I always cry when I leave Midtown. And if the tears refuse to flow, the knot in my throat stays and reminds me that the sadness and the sweetness of January 2021 is still there. It’s been over a year. OVER a year. And I still go visit. Sometimes I just need to walk through the doors maybe and see that it’s still the same (ish). It’s not ever exactly the same. But there were a few familiar faces. And it felt the same (ish). Chrissy came walking down the hall. Banks was wiggling. Tracey grabbed and hugged me tight. Dr. Nick was around but in a surgery. Dr. Scott had just rounded. My anesthesia team was scattered throughout the hospital. And though I felt glad to be there whole and healthy, the same familiar sadness gripped me as I sat back down in my car. As I stared over the edge of the parking garage into the construction lot beside it, I thought of all of the people that night in delivery. I thought of the words “I’m so sorry, this is going to hurt a bit”. I thought about the anesthesia team surrounding my bed- two of them pressing large needles into my arms. Their kind eyes peeking out from over their masks. The tightness of the rubber-bands above my elbows. Asking to call and tell Jon what was going on. Magnesium dripping into my veins. My neck sweaty. My hair tousled on my pillow. Thinking how it must look like a rat’s nest. Not at all the photo op I had planned when I initially peed on that stick several months before. I had a friend (more than one actually) that had her hair curled and makeup on the entire time she labored. And touched up before photos. I remember thinking what a far cry I was from any of that.
As I drove out of the parking garage I thought of leaving the hospital. Becoming “friends” with my team members on social media. Realizing they were real people. Feeling even more loved than I felt in the hospital. And also, so afraid that they wouldn’t like who I was outside of those walls. I remember crying at their messages of love and hope and joy as we reconnected. When Banks came home. When I was discharged from my many doctors and restrictions. Milestones I hit. Goals I achieved. Even now, every time I visit their offices I caution myself that they’ve likely found someone else they love more and that I don’t matter as much. That another case came along that was harder and that I faded to another line on a long list.
And then I tell myself I’m a lunatic and pull into Zaxby’s and order a large tea. And remind myself that I’m okay, regardless. That it’s been a long time. And that life has moved on. And at the end of the day, I was their patient. And they were my caregivers. And that is a gift I’ll always cherish more than anyone ever knows. But that at the end of the day, that’s what it was. And there’s no sense in crying over the truth of it.
This mental spiral is one I have more often than I wish I did. Not as much as I used to-now that the day-to-day of raising babies is back in full swing. My days are busy, my nights are short as we spend most of them outside, and my cup is pretty full all things considered. But in light of recent events, I found myself sitting in the Mid State Garage reliving it all. And perhaps searching for that same feeling I had the day I was discharged.
Three weeks ago, on a Monday night, one of Jon’s best friends’ lost his wife to a drunk driver. She was driving her three-year-old son home from the pediatrician and was making her way around our city square. Jon and I were home when he got the call. I’ll never forget him hitting his knees as if someone had knocked the wind out of him and the horror stricken look on his face when he made the realization what had happened. We soon learned she passed and thus began one of the hardest weeks of our lives. The hurt is fresh and no one in our tightly-knit friend group has really come to terms with all that’s happened. We’re all 30 and under for the most part; none of us knowing how to navigate planning a funeral or what to do in the days following. We’re all just trying to love each other well and process the best we can.
I have a little bit of survivor’s guilt to some extent. I’ve wrestled with the fact that I had time to plan to die. I made a will. Met with an attorney. Settled my estate/affairs/etc. I delegated guardians for my children. Talked with the chaplain. All of the things. And Ashley was in mid-sentence. Nothing planned. Totally unaware. Her family didn’t get to hold special prayer. Nobody sent her cards. She didn’t get to watch Miss Congeniality with her mom just a few hours before, like I did.
We did life together, Ashley and me. But we weren’t “best friends”. And yet, the weight of all of our ordinary moments together feels so heavy now. She asked me to be her bridesmaid. She asked me to do her hair. She asked me to straighten her wedding veil. She was an old movie buff and we always talked about musicals when we were together. The old ones, and ones she needed to see. She was always trying to fill the gap for everyone, and she was good at it. It seemed her main ambition was to bring everyone in our group of friends closer together, and she continuously succeeded. Our friendship was a grace and a gift that I cherish now. And when I found out her life had stopped-mid sentence-without warning-the sadness struck so deeply I felt like I could get physically sick.
And maybe that’s what lead me to Midtown this week in all reality. I texted Dr. Nick the night of the accident. She responded right back with sympathy and love and encouragement, just like she always does. She wasn’t physically holding my hand in this particular “hard thing”, but she was in a way. And maybe I just wanted to be surrounded by the people that made me feel so loved during the hardest thing I have faced. Sometimes I wish I could just sit with them all. Know they’re all there. That I’m still here. And that it’s all okay.
It’s a gift to live through the worst-case-scenario. But it’s a heavy gift to carry around by yourself. And maybe that’s why I always think of my “team” when the heaviness of life in general starts to creep in. In some weird, yet tangible way, they lightened the load in the worst-case. And something about the thought of their presence feels like it will lighten it again.
