How is the memory of traumatic events triggered? I’m thinking about this again, because it’s the time of year when Eric began to feel the back pain and other symptoms that we would later learn was metastatic ocular melanoma. I remember him saying to me, in February of 2006, “I feel like I have the flu or something most of the time.” We both agreed he was probably just tired from working too much.
Then one morning in early March when we went out for our morning run, he tapped himself on the chest and said, “I think I pulled a muscle here swimming yesterday, because it hurts.” I remember thinking, “No one pulls muscles in their chest,” but I let the thought slide by. Then he started to have back pain, and as it got worse and worse through March, and he had less appetite and energy, I let any thoughts about what could be going on other than a strained back and too much work also slip by. Eric and I both knew if the ocular melanoma he’d been treated for 3 years before metastasized there would be no treatment available. That would be it.
And that was it. By the beginning of April Eric was still getting himself to work every day, but sleeping through much of the weekends and hardly eating. By the beginning of the second week of April, I insisted Eric go back to his doctor (he’d had a check up just weeks before and everything had seemed fine, other than his back pain) to see if something more than a sprained back was going on. Eric finally had the blood work he’d been postponing since his doctor’s appointment, and he got an immediate call to come back and get admitted to the hospital. His liver and kidney functions and calcium levels were all off. Way off. Within 24 hours we had results from all the scans and knew his body and bones were full of tumors. He died on May 7.
So now when the days get longer and bird song accelerates and pussy willows start to break out, I remember how all of that was happening as Eric first began to get sick. I start to relive the days, sometimes remembering exactly what was happening on this same day, now six years ago, and it’s not easy. The second year after Eric’s death I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law about the power of the memories as the anniversary of Eric’s death approached.
“I think some of it may have to do with the angle of the light from the sun hitting your eyes,” he said. “It triggers the memories and brings you back to that time.” So here I am, six years later, watching the angle of light shift as the sun gets higher in the sky each day. Today I got a card from my Temple that a couple just made a donation in Eric’s memory. I love knowing that others are remembering him too.