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Editor's Commentary on “Her children.." and "Edward's Syndrome"

 , October 05, 2013

In Iréne Mathieu’s “her children will have to say,” the reader is confronted with a bluntness of inner thought that is somewhat jarring yet deeply true. Her words express the thoughts that are seldom spoken, instead buried under blame and excuses. In the poem, a women is dying from liver failure due to alcoholism and the poet considers what her children will have to say, what they will have to admit to, what they will have to bear for the rest of their lives. The descriptions in this poem are as piercing as the content itself. Mathieu fluidly casts out lines of apt description – “cascade of suicides”, “yellow as a dying star” – that create a visceral and tight story. We feel the sadness that pervades the life of the family as if they were our neighbors, our friends, our patients.

As physicians, we are natural born “fixers”. We fight to make our patients whole again. There are few things more disheartening in medicine than the patients we cannot help, the ones who slip away. In this poem, we see not only the mother slipping away, but also the daughter: “but she will become like her mother / and people will shake their heads and / not speak about the hidden hurt / exploding cells of mother and daughter.” At several points, this “hidden hurt” is referenced in the poem, yet never revealed. The inner depths of a person’s hidden hurt can often be buried in abuse and addiction, rough camouflage for an aching soul. Yet as physicians, we see mainly the outer shell, the behavior, the addiction. How can we treat the symptoms without understanding the source of the problem?

These stories underlie not only the actions, but also the perpetuity of the problems: mother to daughter, generation to generation. We watch the hurt carried down the line seemingly without an end to the cycle. As the generations move on in silence, the stories disappear and only the hurt remains, leaving us to wonder what went wrong. “and it’s hard to tell a story / when the storytellers are / dying in hospitals and jails, / and the listeners are / small, hurt children / who speak in curses.”

Additionally, this release marks the first publication of an art piece on WebJGIM, entitled “Edward’s Syndrome” by Petra Kelsey. This artwork portrays two parents holding their newborn child with a devastating disease, both a gift and a burden. As a parent, the image of kissing the head of a child so doomed to suffering cuts deeply. Paired with Irene Mathieu’s poem, this shows the other end of the spectrum: children with a dying parent, and parents with a dying child - two of the hardest realities in life.

Bryan Sisk, MD
Deputy Editor, The Living Hand