The space of gratitude

Last week was a tough one. My bright, beautiful ten year old girl got very sick. After two days and nights of relentless pain and no sleep, it was finally determined to be her appendix. We waited five hours in the emergency room before her surgery and then we endured another two hour wait while she was operated on. The surgery was a little complicated due to some scar tissue from a surgery after her birth. It was a lot for a mother to take. By the time she was in recovery, I was needing some recovery myself. An operation to remove an appendix is relatively common, even in children, but when it is your child, the experience is anything but common-it is a big friggin’ deal. Watching your child in that much pain is hard enough, but factor in the uncertainty of the diagnosis, the frightening trip(s) to the emergency room, the strangers poking and prodding, blood tests, IV’s and ultrasounds and you’ve got some hard times, no matter what the prognosis.

This is when you need other people. This is when you find out whom you can count on.

A few nights after we came home, I woke in the middle of the night, unable to fall back to sleep. My mind, most probably fueled by residual adrenaline, started to focus on the few friends that didn’t contact me during our ordeal. They stood out because I consider all three of them to be good friends. My hurt and anger grew as I focused on what I considered, at that moment, to be the reality of the situation: Wow, none of these people could pull themselves away from their lives for the 30 seconds it takes to type “how r u?” into their cell phone.  It shocked me. It made me sad.

I tossed and turned, getting more and more upset. How am I going to react when I see these people? Can I just act like nothing happened? My child had SURGERY. She was under ANESTHESIA. She was in the hospital for 3 days and you didn’t wonder how we were doing??!! Well, I will tell you what, I am not going to ask her to go out again!

I was getting really worked up and then….by the grace of the angels, it happened: The figurative 2×4 hit me aside the head. 

What about all the people that were there for me? What about the friend who rearranged her whole family’s schedule just to take my boys? Or the neighbor who brought flowers and books and comfort? Or the friend who cooked all my kids dinner and cleaned my filthy house? Or the one who made a special trip to the bookstore in the pouring rain after a full day of work just to get my girl her own copy of “Madeline”? Or the one who did all my laundry? Or the six friends who bought and cooked and delivered food for our whole family? Or the one who was standing by ready to board a plane if I said the word? Or the one who made sure my favorite beer was in my fridge?

It made me laugh out loud. I was being ridiculous! I realized I was creating my own misery. It was my choice; I could chose to feel bad about the few friends who couldn’t look up from their lives or I could chose to bask in the love of all the friends who did. It was so simple! This is a lesson I preach to my kids all the time: life is gonna happen, how you respond is all up to you. I needed to shift my thinking on this one.

It was such a relief to let it go. I didn’t have to be mad. It was optional. And now I had the added bonus of knowing without a doubt whom I could count on. I knew who had my back, and it was a lot of wonderful, thoughtful people. It was surprisingly easy to let the anger and hurt slip away. I just had to want to. I could still to have all of my friends in my life, with no uncomfortable feelings. I just needed to understand that we all have different capacities to give and it is not my place to judge.

I immediately felt lighter.

We were beautifully held and taken care of during our crisis. My family didn’t need any more help than what we received. It was all perfect. It was time for me to shift back into the wonderful land of gratitude. In this beautiful place I immediately felt comfort, and finally, the blissful gift of some much needed sleep.

 

home from hospital

My strong, amazing, sparkle of a girl

Cracked

Mom 1991

1991

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mom would be 80 years old today.

She was a glorious creature (as my Dad used to say) in every way.

 

 

 

 

I wrote the following essay about my daughter, Ava, but in my heart, my Mom and Ava are forever linked.

Ava made her presence known to me on my mother’s birthday in 2005 and they both gave me a crash course on life and death in November of that same year.

Together they cracked me open to the possibility of angels.

 

cracked

My baby was coming early. I tried to ignore it, wish the contractions away, but there was no denying it. It was happening. This was my fifth child, so I knew.

The school of life had already given us plenty of intense lessons: our third child surprised us with Down Syndrome and our fourth shocked us with a birth defect that required immediate surgery and a month long hospitalization two hours from our home. We thought we had graduated, but life had other lessons for us.

As I labored in the bathtub, the fear came in waves along with the contractions. The memory of the ultrasound five weeks earlier surfaced: the suddenly silent technician excusing herself to get the radiologist. The radiologist bluntly telling us of the many abnormalities. So many problems that her condition was deemed “incompatible with life.”  Our baby girl would not survive.

