I have always felt like I’ve really known myself. The shiny parts, and the dull parts. The things that make me giddy and alive, and the parts that leave me quiet. I have always felt like I have really known myself… and did my best not to be too human.
Being human was for other people. Supporting other people through their human-ness… that was for me.
But life has shown me that every time I pray that I am an exception to the rule.. it throws me a softball- one that provides opportunity to learn and grow into my humanness, and when I avoid or refuse to listen? It throws every ball it has… all at once.
The medical facts: I sat with a ruptured appendix for more than 24 hours. By the time they operated, my abdomen was full of pockets of infection. After 9 days in a hospital in Florida (this happened while we were on vacation), I flew back to Wisconsin, and within 24 hours, was back in the hospital, in Milwaukee. I had a post-operative bowel obstruction (picture your body making super-special scar tissue to wall off and protect your system, but accidentally adding so much it became like concrete and didn’t allow your intestines or bowel to function).To fix and try to avoid surgery, the insert a tube through your nose down into your stomach. You stay hooked-up to a machine that pulls everything out of your belly, because it can’t go anywhere else. I had multiple abscesses (pockets of infection), and a fistula (think infection wants to get out, and finds the path of least resistance and pushes it’s way out. This path was through a wall that was still healing from having a total hysterectomy 4 months earlier due to endometriosis. The wall was weak and still healing because they had to go in twice in 45 minutes, after I lost half of the blood in my body due to an internal bleed. Another story for another time… But my fistula- basically, it was a hole leading from one cavity of the body to another cavity of the body, where one doesn’t belong). In short, for the infection they give IV antibiotics and a drain on the outside, that has a tube leading to infection inside. And the fistula… they have to stitch. Ick.
Anyway- that’s what was physically happening. But what was happening mentally and emotionally is something I never could have prepared myself for. So here it is- the very human me. Learning to love and be loved in the most superhuman ways.
The first day I was admitted to St. Luke’s Hospital, in Milwaukee, WI, I tried to remind myself that at least I was closer to home. The 9 days in the hospital in Florida- a lifetime away from where I wanted to be- were finally over. Deep down, when I went to bed, I knew that the morning would bring the next leg of the journey.
If you read the last story, my mom was with me on the first leg of this journey. I was 37 and if my husband and kids couldn’t be with me, I just wanted my mother. When you give birth, I don’t know that you can really understand what you are signing up for. There is no way to really conceptualize the way a mother loves. How she wonders and worries and breathes the very breaths that you do. That she will hold you when you are little, and medium and big. That she will sit in the hospital with you and help you go to the bathroom when you are old enough to do it yourself, and too weak to make it happen. She does all of it not because she has to, but because that’s how much she loves you.
When you watch your mother become a grandmother, you have no idea the love that she will feel for the life you created- you a part of her, them a part of you. You don’t know that she will stay in your spot when you aren’t able. That she will feed them and bathe them and calm their fears just as she did for you. But she does. Not because she has to, but because that’s how much she loves you. And that’s how much she loves the people that you love.
For 30 days my mother stopped her life to keep the one going that I laid absent from. She drove 100 miles every day to create school projects that my kids needed help with. She washed their clothes and made them meals. She came to see me and reassure me that the world that ticked by while I wasn’t there to live it, would be waiting for me if I was just brave enough to keep getting better.
I think this is the first time I ever noticed that what I loved about her was her humanness. The way she fell asleep in her chair as she refused to leave my bedside, and insisted she wasn’t tired. The way she smiled and chatted up every nurse that came in our room- always with gratitude and a story about our family. The way I could hear the quick click of her shoes down the hospital hallway- almost running to get to me, and after quickly cleaning up my area, be forced to just sit. And be with me. It was the way she apologized for moments I could see she was weary. It is the soft skin on the top of her hands, and the way I know her knuckles and her veins. It is knowing that as time goes on, mine will look the same.
It was wheelchair rides, and elevator buttons and her telling me she was proud of me- even if it was for only being able to walk by myself down a hallway. It was feeding every other person in my family a million times over, because I couldn’t eat- and because there are few things that bring more joy than Grandma’s muffins.
My mother loves with every part of her human self. She is human but her love is not. Her love is super-human. And it’s what healed me.
My dad is best described as a Marine with only sisters and only daughters. He loves fiercely and is one of the hardest working people I know. When I was in elementary school, he famously walked to me school one morning just to have me point to the 8th grade girl that was threatening to throw me in the dumpster every day and made me afraid to go to school. He kindly(ish) let her know that her threats would end, and kissed me, reminded me to always stand-up for myself, and others, and sent me off to my line to wait for the bell to ring. You can imagine how well that went over… but the point is- he is our person. The one that reminds us to “take no prisoners” and alway love bigger than we believe is possible. It’s as if he wears a cape while loving my mother. Their love for each other is superhuman.
