31 January 2005

Single...With Children: Every Heartbeat Is A Blessing

Single with Children: Life can change in the time of a heartbeat

Publication Date: 03/13/02

One of the most amazing things about life is how, in the space of a few seconds, "normal" can look so darned precious. It can change from ordinary to unrecognizable in the time it takes a heart to beat or, in my own recent experience, not to beat, at least not in the way it's supposed to.

As many of you know, I share my house not only with two active teen-agers but also my parents, who are in their late 70s. Every now and then I am confronted with the realization that it could change on a dime. I think all of us know this, but somehow we are able to get through each day not really THINKING about what might be just around the corner.

On a late Wednesday night a couple of weeks ago, my life turned that corner and I found myself on a street I didn't want to be exploring. I was reading in my upstairs bedroom when I heard someone ascending the staircase and looked up to find my mom telling me that we had a problem. Dad was experiencing chest pains, the kind that radiate down the left arm, and he also felt like a Sumo wrestler was sitting on his chest. I went from groggy to wide-eyed awake inside of a second. I quickly was dialing the three numbers we all know to call in a crisis, but never dream we will really have to use.

Within minutes, the front yard was aglow with the lighting of an ambulance and fire truck. We needed the paramedics, but not the firemen. In trooped three men, hooking up my suddenly frail looking father to machines I'd only seen used on reruns of ER. I desperately wished I could find the remote and change the channel of this unfolding drama. But this wasn't television; this was my real life.

Of course, all of the noise and lights woke up both the kids, who looked as shocked and alarmed as I felt. Mother was watching silently. I was staring, deer in the headlights style, trying to figure out if this was truly happening or was simply a bad dream while Dad, the star of this medical maelstrom, was his usual calm, charming self. He was chatting up the men who came in to take care of him.

The paramedics determined he needed to be in the hospital, and Mom quickly accepted an invitation to ride in the cab ambulance with the driver. Katie and Justin were recovering from an especially nasty bout of the flu, so I stayed behind and did my best to emote an "everything will be just fine" demeanor that was convincing to no one at all.

After I got the kids back in bed, I sat at my desk, phone at the ready for information and updates. "How can this be happening?" my brain kept screaming, finding no logical explanation. I felt pathetically alone, alternating between possible outcomes and praying that the worst wouldn't materialize.

I kept looking at the phone, wishing I had some magic spell I could use to conjure up a sibling or two, someone as deeply involved in this drama as I was, who could fly in at a moment's notice and would hug me or take my hand and tell me everything was going to be just fine, just like my parents used to do when I was small and afraid and needed reassurance. It was a very long night.

Mom called again at 4:10 to announce that in spite of the doctor's reluctance, Dad could come home. Apparently, he had convinced the doctor we lived very close to the hospital and the pain had stabilized. She cheerily told me I could pick them up at around 4:30 a.m. This was one time I wished Dad wasn't so charming. He should be in ICU instead of his bedroom! What were these people thinking?

I drove down a mostly empty street to find Mom and Dad coming out of the ER. They looked exhausted but unbelievably calm. We made it home, and Dad climbed into bed. Of course, more doctor visits were scheduled for the next few days and a rather grueling stress test was on his agenda. Life hasn't quite returned to normal and the verdict is still out on the exact cause of this cardiac episode. I hate unknowns more than definitive diagnoses. I wanted concrete answers that didn't exist.

As with so many passages in life, even the ones that are frightening beyond measure, blessings shine so bright that you can't help but notice and embrace them. My 15-year-old son has become so kind and thoughtful that it sometimes makes me cry. My daughter, who was going away with her boyfriend for the always nerve-racking "meeting of the parents," called me more times than I could count to check on her much beloved Pops, always reminding me that she could be home in short order should things go in a direction we dared not speak of.

Perhaps the most astonishing, breathtaking performance out of this health crisis appeared from my 78-year-old Mother. This is a woman who professes to hate our cats but can be caught feeding them and checking on them when she thinks something is askew. We sometimes refer to her as "Sarge" because she's fairly outspoken and not the least bit shy about stating her stance on any given issue. Suffice it to say that she is our family's version of Barbara Bush, and she proved once again that she is one of the strongest, most compassionate people I will ever meet. She was up early, making coffee, creating great dinners and moving right along with her routine. She called it therapy. I found it to be grace in action.

I'd seen this steel resolve and resilience in action before; through the death of my sister, my own painful divorce and the recent loss of her brother, but it was magnificently displayed during this recent health scare. She was upbeat, calm and so poignantly tender that it almost took my breath away. She had to have been so scared to imagine losing the man she's been so blissfully married to for more than 55 years, but instead of requiring reassurance and comfort, she generously dispensed it. Faith, no doubt, has a lot to do with it, but there's something indefinable about this woman. No doubt these same unique qualities are the ones that drew my father to her so many years ago. How wise he was to have detected this. How fortunate we were that he did.

I won't pretend to have always agreed with my mom on every issue, but I've always respected her strength and passion for the things she cares most about. She puts her family first. She had no time for hand wringing or needless pontification, and she did what she does best. She held down the emotional fort and allowed the rest of us to wring our hands, silently reminding us that whatever happens, we would be up to the challenge. She remains the definitive guide and steering mechanism for what I have come to recognize as the best that we can be. How blessed we are to have this steely resolve on our side. I can only humbly say "thanks Mom." You did it just right.

Readers can e-mail Susie at Susiewrites@gmail.com or write to her c/o Amarillo Globe-News, Features Dept., P.O. Box 2091, Amarillo, TX 79166.

Click here to return to story:

© The Amarillo Globe-News Online

No comments: