The last week has been a whirlwind of stress, pain, exhaustion and moments of absolute clarity. It all started last Thursday when my husband and I learned that his father had been injured in some sort of accident on the job and had been rushed to the hospital. We live several states away, so there was immediate panic. How bad is it? Is he going to be okay? Could we get my husband out there if we needed to? Thanks to the generosity of my parents, my friends, and a handful of random strangers, we were able to raise the funds and airline miles to fly my husband out to be with his family. As I’m writing this, my father-in-law has yet to regain consciousness, although his eyes sometimes open and his fingers sometimes move, which is better than where things had been.
It is so surreal, being out here while my husband is out there, trying to be the still point in a turning world when the center of gravity seems out of place.
I can’t say I know how hard it has been on my husband.
I do know, to some degree, how hard it has been on my children. I can’t say how many times in the past week it seemed like the household turned from happiness to panicked chaos in a split second. One moment we’re talking about our favorite My Little Ponies, the next minute it’s, “what happens if Pappy dies?” One second it’s plans for the Minecraft server, the next it’s, “what if Pappy stays alive but never wakes up?”
Questions I can’t answer. I long for the good old days of just having to explain that it is dark earlier because of the way the earth tilts on it’s axis and that the sky looks blue because of how our brain interprets the refraction of light. That stuff is child’s play compared to explaining how when there’s bleeding inside of the brain, the brain can’t send signals the way it should and… ugh.
We’re walking through the store and it’s this ghost that haunts us. I want to lay down and cry, but I can’t. I have to buy the groceries and clean the fridge and fold the laundry and check the homework and cook the meals, and meanwhile these questions follow me around the house in the irresistible and unignorable form of my children, panicking every time I have to think before answering. “Why can’t Pappy talk on the phone? Will he ever talk on the phone?” I cook the food, I serve the food. We sit around the table and try to act like nothing is missing. “I don’t like eating at the table without Daddy. Can we just watch a movie?”
Time for bed. Time to try to act like we can do this. Change into pajamas, brushing teeth. Here come the tears again. “I don’t like going to sleep without daddy praying first.” “We can try to call daddy.” “Daddy is with Pappy.” And here it comes again. The kids keep getting out of bed, coming to see what I’m doing. Wipe the tears quickly before they pop their heads in the room. Smile. Keep smiling. Tuck them back in, again and again. Be firm but not angry. You have to sleep, you have to go to school in the morning. Yes, it’s very sad that daddy isn’t here and we don’t know when Pappy will wake up, but in the meantime we have our lives to live.
Monkeypants keeps me up until midnight. I sneak a few moments of silence before laying down, wake up before everyone else so that I have a moment to clear my head. Wake the kids up with tickles and laughter, try to keep the questions at bay. On the way to school they creep back in. “My teacher asked about Pappy, what do I say?” Smile, say that we’re keeping hope, we’re staying positive, daddy will be back home soon. “Will Pappy wake up before daddy comes home?” We can’t know. “What if Pappy doesn’t wake up?”
Whatever happens, we’ll be okay. We have each other and we love each other.
“Don’t fall down and hit your head until your brain bleeds,” my son says in a very serious voice.
I put my hand over my heart, “I promise to try not to,” I say, “but no matter what happens, you would be okay. I know you would.”
He shakes his head, “I don’t like the fact that people get hurt and die,” he says.
No one likes that. Who would?
Another bedtime, this time with less tears. Another night where I’m up past midnight, putting them in bed again and again and again. I wonder how little sleep I need to survive. 6 hours a night doesn’t seem like quite enough. I make coffee in the mornings, I never make coffee. I smile. The questions are quieter today. They aren’t always asked, but I see in their eyes, I see the questions they aren’t asking so I smile, I hold them tight, I speak softly as I check the homework and put out the food. The questions always come out eventually. “How much blood can come out of a brain? Like, all the blood in the body?”
Gosh, that’s a good question.
“Do they put more blood back in him? How does that work?”
I need to take more physiology classes. The two weeks we spent on the brain in Psychology are not enough. We Google things and talk about them. “I hit my head on everything. It seems stupid to put something as important as a brain in somebody’s head when they might just fall down and break it forever.”
We talk about miracles and people who come out of comas after months or years.
“I don’t want Pappy to be asleep for that long.”
No one does, but Pappy’s job is to sleep and heal and our job is to wait.
Another day, and another. I find myself randomly nodding off on the couch while Monkeypants plays in the other room. Wake up! It’s not over yet. My job is to stay awake and wait. And I wonder, how long can I hold off my own questions, my own tears? How long can I keep showing them how to be brave and keep hope?
8 days in, I realize the truth. I can do it as long as I have to. I can do it forever. As long as their eyes are watching me, I can do whatever is asked of me, because in proving to them that everything will be okay, I prove it to myself.