“Why love if losing hurts so much? We love to know that we are not alone.” -CS Lewis
I held the photograph of her gingerly and was surprised how clearly the image evoked a sense of peace. Such tranquility could only have sprung naturally from a depth of character; in her presence, everyone had felt warmth and a sense of stillness. As her cancer returned, each time more aggressively, she worried, not for herself, but for her husband and daughters. Her tears at recurrence were as much for them as for herself.
Her eventual death was not a surprise. For the visitation, her family had assembled photos and keepsakes of their collective time together. I stopped in front of each of the images, gazing at the smiling woman who would later become my patient. Photographs with bent, fingered edges recorded moments in her life when she held children, celebrated holidays, vacationed, and stood proudly at graduations.
Among all of the souvenirs, this one image had captured me. She sits in three-quarter profile on a screen porch surrounded by summer foliage. Her scars are not visible from this angle. It appears that she had been writing but has paused for a moment to read what she has just written, pen in hand and notebook on her knees. A coffee cup and a pair of binoculars rest on a table beside her while sunlight filters through the slats of the railings. The viewer is invited to listen to the birds, gaze at the lake through the trees, smell the pine forest and the stained clapboards of the old cabin, feel the familiar roughness of the wicker furniture, and then slip quietly away, attempting not to disturb her in her moment of solitude. The photograph captures the most peaceful place on the planet.
As I looked at the image, her husband unwrapped the story that accompanied it. “That photo was taken at a cottage in Maine that we first visited on our honeymoon. We returned many times over the years. The cabin is on a hillside near the shoreline so you get the feeling that you are up in the tops of the trees as you sit on the porch; they even call it 'The Crow’s Nest.' She absolutely loved to sit there and read. One day, I went looking for her and there she was. Later, when I showed her the photo, she was surprised. She never even knew I that had been there. It was her favorite spot on Earth.”
We stood and admired the image for a few moments, and then I set the photo back down carefully and took a step backwards. Two-and-a-half years later, she would be gone, but, for that one moment, she had been returned to the place that most embodied peace, both for her and for those whose lives she had graced.