"Merry Christmas!" I bellowed down the hall on my way to the playroom. "Happy, happy day!" I continued. "Who wants to come upstairs?!"
"Yay! Me! Me! Is it time to open presents?!"
"Well, first let's see if Santa came, then we'll get to the presents." The children knew they wouldn't be following the normal protocol of running to the Christmas tree to see if Santa had come. They knew there would be no more presents there than the night before. So they ran to the fireplace instead. "He took our stockings!" they said. "Look, Mom! Our stockings are gone! And look how many cookies he ate last night! He must have gotten our note! Let's call Daddy to see if there are presents in his hospital room!"
Soon we had Brian's face coming into our home from Grandpa's iPad. Brian showed the kids the small pile of presents that Santa had brought, and then joined us in the living room to open the rest of the presents under the tree. I quietly motioned for Jean to take over moderating Christmas morning for me. She did a great job, pulling out each present, helping the children open them, being lively and excited in all the right places. And I just sat in the corner and watched. Even in the moment, I realized how sad it was that I was not emotionally participating in Christmas morning. I just wanted to be at the hospital. I worried that I would regret my feelings later... that I would wish I had just bucked up and forced myself to be a willing participant. But even as I type this, I do not actually think I could have. There are no regrets because I really do feel that I tried my best. Boy, was it a small offering... but it was my best.
The kids then spent the rest of the morning playing the new games they had received and I went back to bed with a solemn promise to the kids that when I woke up we would go to the hospital to see what Santa brought (and to see Daddy... but they weren't as interested in that). As I drifted off to sleep, I thought about how grateful I was for Brian's family. When they had called two months previously to ask if they could come for Christmas, I was ecstatic. How much fun they would add! Now, I don't know how I would have done it without them. The fun that they added ended up being tremendously important to my kids that day (and so to me).
I felt a little better after I awoke from my nap. I took a shower and quickly threw some stuff together for that night before gently asking my mother-in-law if it would be okay if I just stayed at the hospital for the rest of the day/night until I brought Brian home the next day. "Of course," she replied.
It was once we got to the hospital that my mood really started lightening. The kids were thrilled with their stockings and presents, and I was just happy to be with Brian again. His happy, jokey, optimistic personality did wonders for my heavy heart... he was just the same. Well, maybe not just the same... but still my lighthearted, wonderful Brian. We can do this... I thought as I sat next to him on his hospital bed and listened to his unceasing commentary. Whatever 'this' is, we can do it. I mourned for a minute that I had forgotten my camera battery as the kids delighted in their Santa gifts. Such a unique scene - opening presents and laying stocking fillers out across the hospital floor. But there were some blessings that came from putting pictures out of my mind and simply enjoying the moments as they were. The kids stayed for a long while - I don't know how long - and Brian seemed to maintain his energy through the whole visit. Eventually, though, hungry tummies started appearing so Grandma, Grandpa, Steve and Dave took the little ones home and left Brian and me together. We celebrated with a gourmet dinner from the hospital cafeteria and I'm not ashamed to say that I got myself a burger, fries AND chicken strips to celebrate the night. "I'm going to give myself my own heart attack," I said as I came back into the room with my goods. It was less than delicious, but I wasn't expecting more... We worked together to answer e-mails, and then talked and watched a movie for the rest of the night. Eventually he drifted off to sleep and I was left with the computer to help me digest my thoughts.
I realized that I had been through yet another emotional shift over the course of the day... as I sat in that hospital chair, I noticed a feeling of Christmas in my heart. And as I gave it attention, it swelled. It was not exciting, or magical. It was not wondrous or even joyful. It was peaceful. Simple. Grateful. After posting the initial thoughts of the night on my blog, I curled up in the (slightly) reclining chair and closed my eyes. I thought of a baby, born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. A baby who would someday endure unspeakable pain so he could sit with me in a hospital room and know just how to comfort me. A baby who would, someday, call on the people around me in a moment of crisis and inspire them to help in all the right ways. Who would show me how much he cared by living in the details of my grief and alleviating many of them. Who would, through his atonement, make up to my children what I had failed to do for them during that time, and all times. Who would show his powerful hand in the sequence of events that saved my husband's life. And, even if it had all not happened just so, a baby who would grow to a man and through his resurrection make it possible for my family to be together forever....
