"I'm done being sad about this," announced husband with certainty, and he meant it.
He was lying in a hospital bed, his third in a two-month stay. Two pristine white casts wrapped symmetrically around his cylindrical legs, starting at about the top of his thighs and then neatly wrapping around his calves. The absence of his feet was glaring. On one of the casts, our six-year-old son had written in thick black sharpie, "I want you to come home in a nanosecond."
We all felt that way, but especially Husband. After all, he was the one suddenly ripped from our life – beautiful in its ordinariness – which included our nine- and six-year-old boys, and four-week-old daughter. One unremarkable Wednesday morning Husband left for work, and before the sun went down, he was fighting for his life. The ER doctor called him "the sickest person in the hospital", and warned me to prepare that Husband very well might not make it through the night. When the sun rose early that next morning, fiery and fierce, Husband was still hanging on. I felt monumentally relieved. He would still have a very long road to recovery, but surviving that first night at least started the journey.
Husband is the most optimistic person I know. So when, just days away from finally coming home and he announced that he was done being sad about "this", I again felt relief – for him, for us – knowing that his determination was genuine. But where did that leave me? I wasn't nearly done being sad; maybe I would never be done being sad. (“This” was a rare bloodstream infection which overwhelmed his system and sent him into septic shock. The medicine which saved his life strangled his extremities, and his feet essentially died.)
But sad is no way to go through life, or raise joyful kids, or support a husband, still positive and vibrant despite some hefty setbacks.
Sadness is a bully -- infiltrating, dominating, always wanting to come out on top. I had to fight back, hard. Because I refused to let sadness win. If sadness wins, then beauty and joy lose. And I simply refuse to live without those.
I worked to deliberately recognize the beautiful which was actively taking place around me. I had to seek the everyday lovely moments; I had to celebrate tiny joys. It helped to give thanks for even the smallest of things.
Like the day when I opened my front door to find a Pinterest-worthy basket of muffins and waters, left there by a friend whom I didn't actually know that well. Inside was a simple handwritten note. "I know mornings must be very hectic for you right now, hopefully this will make things a little easier." By that time, Husband was stable enough for me to sleep at home, instead of the critical care ward, but I still woke early enough every day to see the sunrise from his hospital room.
A few weeks later, Husband still slowly improving, I received a fat white envelope from another friend. Inside was a thick stack of gift cards to eateries dotting the 30 mile drive to the hospital. Many people had contributed to this gift, again, some of whom I didn't even know. "Remember to take care of yourself too," my friend had written.
Those words really touched my heart, but I didn’t realize how much until days later, when I rushed out of the house to get to the hospital, by this time far after sunrise. Hungry and stressed, I figured I might not eat until much later that day. Remembering the gift cards, I zipped off the freeway, easily finding a quick meal. And I recognized this thoughtful act of grace bestowed upon me. My community’s little bit of kindness really saved me that day; I could almost feel them cheering me on, giving me a boost of encouragement and positivity. It was the only time I can remember crying over a bag of tacos and rice.
Another day, I found beauty in baseball cleats.
"Boys, today we're going to get your new cleats!" I announced triumphantly. Husband was now stable enough that I could steal an hour or two away from the hospital in the afternoons. Baby Girl was always accounted for between two loving grandmas, but even so, my heart was always conflicted, because being with my kids meant being away from my husband. I wanted to be able to be there for all of them, every moment of the day (and night).
Back to the cleats. Typically, I would grumble about an errand such as this -- time-consuming, costly, and frankly, exhausting with two little boys who couldn’t travel ten minutes from the house without a substantial snack. But on that day, I just wanted to do something regular, something that other moms might be doing, something that, in another season of life, would be unremarkable.
The boys and I, we had so much fun together that day. I loved watching them race up and down the aisles, trying on every pair of cleats, leaving boxes abandoned with shoes and tissue paper askew. And finally, choosing just the right ones to carry them through a baseball season which their dad/coach would live to see.
When the cashier checked us out, handing us two orange boxes and remarking casually, "new cleats, guys?", again I teared up.
Husband thankfully came home to us, and quickly learned how to walk his new path on prosthetic feet. During the past nine years, together we have had the honor of watching our kids grow, marking milestones that we always hoped to see them reach. Our lives have been bursting with sports seasons and music performances, driver’s licenses, teenagers, travel, even a high school graduation.
Our family hasn't gotten a free pass from trials, like I thought we might. I have sat next to the hospital bed of several men I love most dearly -- Husband again, our beloved first-born, my father. Yet I still grumble about the dishes/errands/laundry dance and all the mundane tasks of running a home which can overwhelm us in the course of a regular day. And sometimes, I admit, all these years later, I do still feel sad, for Husband having to shoulder so much. He, I am proud to say, has stuck true to his word.
But then, in waking up early, a decades-old habit I cannot break, occasionally I am greeted by a sunrise, sneaking up over the hills behind our house and painting the sky pink and orange. For me, it's an encouraging nod from above, a vibrant, everyday miracle which reminds me that life is uncertain and messy, but also beautiful. Beautiful in the extraordinary but even more so in the ordinary.
And that, despite our road being curvy, bumpy, and sometimes treacherous, we are very very blessed.