In the fall of 2012 I was at the eye doctor’s office getting an annual exam.
I love my ophthalmologist, Dr. C. If you’re like me, going to ANY doctor is an uncomfortable situation, but Dr. C always calms my fears (of my eyes being poked out) with his gentle touch.
But what I love most about Dr. C is his demeanor. As a physician, he is very careful and calm in his actions, which to me is especially important when it comes to an eye exam. And what I appreciate most about him, is his straightforward and honest, yet kind and sincere approach to discussing eye health with his patients. He has truly mastered the art of balancing being thorough, direct, and positive.
At that appointment a few years ago I decided to bring up something that had been bothering me for quite some time.
Sometime during my late 20’s I developed what looked like a burst blood vessel along the circumference of the iris of my eye. It hugged the edge of the circle and branched out and away from it, almost like a solar flare. It didn’t hurt, and it didn’t impede my vision, but it never cleared up. So at my next annual eye exam I asked about it to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. Back then I wasn’t seeing Dr. C yet, and the only thing that the eye doctor I was seeing said to me was “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, you will be fine.”
Other appointments through the years have brought much of the same message- “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine” or they’ve said nothing at all (unless I’ve asked). Some years I figured “no news is good news” and just let it be without bringing it up.
At that appointment a few years ago, however, I had decided that I wanted more than just a “don’t worry about it” response to what this was and I wanted to find out if there was anything I could do to get rid of it. What prompted this yearning to know more approach was that I had developed a self-consciousness about this “thing”.
I became hyper-aware of it’s presence. I would notice it in pictures. I would see it in the mirror. I even started noticing behaviors I had picked up along the way to conceal it-like slightly squinting the affected eye when getting my picture taken or when speaking face-to-face with someone. I realized that I had even gone so far as positioning my bangs over the effected eye to create a shadow that would help to hide the flaw.
Well, I was more than disappointed when my favorite eye doctor in the whole wide world responded the same way as all of the other eye doctors had regarding my issue: “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine.”
I remember thinking to myself “was this some kind of standard response doctors learn to say in medical school? Was I in the middle of some hidden camera show? Is he seriously saying the same thing other doctors had told me? Am I the victim of an eye doctor conspiracy?” I was more than dumbfounded. This was my kind, gentle, thorough, and straightforward eye doctor! This was someone I knew would have a better and more detailed answer than just “don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine!” I wanted an explanation! I wanted options!
Since he was literally looking at me straight in the eyes, he must have seen my pupils go bananas, or some type of eye-twitch to signal him that his answer must have struck an (optic) nerve.
He moved the exam machines aside, rolled his chair in front of me, and told me exactly what this was. Apparently, people with dark eyes sometimes develop pigment “spots” outside of the iris. There is no cause for concern as long as there are no significant changes to the eye or my eyesight. He assured me that because I make an eye exam appointment every year, that I would be fine, and that he would be the first to notice and respond to an issue if there was one.
I thanked him for explaining all of this to me and then asked him if there was anything I could do to remove it and he told me there wasn’t with this particular type of spot.
“So I guess I just have to live with it?” I replied.
“Well, yes, I don’t see any other option that you have than to live with it” he stated, in true Dr. C matter-of-fact form. “Don’t worry about it, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and you will be fine, so go live!”
His words were so simple and basic, yet so profound to me.
You see, this conversation happened in the fall of 2012. I lost my mom in the spring of 2012.
At the time of the appointment, I was deep within my grief journey, on the cusp of the holiday season, trying to figure out this “new normal” I had been shoved into without my permission. When Dr. C said that he didn’t see any other option other than I’d have to live with it, that message meant so much more to me than just the living with the imperfection in my eye.
I realized that my grief was also an imperfection.
Losing a parent was an imperfection.
My life was literally an imperfection.
Grief is nothing to worry about, it’s not harmful, it’s totally normal, and I AM fine.
And I had no choice other than to live with it. And so I did.
I didn’t tell Dr. C that I was grieving that day. But somehow I think he knew. I think in some way, shape, or form he delivered that message to me differently than I had ever heard it before. He said it to me with purpose and hope. And as I reflect on those words today, 6 years after losing my mom, I can truly say that I have embraced his message.
I have lived fully and authentically in spite of this imperfection. My mom’s death has become a significant part of my life. A part of my DNA. A part of my being. A part of my soul. I am who I am right now because I have embraced and lived beyond any expectations I had about grief and losing a parent 6 years ago when it happened. Because of my grief, my imperfection, I live.
And although I miss my mom every second of every day, I see the bigger picture. I see my part in her story, and her part in mine. I recognize and respect grief’s purpose in my life. I recognize my responsibility in helping others in their grief journeys. And above all else, I understand why it happened.
And I’m forever grateful.
Until we meet again, Mom.
Other posts about my grief journey and my mother, Judy: