13 July 2008

The Things That Matter Most Really Aren't...

...Things At All. They aren't even Lincoln (POS's) LS, iPods, or swimming pools.

Last night or, rather, about 3:00 am this morning, I was asleep when I woke up to see my Dad's worried, searching eyes. Not a good sign at 3:00 am. I was awake instantly, bolted upright and said, "What's wrong?". I mean, nothing can be right when someone wakes you up at 3:00 am, right?

He told me in a quiet but anxious voice that my Mom had fallen going to the bathroom and could I please come downstairs. In a flash, I was down those stairs and walked into my parents room to see my Mom rather slouched in her chair, eyes closed and cradling an arm that was dripping blood from two angry looking lacerations; open, harsh wounds on her delicate tissue paper thin skin. I walked over and asked her what happened?

"I fell. I fell and hit my arm. I couldn't see and it was dark.", she whispered, mumbled really, in a weak voice without opening her eyes, head tilted to the side.

I asked her if she could move or if she thought she might have broke something, other than the painful looking skin on her arm.

"No, well, I don't think so. Need to lay back. Could I have a cold cloth on my head, please?".

I heard my Dad rifling around in the drawers of their bathroom, searching for bandages and antiseptic. I ran to the bathroom and found a wash cloth and ran cold water through it. My Dad brought a towel to lay beneath her bleeding arm.

Mom told me that the cloth wasn't cold enough and could I please put some ice in it? I raced to the kitchen and grabbed five ice cubes and wrapped them up in the wet cloth. My heart was beating fast and my mind was racing at a thousand possibilities always arriving at the same question..."What should I do next? Should I call 911?".

I walked back in, my dad was standing close to my Mom, gently stroking her arm and asking her if anything was hurting. It was at that moment that my heart made a giant leap into my throat at the sight of both of them. As scary as this whole scene was, it was just laden with a gentle sweetness that completely epitomizes their relationship.

Devotion is intangible but theirs is so sturdy, so strong and durable, that you can nearly reach out and touch the current that courses between them. It's effect was pervasive inside that room last night. It softened the rough, sharp, scary edges of an event that no one wants to confront at any hour, but is especially foreboding at 3:00 am.

Mom welcomed the icy cloth I delivered and we slowly eased the chair she was sitting in back so that her feet were propped up and her head could rest without slipping to the side.

Again, I asked her if she thought it might not be a good idea to get this checked out at the hospital.

"No, just let me lay here for a few minutes and we'll see. I don't want to talk...just let me lay here for a few minutes."

Dad had brought me a chair to sit beside her and he had settled into his desk chair. I looked over at him but his eyes were fixed on her.

I held her hand. I felt so privileged to sit beside her, even as my mind groped for something more that I could that might have offered her relief and comfort. She's not had much experience being the "patient". In truth, I have had scant experience being the caregiver. We were both assuming unfamiliar roles, but I believe we were doing the best we could at that moment.

Every few minutes, I would ask her if she was feeling better? She would tell me that she thought so, just give it a little while.

As I sat there, in the low light of their bedroom, I looked around at the trinkets, the photos, the books, word puzzles, momentos and then my mind would come back to, "Should I let her lay here or should we really be on our way to the hospital?". I just didn't know what to do but I hoped that what we were doing was enough. Of course, I prayed. Mostly my prayers were for guidance, comfort for my Mom and some kind of form of wisdom to know that what we were doing, at that moment, was the right thing.

Felix, our black, quirky cat walked in the room, followed by Cassie, who looked around as they were assessing the situation and knew something wasn't quite right. Felix looked up at my Mom and then walked over to my Dad and rubbed alongside his ankles. I think he was offering my Dad the only comfort he was capable of expressing. Both animals settled down in the floor, side by side, at the foot of my Mom's chair. Their eyes were inquisitive yet compassionate.

And I sat there, for well over an hour, stroking my Mom's hand, readjusting the rag on her head, asking her if she was feeling better, if she needed anything - maybe a sip of water? Tea? My dad sat quietly at his desk, facing us, drawing on his pipe, fingers interlocked on his lap.

After about half an hour, Mom asked me to wring the cloth out. It was getting drippy. My father got back up and started looking again for bandages but seemed only to find the 1 inch square band-aids which wouldn't begin to cover the angry gashes on her arm.

