A few days ago, I fell.
I was carrying my daughter, and a mere two steps from the car I felt the ground rushing toward me. I said, “Oh, no.” I slid my palm up in an attempt to cradle her neck. Every obese pound came crashing down on my knees. Momentum carried me forward and Lyra hit the back of her head on the sidewalk, though the impact was greatly blunted by my now-sprained wrist.
A few moments later, when my husband would finally saunter outside, he would encounter a surreal and somewhat frightening scene. His two girls cradling each other on the sidewalk, drenched in tears. His instinct was good. He rescued our baby first, as I choked out that she’d hit the back of her head. When my crying didn’t stop and I had yet to stand, he finally realized that the situation was different than he’d first assumed.
“Are you crying because she’s hurt, or because you are?” he asked. (This isn’t as un-empathetic of a question as it may sound. I often cry when Lyra gets hurt, because I carry wound a backpack full of Mommy Guilt.)
I snorted out something about it being me the one who fell. I then pulled up my pants leg to reveal an open wound on each leg. On the right knee: a small puncture directly on the knee cap. Below the left knee: a quarter-sized scraped all the way down to the white-unpigmented skin. The pain: searing and inescapable. It would be hours before I’d realize I had small scrapes on my left foot and a skinned right elbow. Every neuron was alerting me to the pain in my knees.
Perhaps it was a lack of attention. Perhaps it was the inevitable, symbolic conclusion to a very difficult week. A week spent visiting an unconscious loved one** in the ICU. A week worrying about other loved ones who love this person more deeply than I do, ever can. And as with all multi-day hospital stays, it was a week of many ups and downs, false starts, conflicting answers, and–in the end–answered prayers. And a person with PTSD, whose trauma was solidified during a brief stay in the ICU, it was a week filled with apprehension and trepidation, a shameful need for withdrawal and self-preservation.
On the fourth day, a young relative (a pubescent child, on the cusp of comprehending the adult world) asked me if I was upset that people saw me in the hospital when I didn’t look my best. It was the kind of empathetic question that only children who lack the boundaries of etiquette can fearlessly ask aloud. But I answered her.
I said that I have been and remain in awe of the outpouring of love I received when I was near death. It affected me deeply and still does to this day. I said that most of us never truly get to know who will miss us when we are gone. That number is greater and more profound than we know. I told her that I couldn’t guarantee that our relative would feel gratitude for all who had come to see him in the hospital, when he was unconscious or out of sorts; but that I believed with all my heart that he would come to have a deep appreciation for the outpouring of love and prayers he’d received. And that it would affect him for the rest of his life.
Also, I just wanted to let Julie and Sarah know that my heart is carrying some weight for both of them right now. I don’t really have words. Just a tremendous amount of empathy for two women who have had a tough year and who have been dealt some additional heartbreak these past two weeks. I’m wishing you both strength.
**details have been altered or left sparse in order to protect privacy.