Friday, November 13, 2009

Are you there God? It's me, Heidi

I have often heard people recount a moment when they experience God for the first time, or in a new way, and it changes the direction of their lives forever. Certainly I have experienced several significant moments of awakening to His presence. More than one particular moment though, my relationship with God has felt like a continuous unfolding, a kind of treasure map of experiences which ultimately lead me into greater wisdom or empathy or growth. My well-worn prayer has always been: "God, let me not be full of crap" and "Help me to give over everything to you. Don't let me hold anything back". So it stands to follow that I eased comfortably back into His arms in those dark nights of our hospital stay. And I had a steady confidence (not arrogance, but a hopeful expectation) that we would be the recipients of a bona fide miracle. After all, I reasoned, hadn't all I ever learned about God-His favor to those He loves, His power to save them-prepared me for just this moment?

So I prayed. Quietly; in whispers at night. Publicly; in front of doctors and nurses, family and friends. Collectively; with the few allowed to see him, and the hundreds gathered at home. Continuously; not slowing or losing heart when things looked bleak. Passionately; pouring all of my hopes and fears into each plea. Assuredly; knowing who I was praying to and being certain of His ability to rescue us. My faith was, pound for pound, a good deal heavier than the mustard seed, but my mountain wasn't budging.

Desperate is the word that best describes our eight week hospital stay. Brutal is a close second. The mountaintop highs, the desert lows. The 'cautiously optimistic' pronouncement followed soon after by a visit with the Palliative Care Team. The extremes were exhausting, heart wrenching and, it seemed to me, bitterly cruel. But even when I saw the blood and heard the echo of his doctors saying a second GI bleed would surely kill him, I believed a miracle would come.

I asked for signs and looked everywhere for answers. Riding the elevator up from the cafeteria one day, the hospital priest asked how I was doing. "Happy to see a man of God," I said, dodging. "We are all children of God," he said pointedly. And I stopped to take it in, to believe it was true. Because as such, even as Paul's breath became shallow and quickened, I held out a persistent hope that God would intervene.

I have read about devastating loss and suffering and the men and women who continue to lift eyes and voices heavenward. After Paul's death, I had hoped I would follow in their leading. Instead, I find my fists are clenched instead of folded and my prayers seem more accusatory than conversational. I don't doubt God could have saved my husband, it simply breaks my heart that He did not.

I find myself now revisiting those seasons of great faith in my life, holding on desperately to what was so certain then. Through my raging and pain I still seek Him. And maybe that is enough, for now.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven

I am standing in the hospital room side-by-side with Paul's father, his mother and brother. His Uncle Bob, who has no children of his own save for these adopted sons, keeps vigil with us. We've been called in to say goodbye.

I listen to Glen-his voice breaking and hands clenched-tell Paul how much he loves him. His father paces. His mother weeps and rubs his hands. "Paul, you've been such a good son to me", she says, over and over and over again. And I am thinking, between shock and nausea, how much longer Paul? I need to get home to the kids.

The night he died, I tucked our children into bed and climbed in next to them a few hours later. Paul's mother slept down the hall. Around 10 p.m., the nurses called me back in, "We've increased to three blood pressure medications, at full dosage, what would you like us to do from here?" I got dressed, walked down the hall, and gently woke my mother-in-law. "It's time, Memere" I told her.

In the night, my mother changed shifts with us as we five (six if you count my brother, who set up shop in the waiting room nearby) converged at the hospital one final time. And though I watched every labored breath, took note of every calculated decrease in meds, I never forgot what lay before me when it was over. They would need to be told, and I wanted to be the one to tell them.

Much of it is a blur. The kids were excited to see me still home when they woke. After eight weeks, they had become accustomed to my prolonged absences. I held them close for a bit, slowing the inevitable. And then I began the explanation I'd rehearsed (preventatively, God Forbid) for weeks. "Guys, remember we talked about how sick Dad had gotten? Remember how I told you Daddy's body was working really, really hard to get better? Well...his body just couldn't fight any more". Maya's face, the oldest and most savvy, registering instant horror and disbelief. "He died?" And me, nodding, saying softly, "We're still a family" and trying desperately to believe it.

What we did best, Paul and I, was love our kids together. We supported each others' decisions regarding them or disagreed quietly, separate from their hearing. We stratagized solutions to their particular challenges. We passed knowing looks in wonder of them. We protected them at every turn; our arguments, scary movies, bullies at school, bad news. And then...

Now it is the first day of school and the Dads are driving captain in their minivans and the Moms' cameras are clicking. This is the one day a year Paul cheerfully left late. No matter who it was, what their ages, it broke my heart to see them off to school. He stayed for them but more appropriately, he stayed for me.

And then it is Open House and I am writing a note for Maya to find and remembering how Paul had written last years missive-the sign for I Love You and Love, Dad written below. Now I scribble, "I am so proud of you and Daddy is too" and rush out amid tears.

And then Anna turns five and our friend Howard calls to tell me he's coming over to make her some chocolate chip pancakes. And I am grateful, thankful for him, and yet...

When you lose someone you love, you grieve the many facets of your relationship, the countless roles they played. He was my best friend, my co-parent, the fixer of broken things. He was our provider, the dish washer, bill payer. He was my lover, trash collector, the driver for trips long and short...the list goes on.

Maya, Cole and Anna have lists as well. He was their after-dinner-wrestler, the snowball maker, late night lifter into bed. He was their coach, candy smuggler, gentle teaser, teacher. And then there is the list of what they will miss going forward, too extensive to detail here.

There was speculation in the hospital, as Rhabdomyolosis rendered Paul's body all but immobile, that he wouldn't want to live in a wheelchair. But how can we be sure? Were you to ask Paul on May 2nd for that decision, I believe his answer would be vastly different than it was just two months later. Given the choice between seeing his children grow to become adults, or dying at 33...I believe the fight he showed for eight weeks gave us his answer. He had a lot to live for, and the three of them inspired his fight.

Perspective is a funny thing, in the end.

And now I am faced with the impossible task of doing this alone. And it is both the loss of a father and the loss of their father, that grieves me. Our friend Claire said I had lived with and loved Paul long enough to anticipate his response and 'know his mind' some. And though I would parent without him, I could be sure that Paul's voice-his beliefs and perspective-would stay with me. I pray this is true. His shoes are big. Their loss is bigger.