The second anniversary of my brother’s death is approaching, and I have been aware of its approach for well over a month now. My anxiety levels are heightened; the memory of that day at work when I received the news that he had passed away will live forever in my mind and heart. I have no idea how parents who lose their children feel, just that I know it is probably an indescribable feeling, one that stays with you for the rest of your life. It does not feel right or normal (in the natural way of things) to lose your sibling at the age of fifty-four. Nevertheless, when I look around me and talk to others, I see that it is far more frequent than one would like to admit. I have friends who have lost their siblings to cancer and to other illnesses.
But the anxiety is also connected to my own heightened awareness of time passing. There is no question in my mind now that I will spend the rest of my life writing. Each day, each week, each month is the continual quest to find time, more time, and even more time—to write. And the more I want the time and the more I want to write, the less time is given me. Work duties pile up, there are suddenly more students to guide, a new technician to plan work together with, and a new article to write about a very interesting topic—DNA repair in inflammatory bowel disease and colorectal cancer. Do I mind? No. But the little voice inside of me is always talking to me, telling me to write and to find the time to write. It doesn’t help that getting older involves getting tired much earlier in the evening than before. I used to guard the three or four hours after dinner and before I went to bed very carefully; I was selfish with my time. Now those hours have been reduced to maybe two good writing hours, because I am more tired. And so it goes.
Do I regret choosing a research career over a literary one? It may seem that way to you, my readers, at times. But no, I don’t. I’ve realized that my creative energy went into something really amazing—the opportunity to hypothesize and to test my hypotheses, and some few times the results led to some really good publications, articles that I’m proud of. Research science in its purest form is a truly creative endeavor. So I am glad that I was able to engage in this type of work activity for so long. But that hasn’t stopped me from wanting to write and from actually writing--poetry, short stories, novels and other types of literature. I’ve been writing since I was fourteen years old. But it is poetry that is closest to my heart, closest to describing the person I really am. I have published four volumes of poetry, and am currently working on a fifth, which will be a volume of poems having to do with death, mortality, and grief. It derives its inspiration from my brother’s death, and some of the poems are about him and about coming to terms with the loss of a man I truly loved, despite what life threw at us over the years. His life was far from easy; I know that now. He shared very little of what really transpired in his life during the last five years of his life. I don’t know why, and that reality will haunt me forever. I think he wanted me to read between the lines, and I just wasn’t on that page together with him. So his death has taught me to be more silent, to listen more, and to try to understand the road that each individual person I know is on. Each person’s journey toward the end of life is a different one, even though we all end at the same place.
I've also had the unique pleasure of discovering a new young writer, the daughter of a friend here in Norway. My friend had told her daughter that I write poetry and that I have published some books. Her daughter, who is nineteen years old, has just written her first book about her teenage struggle with anorexia, and wondered if I would like to read it and comment on it. I have read it, and it is an impressive first book. While the topic will not appeal to all readers, I can truthfully say that she has written a gripping and realistic book about an illness that is nearly impossible to cure, and has done so using notes and journals that she has kept since she was fifteen. When I talk to her, I remember my own teenage years, some of the influences that started me writing, and the need to write. Unless you have experienced that need, you will not understand it. It is a psychological need that spills over into the physical realm; the need to write is something that rides you, doesn’t leave you alone, causes anxiety, spurs you on, needles you, taunts you when you are lazy, and criticizes you when you let yourself be distracted. It keeps you on target, keeps you focused on the goal. If you don’t pay attention to it, it will lead to sleepless nights, distracted unfocused days, irritability, depression and anxiety. My friend’s daughter understands this already at nineteen years of age. So that is why I cannot say that my current anxiety is coupled only to the second anniversary of my brother’s death. It is coupled to the need to write and to the barriers that stand in the way of doing so. Because my brother’s death, like the need to write, are reminders that time is passing, that life is short, and that time is not be wasted. Time is a gift that is given to us, and we have to use it wisely.