"Barbe, they're in the wicker basket at the top of the cabinet. You can't find anything...", she said in a rather bemused fashion. It was at this point that I finally decided we had made the right decision not to call 911 right away. She was coming back to us and taking charge. If she was able to direct our fumblings, Miss Maxine was assuming her position. I welcomed those words and my Dad, without missing a beat, smiled and said, "Well why don't you just walk in here and get the band-aid yourself!". Again, these were good signs at what was now 4:40 AM. I finally breathed a sigh of blessed relief.

I walked in the bathroom and found the shelf, the bandages and the peroxide and went about the business of attending to Mom's arm. She had finally opened her eyes and was watching as I poured small dollops of disinfectant and we both studied the scrapes as they bubbled and fizzed. I asked her if it was stinging? "No, not a bit!", she chided, as if I was somehow implying she was a wimp or whiny old lady. Again, this was a good sign.

After I bandaged her arm, she finally decided she was ready to make a try for the bathroom which had been the original target of her nocturnal wandering about. Daddy fetched her cane and I took her arm and together we made our way slowly to the bathroom. As I stood in there waiting for her, I quickly flashed back to when I was a little girl, and how many times she had taken such impeccable care of me, in so many situations, nursing me through tonsillitis, bronchitis, many bouts of the flu, pneumonia, a car wreck just last summer, and how capable she always seemed to be; how secure she always made me feel, by virtue of her sheer, stable, loving presence. What a gift she's always been. What a gift she continues to be.

Those midnight moments bring life into perspective with blazing speed. As stressful and scary as they can be, such times deliver clarity into what matters most in this life, as nothing else can. When I finally returned to my own bedroom last night, I thought about what had just happened, and the thoughts that had been razzing my brain prior to my middle of the night wake-up summons.

I had been irritated with machines, prior to my 3:00 am wake-up call. The front end bumper of my car was loose and making contact with the pavement. Not to mention the fact that in the last few weeks, in addition to the rear driver's side window which refuses to go up or down, the door handle to driver's side no longer works which means I have to roll my window down and open my car from the outside. Add to this the "check traction control" light that announces itself in the "status window" of the dashboard, the broken drink holder in the console and the fact that the sun roof window didn't close all the way last week leaking water onto my iPod, thereby completely rendering it inoperable, has made me feel a complete and utter distaste for my car and daily I find myself pining for my old PT Cruiser which got great gas mileage and even though it was lacking in many of the bells and whistles that come with my Lincoln (POS) LS, I honestly enjoyed driving it so much more.

So last evening, as I was sitting here surfing the net, I was filled with contempt for the Lincoln, the iPod (which I REALLY miss!!!!), and wondering how so many things could go wrong on a car in such a short amount of time. I wasn't exactly in the best of moods. I would have gone outside for a late-night swim, but my pool isn't completely cleared (however it is definitely on the mend after Friday's latest round of work by Pool Specialists!), so last night rather than swim, I stewed. Completely pissed off by the breakdown of the gadgets and machines I rely on every day. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of mechanical glitches.

But early this morning, there were no thoughts of a broken iPod, the dragging front bumper of a Lincoln LS, or a murky pool. My focus was instantly narrowed to what is precious in my life and what is precious is family, close, dear, dependable friends, and even the concerned countenance of a loyal dog and cat. That silly car in the driveway, the cloudy 33,000 gallon pond in my backyard, and even the busted iPod don't even register on the "matters most" meter. Those things can be repaired and replaced and will never cross my mind at the end of my days. What will transcend that threshold are the mainstays who bear the monikers of Justin, Katie, Mom, Dad, Stephanie and so many close buddies who make my life feel golden more times than I possibly deserve.

No one would ever volunteer for the 3:00 AM wake up call that I experienced last night, but attached along with the attendant angst, is the reminder of the volume of love that situates itself in my life, and as the vital signs return to normal and the world is illuminated courtesy of the dawn of yet another gift of a day, gratitude remains long after the tide of terror washes back out to sea and the storm moves out.

After a few more hours of sleep this morning, I walked downstairs to find my parents happily chatting over cereal and coffee, reading the newspaper, sun streaming in through the large windows.

"Good Morning!", my Mom almost too cheerily announced! Ah yes, she was back in the saddle - a little bruised and bandaged, perhaps, but "not nearly as sore as I thought I'd be!", she almost smugly added.

I guess the lingering result of last night is that it gave me even more reasons to be grateful, to be reminded of the fragility, and in awe of resilience and durability, that is life.

Life is, in fact, so much more than good, even if your car is crumbling and your iPod is a thing of history.

Life is absolutely amazing.