wagon with stuff piled high on the top.I distinctly remember a trip to the Settle World's Fair in 1962. My sister Joan was a little baby and  my brother Pat wasn't even on the scene yet. That was just after my kindergarten year. I remember the teacher having us share what the summer plans were for the families. Mine was the most exciting - no other 6 year old was heading to Seattle. The teacher was incredulous. "Are you ALL going? Even the new baby?" From her tone, I thought Seattle must be a wonderful exotic place. It never dawned on me at all that packing 5 kids and a baby into a station wagon and driving for three days was anything other than normal.

Inevitably there would be fights in the car. My dad didn't care for those and would come up with games to keep us occupied. Every family looked for out of state plates, but only the Coghlans had to yell out the capital of the state they saw. He would ignore our pleas for burgers as we passed those stands on the road and drive as far as possible before stopping. Unless he wanted to stop and then we did. Over and over and over again. On one crowded station wagon trip in Western Canada, he stopped to see so many different scenic spots that we all refused to get out of the car for one lake. (My mother still swears that was the prettiest of all)

My parents had a place at Lake Tahoe where we spent many a summer. My mom would just move up there with whatever kids were home for the entire summer and my dad would come on weekends. Because he was self employed, he defined "weekend" differently than most people. He would arrive Thursday evening and leave Tuesday morning. If the older kids were working in the City and wanted to go to Tahoe for the "weekend" it was tough to convince our employers what "weekend" meant. Hence, we would find our own way up there. Besides, we generally wanted to avoid riding to Tahoe with Dad. There is a freeway that takes you within 20 miles of their house, but he often elected to go on the byways of California, easily  turning a 3.5 hour trip into 6 hours.

Hanging out in Tahoe was also fun. As teenagers we would find our friends and together we would avoid our parents - though most of them were sitting together about 6 feet away from us avoiding us to the extent possible. My dad didn't really hang out on the beach, though. Why would you sit on the beach when you could be swimming in that giant lake? While we braved the cold water to swim in the designated swim area to the raft 30 yards out, or jump off the pier when the lifeguard wasn't looking, or even sneak a water ski if someone had a boat, my dad would just step into the water and swim off into the distance. Sometimes he would do a loop and return an hour or so later, other times my mother would instruct one of us to go get he car and pick him up at the Tahoma market, 1.5 miles south.  We thought nothing of it. He did the same thing in the San Francisco Bay.

It's hard to believe it's been eight years since I've talked to him. But, of course it hasn't been. I talk to him all the time. I smile when I remember things that were so perfectly "Frank" for lack of a better description. He was kind. he was principled, he was strict, he was loving, he was smart, he was successful, he was loyal, he was funny and very very sentimental.

I know he was there to welcome Maggie when she arrived. He adored her -- as he did all 20 of his grandchildren. He likely showed her some shortcuts around the afterlife, which doubled the time it takes to get where he's going, but makes the trip so much more enjoyable.

Miss you, dad. Today and always.