As 2017 draws to a close, the memories come back more and more strongly. The closer we get to January 16th, the more vivid the memories of that day last year become to me. The day TJ collapsed at Urgent Care. When we drove behind the ambulance in the snow, me trying to explain to four crying, scared little girls why Daddy was lying on the floor in the waiting room. When he spent a week in the ICU and I spent a few days wondering if I would have to live this long, crazy, scary life alone.
I thought all of those memories had left me once I stopped shaking every time I saw an ambulance or lost my breath any time I saw the stoplights by the hospital or heard the word sepsis or looked at TJ’s leg and realized what it could have taken from me.
They said it was PTSD. It probably was. It’s gone now. But the memories and the fear sometimes still remain.
When I think of those first nights, those terrifying nights, the only nights I have known since 1999 that didn’t have TJ conscious with me, I think of fear. But that quickly fades and I am left with one feeling. Gratitude.
During the time he was most critical, I learned quickly that I needed to ease the terror some how. And i decided at the time that I would do that through gratitude. So every time they sent me out of the room so they could do a procedure or every time his blood pressure wouldn’t rise or every time he told me that breathing was too hard and he couldn’t do it anymore, I kept thinking “gratitude.” Be grateful that he is here. Be grateful that they said the odds are in his favor. Be grateful that things worked out precisely as they did because otherwise we may never have made it to the ICU and the doctors and the medicine that would help him.
I knew other people that night were getting worse news. I was determined to hold on to what I had.
And I prayed. A lot. I prayed to Mary most of all. I prayed for her to be with me. I prayed for her to mother him in his semi-conscious state… where ever he was that night.
In my years leading up to that point and in the months since, I have never believed in God or in Mary’s love as strongly as I did that first night in the ICU. I wasn’t standing on my own. They were holding me up, Mary’s mantle wrapped tightly around us both.
God doesn’t promise us all happy days or even happy endings here on Earth, but he does promise us that he will never leave us alone. And I knew that deep in my bones that night in the ER and then the ICU.
I clung to gratitude those days in the hospital and now in the months since, I still find myself overwhelmed with thanksgiving and love whenever I remember all that surrounded us at that time.
I think back to my family who came out immediately. In the middle of the night. In the snow. When there really was nothing much they could do for him as they couldn’t even go in and see him. I think of how I told them all to stay home because I was worried about them driving in the snow And I think about how I thought I would be fine there alone. And how utterly absurd that was. Surely I could not have handled being alone that night.
And I think of TJ’s dad and sisters who came. How they did get a chance to go in and see him. He wasn’t really conscious enough to know much of who was there, but I know it meant a lot to him in hindsight as we talked about who came to visit him.
And I think of how my mom spent a large part of every day at my house that week. How she was literally the only one in the world who could have stepped in and watched my girls when they were so scared and vulnerable. How even though Tessie was only three months old, I knew she would be absolutely okay in my absence because aside from a parent’s love, nothing compares to a grandparent’s.
And I think of our priest who came to give TJ Anointing of the Sick. No phone call in my entire life was more surreal than the one to the parish I go to 3-5 times a week, asking them to come and give Annointing to my husband because there was a chance…
And I’m grateful that it was our priest who was able to come. Who knew Terry. Who brings peace where he goes. Who it felt like brought the mercy and love of God with him. Who brought a little of the familiar into that very unfamiliar situation.
And I have gratitude towards my grandparents. They both passed away a few years ago. When they died (the first people I was truly close to who died) I learned the lesson that death isn’t as far away as it seems. That we can feel people who have passed and that that love really doesn’t die when our bodies die. People may laugh at me or scoff at me when I say this, but they were there with me. Perhaps they rode with Mary on the wings of angels down into the hallway of that hospital ward. I could almost feel their touch, their presence. They never left me alone. I heard words in my head that only my grandpa would say, and I felt the light in that dark hallway that always comes to me when my grandma is near.
Christmas Eve Mass often gives me the tears, even moreso now that Magoo sings in the choir. I love the joy and the glory of it. The feeling of love and togetherness and triumph and warmth. But this year, the tears were a bit more poignant.
Prior to this year, I never really understood the concept of a church family. I always thought it was just a wishy washy term that people used at bake sales or something. But as I looked through the pews, I saw row after row of families who helped me stand during that week when I could not stand alone. I saw people who brought me meals. People who drove my children home from school. People who welcomed my children into their homes. People who came into my home. People who gave me hugs. People who talked to me into the night offering companionship when I desperately needed diversion. People who texted me at 2am when they would have been better off sleeping to see if I needed someone to sit with me at the hospital. People who prayed for me. People who loved me. People who stood in the spaces that were empty and filled them and filled us and lifted us up.
And I sat there as the choir sang “Joy to the World,” and a whole rush of emotion overtook me as I realized that all of these people – the people in the Church, the people at home, my family, my friends, neighbors and acquaintances, they all held me and my girls up when we couldn’t have stood on our own.
And I realized that even though I have an almost epic ability to feel lonely that I am never actually ever alone.
Our cup is fill. God had provided. And I was so very, overwhelmingly, mind bogglingly grateful. At that moment and in this one too, it feels like in all the world perhaps no family was luckier or more blessed than mine was when we most needed it.
So to 2017, I say you have taught me many lessons. Many I hope not to have to relearn. But I close out this year knowing that things could have gone very differently and my world could look so much more barren than it does tonight.
And for that I have all of my people to thank.
I am so honored and blessed to consider you all among my people.
May your 2018 bring you happiness and joy and may God as always hold you in the palm of his hand.