While we were in Florida, my Dad spent a lot of time with us on the phone. It was March Madness discussion, and talking through doctors’ reports, but when we got home, his visits brought the calm.
I am not sure if it’s the way that he double flicks his mustache with his pointer finger(two strokes down, one up), or the freckles on his arms, or the fact that he calls his hat his cap- but my father is the grounding force in every room. I’m sure he didn’t picture walking hospital hallways with me, or sharing tips about how he conquered long days he had in the hospital in his younger days, but he did it. Not because he had to- but because he loves me.
I am sure he didn’t picture driving back and forth to my house every day to help my husband make meals and take care of our kids. I’m sure he didn’t realize that he was signing-up for waiting on the front walk of school to bring our kids home and do homework, or sit at their piano teacher’s house through their lessons- but he did it. Not because he had to, but because he loves me.
It was prayers, and reminders that God’s got me, and walks making small talk about the kids, and him refusing to leave the hallway outside the surgery room so that my husband didn’t have to be alone and wait by himself for me to get out. It is letting my kids beat-up on him in a rowdy game of basement basketball.
My father loves with every part of his human self. He is human, but his love is not. His love is super-human. And it’s what healed me.
I am the middle sister. And although none of us get to choose the family we are born into, I have to say that if I got to choose it all for myself- I would choose my sisters every. single. time.
When you become a sister, I’m not sure you know you are getting an instant best friend. A person that even when there is struggle, still knows you better than you sometimes know yourself.
I don’t think you ever picture giving up a normal wedding shower- a day of celebration you have waited for- because your sister is sick, and your family is doing their best- but totally preoccupied. I don’t think you know you will be willing to bring her bridesmaid dress to the hospital to do a fashion show for her, so she feels like she’s included in the fun. I don’t think you picture working every day from her hospital room, and spending hours and days and weeks coordinating her medical care, or finding a doctor that can give her the best shot at a normal, healthy, fully-healed life.
My sisters sat with me, and their husbands did visits, and puzzles and drove hours to pick-up kids and help make their lives feel normal. They did meals in hospital lobby’s, and a watered-down bachelorette party, and consoled my husband, when I wasn’t there to do it.
My sisters prayed with me, and made me laugh, and thought about me in a time when it would have been normal to only want to thing about themselves. They functioned as my non-functioning parts.
They are human, but their love is not Their love (and their families love) is superhuman- and it saved me.
MY HUSBAND AND KIDS
I almost can’t touch this one. Because it’s hard not to skip to part 3 of this story. It’s easier to skip ahead to the things I want to tell you about the ways this changed us. About the ways that this transformed our lives in the very worst, best and most profound ways. But, you just need to know that they just loved me.
It was a clink of skittles falling out of a bag to let me know that my husband was willing to stay up and care for me, when I was too afraid to fall asleep, for fear I wouldn’t wake-up. It was how he coached my kids to be encouraging to me- to tell me that I just had to work hard on getting better, and make sure I was good before I tried to rush home. It was him taking every ounce of energy he had to continue to fight for the life we had dreamed of having… even when I wasn’t there to fight with him. It was embraces in the hospital hallway when we just had to hold each other up. It was his trust in me, that I would never give-up on getting better- if it meant I would find my way back to him.
And my kids. I just can’t even go there. I can’t think about their kindness and understanding with the things I missed. The projects, and pick-ups and little moments when you just need your mother. I just know that there is something so special and magical about the way kids are able to love unconditionally. It’s the way my youngest has always “sniffed” my cheeks to show me he loved me… and how even when “I smelled like the hospital” he still knew I needed him, and did his best to love me. It was the prayer cards he would fill out every time he came to the hospital- a direct message to God, asking Him to heal his mom. It was the way my oldest protected his brother and tried to be gentle with me when he held back tears on phone calls and check-ins. It’s the way he laid in my hospital bed and gently breathed so he didn’t pull out any tubes. It’s the way he pushed my IV pole when we walked in the healing garden on their visits, and dedicated his entire school poetry booklet to poems about his mom.
They are incredibly human. But their love- it’s not. Their love is superhuman and it healed me.
I could go on and on about the friends that came to visit- driving hours and getting baby-sitters and bringing books and magazines and flowers. About how they walked with me and prayed for me, and made meals, and helped to take care of my kids and make sure they felt loved. How they sat through doctor visits and encouraged me before my surgeries, and sent texts and suggestions for their favorite shows. I could go on and on about the humanness of my people- their compassion, empathy, selflessness- about their love. They are so, beautifully and wonderfully human. But their love? Superhuman. And it saved me.
After 30 days, I got to go home fully aware of my humanness. And fully aware of the superhuman love that healed me.
Part 3- Darkness and Light- The Gift of Being Human coming soon.
Mother, Wife, Teacher and Believer.