Most know this-I think I’ve written about it before-but I was completely alone the night of my delivery in way of friends and family. My contractions began after my mom left for the day. And they continued aggressively to the point I was taken to surgery before Jon could make it to the hospital. I called him from labor and delivery as I was prepped to go to the main OR and told him we were having the baby and that I would see him soon. Doctors and nurses buzzed around me like worker bees diligently, and quickly, doing their jobs. Nobody mentioned dying, and it never crossed my mind. I remember the blue tiled walls. The bright lights. And my heart racing as the nurse anesthetist placed the oxygen on my nose and mouth. It suctioned down to my face and I felt-ironically-like I couldn’t breathe. I looked up at him almost in a panic and remember his dark hair sticking out from under his hat as his face was turned to the side. He was looking at something else, behind me. I remember Dr. Crowe standing to one side of me and Dr. Samples leaning over top of me and holding my hand, repeatedly telling me I was okay as the anesthetic made it’s way into my arm and my eyes got heavy. I remember my body relaxing and looking at Dr. Samples’ eyelashes, my last thought being how long and pretty they were and who did them. What a last thought that would have been had the night gone like it almost did.
Sometimes I remember everything in broad daylight. In regular moments. Folding laundry. Driving. And other times it keeps me up at night. The worst times being when I drift off to sleep on my back. I feel my body relax and suddenly jolt awake thinking I’ll look up into bright lights and blue tiled walls. My heart racing, eyes scanning the room to ensure I am where I am supposed to be, tucked soundly under a heavy Pottery Barn duvet. I breathe as though I’ve woken from a nightmare and calm myself back down, telling myself I’m okay as I reposition myself in the bed. I check my phone, scroll through Instagram, get a drink-whatever that moment requires to bring me back to present. And I eventually fall back asleep, waking to baby monitors and little boys laughing up the stairs.
Because I was alone, it sometimes feels like nobody knows what happened there, except the people that were in the room. Of course, Jon made it to the hospital soon into Banks’ delivery, but I never saw him, until I woke up in ICU. But it feels like there was something almost sacred that happened that night, in that room, that nobody knows or understands that wasn’t there. And honestly, I don’t even know if anyone else thinks or feels that that was there but me. And I wasn’t even awake. But maybe because it was so life changing, and so very closely life ending for me, looking back, it feels sacred. So even if they didn’t feel that way, I do.
But-that makes real life complicated.
I can’t call Dr. Samples and say “Hey wanna do lunch?!”. I can’t message Dr. Nick and ask if she wants to meet for coffee this weekend. I don’t even like coffee but would totally go. She could literally call and invite me along for anything and I would go. I can’t message my nurse anesthetist and chat at 11 PM-for a plethora of reasons-but at a minimum because he is a grown, married man. But in those moments when my heart is racing and the memories flood back and the sadness hits, I just want to talk to them because I feel like they are in on a secret about my life that nobody else knows. They’ve walked to a really hard place with me, and walked me right out. And though many of them didn’t even choose that walk-they were there when nobody else was. And it makes a part of me want them to walk with me in my new “near death experience but like for real” normal.
Because of the role they played in that night, their presence, in my head, is synonymous with feeling safe. In an entirely different way than anyone else can or does, at the end of the day, they all make me feel safe.
I know the Sunday School answer is that Jesus was the one-the only one in all reality-that held me, comforted me, made me whole-and a part from him I can do nothing. Which is why, possibly, Midtown didn’t exactly “solve” anything for me this week. But also, there’s a part of me that keeps wanting to drive back down there until it does. I want to drive down there and demand direction for how to navigate life when memories of those few weeks suffocate the present when I clearly have work to do. Mouths to feed. Sunscreen to apply. Sippy cups to fill. I want to remind everyone how unfair it is that not only do I have to navigate a death of a friend, but remember just how close I was to the same ending and the guilt that accompanies that, warranted or not. I want to sit with my surgeon and help do something for her or someone else. I want to fix something. Go for some sort of treatment on my scar. Get a tan. Get a massage. Do something to erase the fact that I’m not ever going to be quite “whole”. That though there was a part of me that was lost that night, there isn’t a public marker to visit and mourn, but a scar attached to every second of every day whether I want to remember it or not.
I sat in my oversized chair the morning after I was discharged, at 4 am, and had a full on panic attack over the thought of leaving my children without a mama. A year and a half later, I sat in dirt and watched my biggest fear play out as a little red headed boy rolled a monster truck near my leg, looked up and said “mama” without a response from his own. I watched his daddy sob. I watched my husband and his group of friends, grown men (a bunch of hooligans on any given Friday night) weep. And my heart broke. And I thought of my surgeon’s hand in mine.
And then I shift my car into park, and realize that grief changes, but possibly never leaves. It looks different in different seasons. It goes dormant for a time or two. But as life moves, it is unearthed again and again. And it was back to sit in for a while.
The Lord has been kind to me in my grief. He’s shown up in the big things and the small things. And I’m not sure how people that don’t know him, most specifically don’t know is heart, put one foot in front of another during circumstances like this. Grief storms and it howls and then it’s silent, then it storms again. And maybe that’s where they came up with that “learning to dance in the rain” quote. Because, either way, it’s going to rear its ugly head. Whether we want it to or not. And we have to find some reason to keep walking ahead. Umbrella in hand. Soup on the stove.
I don’t know where I am going with this now, other than I felt like I needed to write it down. Perhaps to remind myself that grief is sometimes delayed. Sometimes it comes in waves. Sometimes it howls and screams. And sometimes… it sings.