On Bearing Witness: How it can be a source of healing for both the giver and receiver by Jafeen Ilmudeen

   Jafeen Ilmudeen is a medical student at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She is working on a collection of short stories. er story, " Between Us " appears is the Spring 2015 Intima.

Jafeen Ilmudeen is a medical student at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She is working on a collection of short stories. er story, "Between Us" appears is the Spring 2015 Intima.

It is difficult to bear witness, to "allow" in the present moment, and to grasp the full extent of suffering, memories, and loss. However, doing so can also be a source of healing for both the giver and receiver; it can be a means to close old wounds and to offer hope, as well as a way to conceive life anew. In my story, "Between Us," which was recently published in the Spring 2015 issue  Intima, the protagonist, Mrs. Lafir has considerable inner conflict regarding her rejection of her old life, including the loss of a man she once loved, as well as insecurities about her role as a wife and mother abroad. The government hospital in the story  represents the worst of her past through the types of patients it serves, the poverty it injects into her own home as visitors drop by, and the constant reminders of values she struggles with. Her vacation at home, paradoxically, becomes a sort of punishment as she has daily battles with her mother and estranges herself. Visiting her lover in the hospital would have offered her the chance to make amends with him while also resolving her own feelings about not only the hospital, but illness and mortality, death and meaning.

Amy Caruso Brown’s poem, E.B, also in the Spring 2015 Intima, offers a glimpse of what Mrs. Lafir would have witnessed in her lover’s room: “eyes flickered with kindly warmth,” “a lifetime of suffering carved on his face” and “the smell of death.” If she hadn’t run away from the scene, Mrs. Lafir might have reached a revelation when she “thought of her own face/ not the clinical gaze, but what might have been betrayed,” she would have accepted the subtleties such as the “comma-curl of a lip” or the “radius of a pupil,” features she had fought so hard to control in her life abroad, a stand-in for the emotions she had kept at bay. As Caruso Brown poignantly demonstrates at the end of her poem, Mrs. Lafir also had one thing to offer that could have made all the difference: “just face to face, to share and bear witness.” Paralyzed by her own thoughts of being condemned, she relinquishes the opportunity to fully share in another’s pain, which would thereby also validate her suffering. By departing the village as planned, her grief remains incomplete and she is left without closure.


Jafeen Ilmudeen is a medical student at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. She is working on a collection of short stories. er story, "Between Us" appears is the Spring 2015 Intima.

© 2015 Intima: A Journal of Narrative Medicine