The 2nd annual UBC Medicine Art As Adjuvant Writing Competition concluded this year with the reading of the winning pieces at the Coffee House on April 8. Dr. Monica Kidd, a Calgary-based published author and doc, and Kristy Williams, UBC Med grad 2014 and co-founder of Arts As Adjuvant, took on the difficult task of selecting the winners from a pool of beautiful written pieces. Prizes were possible due to the continuing support of the BC Medical Journal and funding from the UBC Med Wellness Initiative Network. Arts in Medicine would like to recognize Pretty Verma for organizing such a wonderful contest.
The following piece tied in third place:
by Janet Xu
The first time I listened to Gustav Holst’s Jupiter, I was with grandpa. Ever the music enthusiast,
he took me to a concert for my 10th birthday. I sat there, a little lost and more than a little overwhelmed
by how big the room felt and how sophisticated everyone seemed. Jupiter opened with a rapid arpeggio
of strings heralding an exuberant brass melody, and together forming a crescendo of excitement. It
unapologetically seized my attention andmy unease faded. I was enthralled. The dynamic shifts in themes,
the transitions in melody from one instrument to another, and the juxtaposition of the majestic fanfare
to a hymn-like tune left me scarcely a moment to exhale in between. I must have been enraptured, losing
all sense of time; for when the ending came, it seemed too sudden and too soon. The reverberations of
the final chord faded. In the ensuing moment of stunned silence, I digested that Jupiter has indeed ended.
Then, the applause broke out. Coda, as my grandpa later taught me, brings a piece to an end. In Jupiter,
it was the triumphant brass leading to a single resolute chord across all instruments.
Ever since I can remember, grandpa looked old. Perhaps it comes naturally with being a
grandparent. To the young me, he looked impossibly wrinkly and was a standard by which I defined old.
Despite his appearance, he had boundless energy. He coaxed a skeptical me into sitting on a bike and
lifting my feet off the ground as he held the handlebars. Under his encouragement, I cautiously pedaled
forward as he held the seat. Unwittingly, I began to pedal down a gentle hill. Suddenly, I realized that
“Erin! You’re riding! Keep going, you’re doing it!” That moment of disbelief and joy got the better
of me and I landed in a heap. My knees stung but I hardly noticed.
“Grandpa, did you see? I actually rode a bike!” I saw my grandpa running down the hill, waving
“Yeah, you were great!” He picked me up and swung me through the air. “Should we try that
again?” That time, I didn’t need any coaxing at all.
Later, Grandpa took me on trips with his scooter. He showed me pictures of local birds and we
raced to find them. We would stand there together, a slightly stooped man and a spindly girl two
generations apart, with identical goofy smiles as we tried to chirp one of the jays into responding.
In summers, Grandpa and I frequented the beach. We spent many an evening sitting in the sand,
enjoying our ice cream cones and watching the rose-tinged sky. In my eyes, Grandpa was a larger-than-
life hero who was always up for an adventure and had endless life stories.
In late elementary, I moved to a different city with my parents, starting a new phase in life. Years
passed and I grew, but Grandpa did not look any older. Whether it’s attributed to his already aged looks
or his unrelenting youthful energy, I do not know. Sufficient to say in every reunion, I would picture him
to look exactly as he did before we parted ways and he would always live up to my unsaid expectations.
One year turned to two and soon the years blurred together. I grew independent and spent time with
peers my age. After college, I moved to a city full of skyscrapers and smartly dressed people. Regular visits
with Grandpa grew sparser as I dived into my own life and learned to explore without hand-holding.
Grandpa continued to look spry, appearing at the major events in my life and celebrating with us in good
vigor. He had developed some timeless quality in my eyes. It felt like he would be there forever; laughing,
joking, and somehow always turning up at the right time.
On a nondescript day, I received a call that Grandpa had a heart attack. I felt the floor drop from
beneath my feet. How is it possible, my grandpa who has been that energetic constant in my life? I rushed
to find him in a hospital bed. Suddenly, he had aged before my eyes. When did his skin take on that wan
tone? He looked so small and frail among the sheets that I could not reconcile this present Grandpa with
the one in my beloved memories. I felt my heart catch and pressure building behind my eyes. Grandpa
continued to lay motionlessly amidst the tubes while a monitor recorded vitals in blinking numbers and
lines. “Life support”, I was told, but the words could not penetrate my brain. Grandpa who was so full of
I lost sense of time in that room where the sun does not seem to penetrate. The artificial lighting
gave the machinery a cold garish affect. As Grandpa’s outlook grew dimmer, hushed discussions started
in the corners until they permeated the room. We had to make a decision that no one should have to
make. Then everything stopped. Grandpa was free of the tubes.
My mind went to those years in a blur. When had I stopped looking for birds? When was the last
time I had ice cream on a beach? Was I living my life like an express train focused on getting to a
destination, but barely catching snippets of what went on around me? I wondered how many missed
opportunities there were. I could have been there for Grandpa as he had been for me all those years. The
suffocating pain and guilt were overwhelming.
“Coda…” his voice whispered in my head. The finality was unmistakable, but there was no closure.
In the moments of silence, I realized I could not catch up to reality so quickly. So many things unsaid and
so many things I wanted to do together. It was as if there were supposed to be more movements to the
suite. A void sits where my expectations were.