We all live our lives from day to day assuming that when we go to bed each night, we will awake to another sun the next morning. We worry about paying our mortgages, fitting into our skinny jeans and whether the neighbors think we are still good people even though we let our front lawn get over-grown with dandelions all summer; every day ordinary worries that seem so important until something comes at us from out of the blue. Something so unexpected that it throws our whole world off kilter.
A large mass had been growing in my son-in-laws heart for weeks without anyone being aware of it. He had interviewed and been hired for a new job. He and my daughter were excited because it was closer to home with wonderful benefits. On the negative side, the pay would be lower to start off with and they had been stressing about how they could trim their budget to accommodate the lower salary and still keep her at home with their one-year-old baby son.
As the mass grew bigger it began triggering a series of small strokes in his brain, most going unnoticed. He developed flu likes symptoms and took to his bed. It wasn’t until a mini stroke occurred in a part of his brain that controlled short term memory that my daughter realized something was terribly wrong with her husband.
Doctors took tests and suggested various illnesses until a CT scan showed the frightening mass in a chamber of his heart and announced open heart surgery would be necessary.
I drove up the night before the operation so I could be there to care for my grandbaby when my daughter left at four the next morning for the hospital. She wanted to be there early to spend as much time as she could with her husband. The doctors had warned that if he survived the surgery at all it was very possible he could sustain life long brain damage. These might be the last few hours she'd have to be with the man she'd married.
The night was dark as I drove to their home that night, as were the feelings in my heart. How could my young twenty-three year old daughter survive this? Though we had many friends and family praying and supporting her, when push came to shove, she would be forced to deal with the outcome of this surgery in a very personal and solitary way. Like everyone else, I felt helpless. I was her mother, and I couldn’t fix this.
It’s a very strange position to be in, preparing for the possible death of a loved one. And stranger still, it’s not that unique. Every day, families sit in hospital rooms knowing the end for a loved one is near and trying to figure out how they will go on living without someone who has become so essential to their own personal happiness.
And it is in those dark and harrowing hours and days that the things that matter most become clear and indelibly imprinted on our brains. While other less imporant life issues fall from our minds like dead leaves in the autumn.
Thankfully, due to the skill of the doctors and the faith of so many people, my young son-in-law made it through the surgery with both his life and his mental facilities intact. An outcome that surprised many of the medical professionals who’d been working with him. There is still a long road to recovery and my daughter is still shouldering challenges beyond her years, but for now the worst is over.
This experience has reminded me again of the fragile nature of life. The fact that that though we may feel we are in control of our lives, our futures are not in our own hands. Life can change in the length of a breath, and people and things we count on can be taken suddenly from us like a magician ripping a cloth out from under a set table.
I wish this clarity of thought and appreciation of those things most important in my life would stay with me longer, but I know my own nature, and it won’t be too far in the future before I’m back to stressing about bills, calories and messes. Still every time I see my daughter's sweet family or watch her husband playing with my beautiful grandbaby, I will remember that his life, like all our lives, is a temporary gift, and maybe I will appreciate mine and the people in it just a little bit more.