Editor’s Note, November 2014: Top Doctors

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See our full Top Doctors list here.

It was an unwise decision for me to read Nancy Comiskey’s story about dealing with the loss of her daughter, “Dear Kate,” while on an airplane. After my fourth failed attempt at stifling a sob with a Kleenex, I glanced at the stranger sitting in the window seat beside me, only to find him looking at me like I was nuts. He would have been a lot more understanding, I’m sure, had he been able to read Nancy’s eloquent study of grief himself.

Nancy first wrote about her daughter’s death for IM in “Kate’s Story,” one year after the car wreck that took her life. Back then, Nancy claimed, she had no wise words for those trying to heal from a loss. With a decade of grappling now behind her, Nancy shares what insights she has gleaned, and I’m grateful—her story helped me understand my own family better.

My uncle Tony died when he was 20, a junior in college, from a brain tumor. I never got to meet him, but I feel as though I know him a little. Faded photographs show a young man with the wavy hair, almond eyes, and sturdy build of my own brother, Patrick. Eight-millimeter home movies reveal a talented guitarist, singing The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” Mom tells stories of a loyal brother who always let his kid sister play football with him and his friends in the mill village where they grew up.

Beyond that, my mother and grandmother didn’t say much about the hole Tony’s death must have left in their hearts. I only got tastes of the grief, like the time I fought with Patrick so terribly that Mom turned to me, her eyes wet with tears, and said, “At least you have a brother.” I’ve never felt so ashamed.

Forty years after Tony’s death, my grandmother still speaks of him with wistfulness, as though maybe there’s a chance she’ll wake up tomorrow and the whole thing will have been a bad dream. With brutal, naked honesty, Nancy opens a window into what grieving for one’s child is like: the yearning, the desperate need to keep the memory alive, the slow healing. Thanks to her story, I can empathize so much more now with what my grandmother must feel even all these decades later. And it reminded me to be just a little bit kinder to those I know and meet who are going through the same struggle.

Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.

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