"What can I do to heal when I can't heal?" she asked. "I can't go there."
I spoke for a grief group Monday night and watched this woman in her early fifties desperately and discouragingly search for answers–her eyes sagging and sad. Her question felt like a trick and I had no idea what to say (which may sound odd coming from someone who has experienced severe loss–really it just seems to prove how grief is so unique to each individual.)
"He died unexpectedly…at home…an aneurysm." she said, as if stating her full name and address for a reference check. The details of his death defining her more than her own name.
We volleyed ideas back and forth for several minutes. Well, actually I served her ideas like an inexperienced tennis player and she shot each one back against the net claiming it wouldn't work. Finally I asked her, "What would you do if you only had 30 days left to live?"
"I'd be glad," she replied.
This time the tennis ball hit me straight in the gut, knocking the wind out of me. I didn't want to keep playing. How can someone who doesn't even want to be here be helped? And even more how could I blame her? These same thoughts had played through my mind the year after Shawn died. I don't want to be here. I don't want this to be my life. I can't do this anymore.
Determined to find some piece of hope I tried, "Let me ask you a different question–what if your grandson, Trevor, only had 30 days to live?"
Earlier in our conversation she had mentioned her twelve year old grandson and how she adored him. At the sound of his name, her countenance changed. She stood taller with shoulders back and began to smile, a sheepish expression as if I might be winning the match.
"I'd have to live then," she said. "I'd have to show him how much I love him and take him out to lunch and to a movie and hug him and really be there."
There was her answer! She knew it as soon as she had said it. I'd have to live. Indeed her life was empty without her spouse. But, in addition to the loss of her husband she was choosing to lose the relationships with those still living around her. It is vital for those who are grieving to find a reason to live!
A frightening experience happened to me the morning after talking to this grief group. I don't even want to write about it as it seems almost stupid (but, my daughter Maddi reminds me that I'm not supposed to use that naughty word "stupid" so I have to say "silly.") Yes, I feel silly. But, after explaining the episode to my sister she insisted I put the story on my blog because the lesson is indeed insightful.
I went to take my vitamins and didn't realize that the chewable Vitamin C tablet I usually take was on the pile with my multivitamin, calcium and fish oil pill. I grabbed the handful of vitamins and swallowed without thinking. Immediately I realized what had happened as the Vitamin C tablet became lodged in my throat.
I was choking.
I forced myself to stay calm and tried to cough up the lozenge without success. Leaning over the kitchen chair I tried to perform the Heimlich-Maneuver on myself but it wasn't working. Gagging myself only pushed the Vitamin C down further. Desperate to find something that would help, I grabbed water. I had no air passing through my airway. Nervous I would soon pass out, I dialed 911.
The water must have dissolved part of the tablet as I could feel shallow air escaping as if letting it out of a balloon just a little at a time. The dispatcher asked for my address, which I was able to whisper. She then asked me to give the phone to anyone else who might be at home. I handed the phone to Maddi and she became my voice–my little hero.
"Is your mommy breathing?" I heard the woman ask.
"Yes, my mommy is breathing a little," Maddi said, "Please send somebody to help her…she has a vitamin in her throat."
"We are sending someone right now," the lady said. "Do you have any animals in your house?"
"Yes, a fish," Maddi replied.
"Well, a fish should be okay," the woman stalled. "What's the fish's name?"
"Blue Nemo," Maddi told her.
My eyes were watering. I wanted to cry but refused to mix tears into the confusion of everything that was happening.
"Tell them to hurry," I said, the words raspy–scraping in my throat.
"Please hurry for my mommy," Maddi said.
"The police and paramedics will be there soon," the woman replied, "don't let your mommy drink or eat anything else. Tell her to wait."
I watched my daughter, calm and obedient. And all I could think was I am not going to die today. I can't die today. I want to live.
The police officer arrived first. He radioed back to dispatch, "Victim has air passing." We waited for the ambulance. By this time the vitamin was dissolving enough for me to explain what had happened, yet was still very stuck making it difficult to swallow. When the paramedics arrived they could see the tablet lodged in my throat from the outside. When they were assured it was just the vitamin and nothing else they instructed me to drink a lot of water. The vitamin eventually dissolved. Relief filled my body as the first responders completed their paper work. One of them even told me she couldn't wait for my second book to come out.
When Jordan got home from school Maddi had news to tell, "Jordan! Our day was exciting. The police came and the ambulance and I had to help mommy!" Jordan was disappointed that he missed all the action.
After my kids were sleeping, I called my sister and told her, 'You know what I realized today? Emotional pain and physical pain are very different. We might feel like we want to die when our loss is so heavy. But, when put in the position where we could actually physically die–everything inside of you will fight to live."
We were created for life. We were made to live. Death is not natural to us. When put in a dangerous situation, we automatically go into fight or
flight mode. I could feel this overtaking my body as I was choking. I
eventually trusted I would be okay because I could feel the slight
movement of air passing, but I was working on intense adrenaline to make
sure I would be okay.
A friend sent me a verse from Deuteronomy 30:19-20, "I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life! That you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord your God, heeding His voice and holding fast to Him."
Choose Life! I know for some of you it doesn't feel like a choice. But, I believe for each of us there are amazing reasons to live. We may tend to lose sight of what really matters simply because we are bound up in what daily demands our attention–urgent or not. Wherever you fall in the spectrum do one thing today that makes the statement I choose life.