Last Wednesday, June 25 was just a regular day. Todd and I had been basking in the excitement of knowing our boys would be home in just another 6-8 weeks. We were finally ending the “wait.” Everything seemed uphill from here. And then I got the email with the subject line, “Wendy is very sick.”
I was at my favorite coffee shop with a dear friend. Todd was in London for work. He had not slept for 24 hours because of traveling, and it was now bedtime in England, but I awoke him to ask with confusion and panic, “What do we do?!”
We both started making calls, and through an American friend in Haiti we were able to connect with a hospital run by American doctors who were able to see him right away. We waited for answers while also feeling so helpless – all of us in 3 different countries wondering what to do next. His diagnosis was a ruptured appendix. They removed his appendix, repaired his intestines that had become damaged, and for several days following surgery drained toxic fluids from his abdomen and kept him on antibiotics while monitoring for any infection. Our visas are currently being expedited because of this medical situation, but we still have no way to know for sure how soon that will be. We struggled with decisions. Should one of us go be with him right now? And then do we just stay until we get our visas? Or do we go be with him, come back home when he’s out of the hospital, and go back when we have visas? Or do we just pray and wait? Without knowing when those visas will come, we face the uncertainty of days/weeks of being there in Haiti waiting. Logistically and financially we decided to wait until we have word of visas. And it was especially helpful to know Wendy was recovering so beautifully and doing well. But we still struggle with this decision. Was it the RIGHT one? Is there a RIGHT one? Oh, the shame I have felt as a mother.
Only weeks away from being HOME. Weeks away from celebration. Weeks away from smiles, laughter, joy, and the hope of relieving some long pent-up anxiety and grief of being apart. But we found ourselves again scared, angry, and helpless. I still can’t understand this – why our family has gone through such hard times. We could really use a break. And I am also determined to keep going, fighting, and believing.
I absolutely despise the phrases, “everything happens for a reason,” or “God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle.” They feel so dismissive and avoidant of human pain. We have had a lot of things on this journey we couldn’t handle. And what does it mean to “handle” it anyway? If it means being in fetal position praying and crying with a glass of wine nearby, then maybe I did handle it? Or if it means asking your friends for help because you can’t mentally or physically do anything else, then I’ve handled it. If it means sitting on this computer sharing brutal honesty with myself and others, then I’m handling it. If it means pouring out my heartache to God and letting him comfort me while STILL feeling my feelings, then I’m handling it. But if it means pushing through, pretending to be okay, or putting on a happy face and not complaining because “God’s got this,” then I’m failing miserably. A dear friend who had a very scary brain tumor shared about all these “be strong” one-liners she received when facing her surgery: “They take away the validity of your feelings and make you feel like you're spiritually failing if you're not 100% calm, peaceful and totally trusting the plan.” Amen, Sarah. Well said.
God gave me my feelings. They are allowed. I realize my behaviors in response to those feelings aren’t always ideal. But the reality is that I spent a lot of years “pushing through” and “staying strong.” Those things really just kept me unaware of the reality of being human. And in humanity, we feel. We feel hard things. And when we are honest about what we feel, we can experience life fully together. I don’t think tragedy is for a reason. I think tragedy just happens because life just happens. Feelings just happen because we were created with them. And we phone God and loved ones to get through it – not around it.
I don’t know why our son had to suffer just weeks before coming home. A long time ago I might have wasted energy trying to figure this out. Now instead of ignoring my pain by “trying to figure this out,” I’m noticing my pain. And what I notice is that I’m feeling a lot of guilt and shame. I have questions like: “Is he going to be okay without his mom and dad there? Does he feel loved and safe? Am I a bad mom because I’m not going RIGHT now to be with him? What will others think of me for not going to be with my kid during surgery? Was there a better way to handle this?”
In his book The Voice of the Heart, Chip Dodd says about shame…
“Shame tells me I am limited. I am mistake-ridden. I have some answers, but I don’t have all the answers. I need you to help me; I can’t do this alone. We need each other.”
Todd and I are exhausted, hurting, and just want our kids to come home. One of us could have gone to Haiti right now. That would have been a good decision too. But we felt a huge pull to one another through this recent crisis. So we decided to pack up the car and get away together - to just sit with all that we are facing and about to face. We talked about our boys – school, doctors, soccer shoes, etc. We cried about his grandparents not getting to meet them. We recalled these last 4 years of waiting and how it has taken its toll. We talked about our parenting fears. We got dressed up and went out like teenagers. We lay under the stars. I don’t know if this was the right thing. But it was our right thing. As Dodd’s line above suggest, we can’t do this alone. We need each other.
We are hopeful to bring them home sooner than expected. Because it is already a huge transition for the entire family, and especially now with the circumstances of Wendy’s health, we are asking for help and establishing healthy boundaries. Not only do we need help from each other as parents, but we will need help from others. So we’ve called in the troops.
We want to be able to focus our time and attention on the boys, so we will be unable to field all the calls, emails, texts, and facebook messages of those who want to help, meet them, etc when it is time to bring them home. We have friends who will be in charge of communicating and setting up specific things for us (like meals, etc). This is not in any way intended to be rude – in fact, we hope it ensures you actually get a response since we will be so focused on our boys! So we hope you will understand that in the days ahead, most of our communication about the boys’ homecoming will be through these dear friends who have graciously accepted our request for help.
This is what our hardship is teaching us – be honest about our pain, lean on each other, be in community, ask for help, let people love you, let go of what we can’t control, and pull the weeds in our life garden.
Thank you for loving our family.