Last week, my sweet boy stood on his tippy toes, reached further than I’d ever seen him reach, caught the hook of my mug that was still sitting on the Keurig machine, and attempted to drink the freshly brewed coffee. In horror, I watched as the mischievous smile on his face turned to an open-mouthed scream. In shock, I rushed to his side and tried to soothe him. And in grief, I cried steadily for the next six hours as I held him in the ambulance when they gave him intravenous pain medication and in the emergency room as they scraped off the burnt and blistered skin on his chest and back before wrapping his little body with healing pads and gauze (the burns on his chin and lips were left to heal on their own and have done so beautifully.)
Of course, there is much to be thankful for. We live close to the nation’s top childrens burn center and John Paul has had excellent care. Because he is so young his burns are healing well and he should have little to no scarring. His pain seems to be lessening each day, and most importantly, as being in the emergency room of Children’s Hospital so aptly reminded me, it could be so much worse.
Still, I’ve felt as if I were in mourning all week. I’ve been angry and anxious and wondered more than once how much our little family can take. My sadness has made sleeping difficult, and when I have found rest, I’ve had disturbing dreams. In them, I’m swimming underwater. At first, the cool water is pleasant and my body is relaxed. But eventually, my chest begins to ache and I’m overcome with the fear that I’ll never again feel the relief of taking a deep breath of fresh air or the comfort of the sun warming my face. And just when I know I can’t take it much longer – when it becomes clear that I won’t survive if I don’t emerge from the water – I wake up.
There has been an abundance of love and beauty during my battle with cancer. There has been healing and joy. And most recently, there has been immense relief. Though I will always worry what my next routine PET scan will show, being declared in remission after so many scares and drugs and tests and surgeries has brought a feeling of thankfulness I can’t quite describe.
And yet, in the past two years, since I miscarried our first child and began feeling strange symptoms and pain, there has been so much grief and sorrow that even though I feel as if I’ve just dodged a bullet, I’m still completely overwhelmed and overcome with emotion. I’m still digging myself out of a hole, and the work is neither quick nor easy. It is still a challenge to drop my shoulders and relax – to allow myself to be happy. I believe that happiness is a choice, and it is something I try to choose every day, but it is always a struggle.
So when I found myself headed back to the hospital, just days after being told that that part of my life was over, it just seemed like too much to take. And though I experienced more pain and suffered more physically and emotionally than I ever have in my life when I was going through chemotherapy, it was all nothing, nothing, compared to the pain I felt seeing John Paul suffer. Suddenly, giving up the search for happiness, staying in the darkness, and remaining underwater seemed like the most appealing thing I could do. I began to wonder if my swimming dreams always ended before I emerged from the water for a reason.
But loving friends, husbands, sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers don’t give up on us. And mercifully, neither does God. And often, just when we need it most, we are given a sign to remind us that love still exists and that good overcomes evil – a sign so unmistakable that it forces those terrible twins, fear and anxiety, to run away.
Mike, John Paul, and I came across a tunnel on our walk yesterday. Inside, it was cold and dark. Though the air was stagnant and stale, it also felt safe inside that tunnel. But emerging from the tunnel was so much better than being within it. As we entered the light I closed my eyes and took a minute to enjoy the warmth of the sun on my face and the fresh air in my lungs. It felt as if I had finally swum to the surface of that consuming water of my dreams.
This thing called motherhood and this thing called life are far from easy. They are at times painful and terrible and confusing and daunting. But the moments of pure joy and love that exist within them are so very beautiful, and so very worth it. So I won’t be giving up and giving in to despair anytime soon. No, I’ll be pressing on and on, gasping for air and reaching for the light all the while.
Happy Mother’s Day to all you mothers out there – those of you with children in your arms, those of you with children in your hearts, those of you with children in your dreams, and those of you who share love and care for others just like a mother.
A sweet boy with a burned chin…
who’s finally feeling better!