“Fed by Thy love divine we live,
For Love alone is Life;
And life most sweet, as heart to heart
Speaks kindly when we meet and part.“
– Mary Baker Eddy
As a young child, a loved one suffered heart damage as a result of rheumatic fever. Apparently she was supposed to have lived a quiet and sheltered life. She did not. She climbed Mount Rainier twice, got married, birthed and raised three children, traveled, sang, gardened, hiked, taught, and led a very full and active life.Last week, eighty years after the rheumatic fever, this loved one finally underwent open heart surgery to repair her heart.
The surgery was performed at a hospital two hours to the south of where I live. When I was booking a room in a hotel near there – The Inn at Gig Harbor – I mentioned that I was going to be there to be close to a dear family member while she underwent open heart surgery. The woman making the reservation for me got quiet for a moment. When she spoke again it was to tell me that she would be giving me a discount on my room, and she said that there was a suite, that was “just sitting there” and not being used that had a jacuzzi in it, and she was going to put me in that room because she figured I’d need a jacuzzi. I was speechless for a moment – overcome by her kindness and generosity.
When, a couple of days later, I drove down to the hotel to check in, I was very excited to meet Theresa Ready – the woman who had taken such good care of me in reserving my room. Her daughter was at the desk, and she told me she’d get her mom for me. Theresa came out of the back room to meet me, and she had tears in her eyes as she smiled at me. “No one ever asks to see me,” she said, “I’m just an accountant.” That cracked me up. This woman who was “just an accountant” was, it was obvious to me, a woman of great love and compassion, and I felt really privileged to meet her. We hugged, and she wished me all the best for my loved one, and said she’d pray for her.
I had to leave for the hospital at 4:30 the next morning, and, knowing I would miss breakfast, the hotel packed up a box full of muffins, scones, yogurt, and juice to get me through the morning.
I wore my sparkly green fairy wings into the hospital – I knew my loved one would get a kick out of that – she and I share the same sense of humor about stuff – and, sure enough, she started laughing as soon as she saw me. Other family members were there, too, and we encircled our dear one with love and the confidence that all would be well.
The next eight hours passed in kind of a blurr. Probably anyone who’s been in the hospital for any length of time understands what I mean by that. It’s a kind of surreal atmosphere – long stretches of wandering, chatting, reading, and – in these modern times – connecting to the hospital’s free WiFi to communicate with the outside world – punctuated by quick, intense moments when an update comes through. Time disappears.
It was a sunny day, and there were several times when I needed to escape from the confines of the hospital and get some fresh air and sunshine, and see what was going on in the world outside. On one of my escapes, I walked several blocks into the sun, passed a school, and to a community garden. There were a couple of women in the garden – one of them planting seeds, and the other taking pictures of her – and I asked them if it would be okay if I opened up the gate and came inside. They looked at me and smiled and welcomed me in. And this is when I met Akkima, the photographer. Akkima is a student at the University of Washington, Tacoma Campus, majoring in Media. Her assignment that day was to photograph her friend, the gardener. I told Akkima that I’m married to a photojournalist, and that I, too, have recently gotten interested in photography, and we shared our mutual enjoyment of capturing images and talked about that for awhile. And, of course, we had to take pictures of each other.
I was reluctant to move from the hospital’s lobby – there was a fountain and windows to the outside and sunshine – but eventually those of us who hadn’t yet moved into the hospital’s surgical waiting room joined our other family members there and settled in to await news. There was another family, in the space next to us, also awaiting news about their loved one. I was impressed by how well-behaved the little children were while they waited. Frankly, they seemed to be doing better than me. I’m not very good at sitting and waiting in somber silence. This is not to say I don’t appreciate quiet and stillness – because I do, for sure – but not when there’s interesting people around me – I have a yearning to find out about them and make a connection with them – and this family waiting next to us was interesting. I brought my glittery green fairy wings up to the little girl and asked her if she’d like to put them on for awhile – she shyly shook her head no – she wanted no part of the fairy wings. However, the young man standing next to her agreed to put on the fairy wings for me. I’m not sure how old he was – my guess would be early twenties – and let’s just say that he was not built the way a generic fairy is built – and he and I and his entire family started cracking up when he allowed me to put those wings on him.
I’m happy to say that not long after he donned the fairy wings for me, the young man and his family heard good news about their grandmother’s operation. It had gone well, and things were looking good.
Eventually, we learned that the surgery for our loved one was finished, and that, although she wasn’t out of the woods, yet, things were looking good for her.
My family and I went up to her room after the operation – when she was still unconscious and sedated. I started singing some of her favorite hymns from The Christian Science Hymnal to her. “Oh dreamer, leave thy dreams for joyful waking…” I sang (to the tune of “Oh, Danny Boy”) and then, joking, I asked her, “Wasn’t that beautiful?” and – much to the surprise of all – she nodded her head twice!!! I think this is when I knew everything was going to be alright. “And for my next number…” I said, and I’m pretty sure she was trying to laugh. She was back!!!