February 1, 2020

Picking Up the Pieces

I can still recall the sickening gut punch when my father called to tell me the divorce papers had been filed. I was sitting outside, underneath a small tree next to the small pond where the biology class would take small samples for study later in the semester. But nothing felt small about what I was experiencing. My mind was a riot of random organic chemistry facts swirling in a maelstrom of emotions. Knowing the blow was coming did nothing to detract from the force with which it knocked the wind out of me. In just a few seconds, under the watery mid-day sunlight of a random afternoon in July, my small family finally fell apart. To make matters worse, I was across the country, completing a post-bac pre-med program separated from my family by distance and a paucity of time.

I remember thinking nothing could come of this massive loss, and that the dissolution of my family would somehow be this insurmountable grief I would never overcome. In both respects, I was wrong. Through all the pain and honest discussions about what this process meant to different members of my family, I learned more about who they were as adults. The character and boundaries of my relationships with them shifted and grew. My parents become more like my adult friends, and our conversations turned from my schoolwork and medical school applications to topics like relationships, conflict management, and life goals. My sister and I grew closer as we compared our experiences, and we supported each other in different ways as we met challenges in our young adult lives. Instead of losing my family, I gained new relationships with each member and, in turn, we found ways to relate and grow together.

Not only did the relationships I had with my own family deepen and mature through this event, but I was lucky enough to gain a new family member. It feels awkward to say I have a stepmother (especially since mine couldn't be a lovelier woman, and I met her as an adult). Despite the fact that I still live across the country from her and my father, she has made me feel loved and welcomed in her family. I appreciate how kind and understanding she has been as I have progressed during my medical training; we all know how opaque and confusing the process of becoming a physician can be from the outside, but she has done nothing but support and encourage me. We're still in the process of getting to know each other, but I look forward to discovering more about my new family.

I thought my parents' divorce would be something that would take away something about who I was, that it was an insurmountable loss. Not only was it not a loss in any respect, but it also has not been the biggest grief or emotional stressor in my life. Honestly, becoming a doctor and what the process has taken away from me far outstrips my parent's divorce in terms of stress and loss. Residency is a difficult endeavor, but in some ways being able to turn my mind to the joy that came from surviving something I feared and mourned so profoundly inspires me to keep pushing myself as a physician in training because I know from experience that there is a real chance for growth buried beneath the charts, the studying, and the long hours. Through such a profound loss that was my parents' divorce, I have shown myself that I can grow much more than I’d hoped in periods of adversity.

By Jessica J. Krueger, MD

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