February always undoes me. Some years, I remember that, and anticipate the undoing but in the end, it doesn’t matter. I still unravel. February is hard for a lot of reasons, but it’s mostly hard because the body keeps the score. Trauma re-wires the brain and the body, and our physical selves *remember* in ways our conscious brains can’t always access.
In February of 2009, I went to the doctor for what I thought was an infection and found out I had a good-sized tumor on my right ovary that needed to be removed immediately. I was living in Illinois, and when the eskimo-boot-wearing doctor at urgent care told me the news, I texted my Mom to update her on the situation: “Have tumor. Can’t talk.” Pro tip: do not do this.
My conscious brain doesn’t remember a whole lot about the rest of that day, except that an entire network of people who loved me mobilized immediately. Kim Bickler, a co-worker, drove me to the next doctor, who opened up an emergency appointment for me. My housemates cooked me dinner. My friend John, who was living in St. Louis, threw his kitten in the car and drove across Illinois to my house. My mom found a surgeon in Virginia, and my dad booked me a plane ticket home. Mary Jo, my boss, sent an urgent email to the dozens of clergy women who’d been at the retreat I just coordinated, asking for prayer.
I know that I didn’t sleep that night, because my gmail archive still holds a 3:30am email sent to my family in Virginia, explaining the situation. And God bless Gmail, because it has also preserved this next-morning reply from my Grandpa Bobby:
Hey Dana Beth: If I had known you were sending this email at 330am this morning I would have jumped right out of bed to get the update. I pray that you can get the infection and fever cleared up real fast and make your decision about coming home to get the problem taken care of. I know that you already know we will all be praying for you and thinking about you and doing anything you would like for us to do for you at anytime. PS. I would probably have gotten JOJO out of bed at 330 also. Keep us posted often. TRY to get some sleep and rest if you can. bobby.
“If I had known, I would have jumped right out of bed to get the update.”
That made me weep when I read it earlier this month, because Bobby died in 2020 (in January, which is close enough to February to forever be part of the perpetual undoing), and because I know, deep in both my bones and my brain, that my grandpa really did love me in the way that he would jump out of bed at 3:30am if it meant he’d hear from me. He really would have woken JoJo up, too (though she would have been a lot more cranky about it).
I know that it was true because when I finally landed in Virginia, had a fitful night of sleep and got to the hospital at the crack of dawn for pre-surgery prep, both of my grandparents were already there in the waiting room, ready to sit through the hours’ worth of surgery with my parents. I am weeping, again, remembering it.
I found that old note from Bobby because I was digging through my email, trying to confirm that it was, in fact, my right ovary that had been removed 14 years ago. My left ovary has been aching all month, a thing that happens in February. Even though I knew my left ovary was still there, even though I can FEEL the emptiness in my right side, even though the ache is palpable and material, I needed some written confirmation that a surgeon did, in fact, remove my right ovary fourteen years ago. I don’t really trust my body’s memory very well, a slight that I am learning to correct.
Because my body knows its shit. It knows that losing an ovary was traumatic, in ways both physical and emotional. It knows that being loved through trauma is an incalculable gift. My body knows that I need to remember, to grieve and give thanks. My body knows, even when I don’t, that there are still lessons to learn and actions to take from that time. My body knows why February always undoes me, and why that’s important to acknowledge. My body is a site of pain and loss, and my body also works hard to remind me that even in pain and loss, possibility comes as a standard feature.
Dana, I don’t think I ever heard all the details of this story before. It makes me wish I could be with you or have you here and pamper you for a while. My love to you from a distance. You’ll just have to imagine the hot tea and cookies and coziness of sitting with or without needing to talk.
Our bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made. And yes, how they speak to us if we listen. May your body and soul feel wrapped securely in divine love which is still expressed so beautifully in the precious memories of that time from your grandparents, family and friends. Grace and peace to you, Dana!