Or would she? I felt I had to have hope for the little life inside of me. Ava. Sweet Ava. Couldn’t she defy the odds? For five weeks I oscillated between cheering my miracle baby on and knowing that she would die. The constant peaks and valleys of these emotions were relentless and exhausting. My labor truly began at that ultrasound. All the questions, questions, questions, tormenting me every hour of every day and into the night. What would this mean for my family? How would we get through this? How would this affect my other young children? Why? Why us? So much uncertainty.

Until finally there was no more room for thought. The moment came when everything changed, when the worries of the past and future could no longer exist-every sense focused on the now. Any birthing woman knows this intense time: transition-the time when you cannot go on, yet the only choice is to move forward, to move beyond everything you thought was possible, opening beyond what you thought your limits were. You cannot bear for things to escalate, yet they must for this new life to be born, for the world to change.

And Ava would change us in the deepest, most profound ways and answer all of the questions. There was nothing that could be done for her, nothing for us to fix. Her body was just not made for this world. She would leave the world in the very same room she entered. She would only know the touch of those that loved her, the sounds and smells of a busy, loving home. This tiny life would be with us for just ten days, yet she would be one of our greatest teachers.

New and fascinating questions emerged for all of us to ponder: What happens when we die? Where do we go? What is Heaven like? We were able to openly explore these questions and my older children would come up with even more: If death happens to everyone and every living thing, why are we so afraid of it? Together we journeyed through life’s most awesome mysteries and for a small bubble of time, death would not be dark and scary, but graceful and peaceful and full of love.

And mixed with this grace would be life itself. The full spectrum of which would unfold before us in ten short days and then, abruptly, we would be marched forward.  The fragile, beautiful bubble of that sacred time would burst and the urgency of life would take over once again: children to feed, dishes to do and balls to be kicked.

But Ava opened us all up to the glorious possibility of angels and that could never be taken away. Suddenly, there was a whole new dimension added to life. What a comfort it is to think someone is looking out for us, helping to guide our way. Maybe we are not alone in all of this. Maybe there is more.

I would never have asked for this gift. If the gods had sat me down and said, “Listen, we’re going to give you a baby. We know that you’ve been through a lot already and you’re not expecting another, but this one will teach you so much more!  She will be born with a lot of problems and you and your family will have to face them head on. You are going to have to dive right in and explore the full spectrum of all that life has to offer, from birth to death.  You ready for that?”

Hmm, gee…No, I think I’ll pass on that experience, thanks all the same.

There would be no way to understand how the depth of this experience would alter the very fabric of who I am. I would have no way of knowing that having and losing this child would leave me  more appreciative, more spiritual, more compassionate.

More. Just more.

This tiny soul would stretch me in ways I didn’t know I could survive. She would take me places I didn’t know I needed to go, change me and mold every part of who I am, never to be the same.

The experience would break me open and when I would heal, the pieces would not fit back together so seamlessly.  There would now be cracks, and through these cracks, slivers of light would touch places inside of me that had known only darkness, places that I didn’t know were there.

Ava taught me that there are some things I just cannot control, no matter how much I question or worry or work. She showed me that despite how hard I fought to be Captain, I would always remain the first mate and when I finally gave up the fight, the sweet relief of surrender would wash over me. It was so much easier it was to ride the waves instead of swim against the tide. I realized how nice it truly was to give up the illusion of control. The experience moved through me and changed me and did not crush me. Things were okay, they were really okay.

These lessons are hidden in the scars that now make up the intricate tapestry of who I am. They are not unsightly and they are no longer painful. Their complexity and depth add a whole new dimension to this person that I call me. Now all of life has to pass through the filter of these scars and the experience is more rich, more colorful and more delicious because of it. They are lessons that I would never ask for, yet they have been essential to my growth, my evolution. They cracked me open to the idea that maybe this is exactly what life is about: healing and learning and growing and healing and learning and growing.

I wish I could say that the next time life comes a-calling, I will greet her with no resistance, but I cannot be sure of that. I know that the intensity of my time with Ava has left me wiser and stronger, but I am not totally fearless.  Not yet.  That will take more work and more lessons that I have no doubt life will supply.  

With these lessons part of me will crack and, hopefully, I will welcome the light.