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Bike Rides and Nothingness

Every second Wednesday of the month we met on Zoom, five of my medical colleagues and I, for more than a year. We started off sharing fun facts. She spoke of her bike rides—how fast she could go, how beautiful the fall leaves were, how fresh the forest air smelled, how spring brought a veil of green.

We also discussed the differences between a doctor’s approach and a scientist’s approach to teaching students and residents in a hospital setting. We provoked each other. We enjoyed the intellectual challenge that faced us—the puzzle of creating a sound medical education research design.

Till that second Wednesday in March. She entered the call early and mentioned that she did not have good news for our group. She had to quit. She was going into hospice care. In her own home. She was only able to join our call for a few minutes.

I tried to reflect carefully on her news by saying, “I think I know what you mean—you have to prioritize your activities…”

She answered, “There is nothing to prioritize. I just can’t do it.”

My inadequacy to find and use the right words pained me. I feared that I had hurt her.

That call was her last one with us. Our last one with her. Although she had mentioned neuropathy, and we had seen her sometimes wearing a little hat, her departure was unexpected.

There was no proper good-bye. What do you say in a situation like that? What do you say when fingers cannot touch each other across the screens? What do you say when your voice breaks and tears flow, but you know she does not want you to be upset?

Our group took a break for a couple of months.

Today I wrote an email about meeting again, on the second Wednesday of June. This time, I entered only four addresses.

I thought about bike rides and nothingness.

J.M. Monica van de Ridder
Grand Rapids, Michigan


4 thoughts on “Bike Rides and Nothingness”

  1. I so empathize with this story. About thirty years ago, a very vibrant colleague of mine exited our friendship in a very similar manner. Selfishly, I wanted that special goodbye. More painfully, I grieved for the vibrancy of our friendship as her remaining days were parsed. And now that I am seriously ill myself, I understand so deeply how painful it is to just not have the stamina to sustain relationships. I see the other side, and I can promise you that it sucks. I wish you the best as your group regroups. May your memories continue to bless you.

    1. J.M.Monica van de Ridder

      Dear Sara Ann,

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, and thank you for sharing your perspective how it is to be at the other side and not having the stamina to sustain relationships. I cannot imagine how hard this must be.

      When I immigrated to the USA I learned how important it was to have a certain ‘closure’ for myself. It was painful to leave so many warm and nice people behind. But that was a ‘choice’, my ‘choice’. I think because the relationship between my colleague and my did never come to a formal close, never that real goodbye, that made it hard. But writing the above piece gave a sense of relieve. I think she would have smiled a little when she saw the title.

      Thank you again for sharing. I wish you a lot of courage on your way.


  2. J.M.Monica van de Ridder

    Thank you for your reaction, Margaret.

    Although the post is about our colleague, writing it all down helped me to process the events, and come to terms with it.

    Our group is going to meet soon!

  3. Margaret Mahar

    A beautiful post.
    Clearly caring, but realizing that there is nothing you can do.
    I also am struck by the fact that the post is about her, not you.
    I truly hope your group gets back together.

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