The Stethoscope, a Link to Past, Present and Future

Originally shared on Grief Healing

Our elder daughter, mother of our twin grandchildren, died from the injuries she received in a car crash. This was bad enough, but six months later, the twin’s father died from the injuries he received in another crash. 
His death made our grandchildren orphans and the county court, following our daughter’s will, appointed my husband and me as their guardians. The twins (one boy, one girl) were 15 years old when they moved in with us and lived with us for seven years.

At first, the twins treated family meals like a fuel stop; fill up and head out. My husband is a retired physician and we often talked about medical topics. As time passed, however, my grandson became interested in our conversations, listened intently, and asked questions. The twins graduated from high school and left for college, our grandson to the College of Neuroscience at the University of Minnesota, our granddaughter to Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Both graduated with high honors and Phi Beta Kappa.

Our granddaughter accepted a job with The Salvation Army. Our grandson was interested in becoming a physician, but took a year off to do research in a Mayo Clinic laboratory. He applied to many medical schools and was accepted by the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, a true feat. Mayo receives 5,000 applications a year and accepts only one percent. He just started medical school and invited us to parents’ weekend. 

We attended a welcoming dinner, luncheon, and the Commitment to Medicine ceremony. Before the ceremony a speaker told the students they were there because of family support, a sentence that brought tears to my eyes. I thought of the profound sorrow we felt, our efforts to become a family, the twin’s achievements, and the other physicians in the family.  

My husband’s father, a specialist in diseases of the chest, was a Mayo Clinic physician and died two days after our daughter died. My husband’s specialties were aviation medicine internal medicine, and public health. Now our grandson was starting his journey. He said the Commitment Pledge to Medicine with others in the class and each student was presented with a stethoscope.  

For me, the stethoscope symbolized a family tradition and the desire to help. While attending the ceremony was an emotional experience, I managed to keep my feelings in check until the end of the day. I helped my disabled husband get into bed and went to bed myself. Instead of snuggling under the covers I suddenly burst into tears. I sobbed for my father-in-law and wished he had lived to see this day. I sobbed for my daughter and knew she would have been proud of her son. I sobbed for my former son-in-law and knew he would have been proud too. And I sobbed for my disabled husband’s resolve and courage. 

I’ve studied grief for years and knew I was having an anniversary reaction, but wasn’t prepared for its intensity. Deborah Serani Psy.D. writes about “The Anniversary Effect” in a Psychology Today website article. “Make sure you take good care of yourself during these times,” she advises. Her care suggestions include checking the calendar well ahead of time, being aware of public trauma, talking with a family member, journaling, blogging, and using creative expression. A Mayo Clinic website article, “Grief: Coping with Reminders After a Loss,” notes that reminders can be anywhere. Unexpected reminders may be linked to something we see, hear, or smell. 

The stethoscope symbolized so many things, among them sorrow, reconciliation, recovery, goal-setting, determination, studiousness, persistence, family pride, and hope. My grandson will be a fine physician and I know he will use his stethoscope compassionately.