If you've read my ramblings here for any length of time you probably know that I came close to losing my mom this spring. sometimes I'm still amazed that the ending of the story was a happy one, considering the odds she was up against at times and the way the doctors were preparing us for the worst. It has been almost four months since she left the ICU and nearly two since she got home from inpatient rehab. and still, still, my chest gets tight and I feel my breathing get a bit shallow and restricted when I think much about those terrible months. I feel like I allowed myself to feel what I needed to during that time- I wrote, a lot, I spoke about it, I sat by her bedside for weeks when you add it all up. but this suffocating feeling that creeps up as soon as I start to think about it tells me maybe there are things left to deal with.
or maybe not. maybe it's just the residual effect of months of intense worry and fear. the physical expression of all of those feelings and anxieties welling up and demanding I acknowledge them. so what is to be done? I acknowledge you! I did then, too. no doubt I'll carry much of this with me forever. guess it wouldn't hurt to try to figure out how to welcome the tightness and the fear, figure out how to work with them, breathe past them, morph them into a source of strength and resilience.
the friend who covered my shifts at work many, many times during my mom's hospitalization happens to be married to a man who recovered from ARDS. funny. (well, not funny, really- but you know, in a 'what are the odds?' sorta way) before they were married they were on a ski trip and, if I remember the story correctly, he shattered his pelvis and ended up going into respiratory distress, being intubated, and then getting a tracheotomy and being pretty near death's door (she told me part of his body was basically wide open and packed with ice, awaiting a surgical procedure that couldn't be done until his body could handle it- !!!) and out of it for several weeks. much like my mom, minus the shattered pelvis and ice-packed insides. her side dishes came in the way of cardiac events and chest tubes, sepsis and organs going into panic mode. but back to my friend. we spoke a lot about her experience as I was going through this with my mom, about the fear and the unknowns, the statistics and preparing yourself for the worst. I jokingly told her that after it was all over (at the time still just crossing my fingers that there would be *please please please let there be* a happy 'after it is all over' time) we should start a club for family and friends of ARDS survivors. that it could be kinda like a book club, where we get together under some scholarly guise and end up mostly just talking and crying and drinking. (I've never been in a real book club, and no I don't imagine there's much crying involved, nor do I presume there is never any actual literary discussion, but....)
it was a joke then, but now... well, now I think I may just call her up and show up at her door with a bottle of Malbec (bourbon, maybe?) and my hospital-bedside-vigil journal, ready to hash it out a bit. maybe that'd relieve a bit of the suffocating feeling. perhaps. worth a shot, anyway.
not one to just focus on the negative, or shall we say, more challenging aspects of something, I've also been trying to think about what I've gained from all of this. what the experience has taught me, gifted me, even. and while I feel it's a bit trite to say that I've once-and-for-all really and truly learned "we ought to all hold onto our loved ones and tell them how we feel regularly and sincerely, because you just never know....", well dammit, it's true! we ought to! but you know that and I know that. so, aside from that huge and obvious truth, there are other sneakier bits I've learned/am learning.
*to be thankful for my body, despite the things I've become accustomed to complaining about. this part is too soft or that part isn't strong enough..... wouldn't it be nice if my hair did this instead of that and I didn't have these dry patches on my face? well screw all of that. every last bit of it. I can breathe. and walk. I can see. my organs work properly and I'm essentially unlimited in what I'm capable of. good grief, I'm a miracle and I'd be ridiculously shallow to complain about a little jiggle here and a wayward hair there. I'm breathing, people! and I'm doing it without a machine or chest tubes or any other such devices.
*not to bother, too much, with censoring what I'm feeling and wish to express, in spoken word or written. which is not to say I plan to go about doing or saying anything unnecessary or catty or hurtful, not at all. I'm talking about just letting flow what needs to flow. 'speaking my truth', if you will. being okay with being vulnerable since (and maybe you've noticed this) we are all vulnerable anyway so let's just let down the shields and be okay with ourselves. and each other.
*speaking of each other, I've learned that boundaries are good, important things. there have been times over these last several months when I've had to do my best to politely take my leave from an exchange with someone because it was too painful and hurtful to be a part of it. and while I can acknowledge the individual's worth and try my best to see the world from their angle, I just can't bear the immense drain and hurt that comes along with the majority of our interactions. and therefore I will set boundaries and I will honor them. and I will allow them to shift when it feels right. because I'm always open to things finding their way back to right and peaceful, and I'm all about learning what exactly it is that these difficult interactions have to teach us. (I'd like to make a little note that I wholeheartedly believe having been in the middle of reading How Yoga Works during the time that the most difficult of these interactions were taking place helped me enormously to not flip the +*&% out and to somehow be able to look at things with these rosy 'what is this crap teaching me?' glasses. for real. read it.)
*part of me wants to write something here about coming to a good place, or an okay place, anyway, in regards to dealing with death. or perhaps more accurately, in my case, the expectation of it. but I can't. not really. I mean, I thought I was there, dealing with it. and with my mother, no less. and looking back, even though I was practically hyperventilating much of the time and could barely see for all the tears streaming down my face, I feel like at times I was doing okay. in a weird trying-my-best-to-come-to-terms-with-this-bullshit in a respectful (of her, of her life, our bond, all of it) and somewhat peaceful fashion. I started talking about how, when it happened, we could make it the most comfortable for her, the most respectful. I thought about those things because they were important. even though I was sad and snotty and out of my mind, they were extremely important. so there's that. I can't really speak to all of that, though, because I didn't have to cross that threshold. thank goodness for that. thank everything for that. but there was a glimpse enough for me to get it, just a bit. to see what would come up, to see what was important when you get down to the mucky and very elemental core of things. wherever and whatever they may be.
so there's a bit of the stuff that comes up for me when I think back on this spring and all that went down. a bit of the stuff I'm working on and learning about. a bit of what I know now. I know treating each other right is what matters most. I know what leaking chest tubes sound like, what an oozing tracheostomy sounds like. I know the feel of blood-soaked gauze and the smell of hospital elevators, the feel of those damned blue gloves and plastic gowns. I know that watching the monitors won't make the numbers get to where they need to be, but I also know you just can't help but watch them and will them all the same. I know midnight phone calls with attending physicians and an urge to cut off my mother's hair just in case. I know where my mind and heart go in times of severe fatigue and fear, and I know that I will hold my mother close, as I will others that I love, as best I can. for as long as I can. I know our time here is short and it is a gift. I want more than anything to do my best to make such great use of that gift that when the time comes I can leave this place with a smile and a lightness in my heart. I want kindness. and I guess I want the pain too, some of it anyway, so I can always remember, really feel-it-in-my-bones remember, to honor and be grateful for the kindness and the beauty all around.