I thought of one of my favorite quotes from Jeffry R. Holland regarding Christmastime that I had read to my children a couple of weeks before. "Shepherds would soon arrive and later, wise men from the East. Later yet the memory of that night would bring Santa Claus and Frosty and Rudolph—and all would be welcome. But first and forever there was just a little family, without toys or trees or tinsel. With a baby—that’s how Christmas began."
I embraced that baby in my mind and heart that Christmas night and poured out thanks to Him. And fell asleep with the warm feeling of Love surrounding me.
I woke up at about 3 in the morning as the nurse came in to check Brian's vital signs. After she left, I settled back down and heard Brian's voice quietly say, "Linds... you know that chair reclines all the way, don't you?" My eyes flew open, almost angrily as I processed his words in the sleepiness of the night. No... I did not just endure three sleepless nights in these terrible chairs, seven months pregnant, with no one telling me they could recline until now.
"What?... Are you kidding me?!" He told me how to do it and I let out an exaggerated moan as my body stretched back and gave the baby and I more room to breathe. "This would have been great to know three nights ago! Oh. Now I'm too angry to sleep." Brian laughed and I finished the last half of my last night in the hospital feeling much, much more comfortable.
The next morning went quickly. We undecorated the room, packed up all of our Christmas presents and drove away from the hospital feeling exhausted but happy. We spent some time in Costco and Kroger waiting for Brian's (seven) prescriptions to be filled and decided to make a delicious celebratory dinner of salmon and rice that night.
When we came home Brian wasted no time jumping into a game of Skip Bo and soon a white delivery van showed up in our driveway with an edible arrangement from some dear friends on the other side of the country. We devoured it. Happily and quickly.
The rest of the week was... almost normal. Strangely normal, actually. Little snapshots litter my mind: Brian leaning back in his chair; playing cards on the floor with the kids; shoveling his dinner into his mouth like it wouldn't last the hour; laughing with his brothers; watching football; scrolling around on his iPad; talking, talking, talking; squaring his shoulders just before making a point; smiling... it felt like something should be different, but everything was... normal.
Normal, except for all the heart attack jokes. At first they weren't funny to me at all, but by the end of the week one caught me off guard and I laughed. Truly laughed. And laughed again when Brian and I relived it just before falling asleep that night. It still makes me smile... not because the joke is particularly funny, but because it helped lighten such a serious subject. In playing a game of scum late one night, Brian's honesty came into question. "I promise!..." he tried to convince us, offended by our lack of trust. "From the bottom of my heart." A dry response from his little brother quickly followed, "The bottom of your heart is dead."
Normal, except for the little naps taken and the extra time in front of the TV and his strong fatigue on our dinner and movie night.
Normal. He stayed home while the rest of us went to the museum, and he didn't run outside to play hide-and-seek with the kids, but we sat around the table playing game after game, debated over good baby boy names, let the kids color their entire faces with washable markers (which I'm pretty sure almost gave Jean a heart attack), drank plenty of soda and ate plenty of chocolate, ice cream, and clementines.
And, after they left, things have continued to get better. Brian started back to work this week with his first full day on Wednesday. He came home terribly exhausted and escaped into the bedroom for some quiet time. At first I thought to myself, "I wonder if this will be normal now..." but then I caught myself and decided to try not to use that word anymore in relation to our lives. Because, truthfully, there is no such thing as normal. Things are always changing, always evolving, always growing and maturing and developing. To lock us into being 'normal' is to prevent us from expanding.
So, we live. We lived today just like we did yesterday, though nothing was exactly the same. A friend brought dinner last night, and neither of us felt up to making dinner tonight, so we ordered pizza. We don't do that often, but that doesn't make it abnormal. It just makes it different. And tomorrow will be different, too. We will adjust to whatever comes. We will learn to live with uncertainty. For some reason, Brian is predisposed to have dissections in his coronary arteries, but we will learn to view each day as a gift and be grateful for it instead of living each day in fear that another artery will tear. We will choose to always live near big hospitals, and we will continue to fill Brian's prescriptions for the rest of his life. We will do what we can, and then we will live for the day. Long or short, life will be good and full. I have faith in this. That we can learn to live this way. The road ahead of us looks impassable at points and the timing seems to be all wrong. But I'll remember that the timing is not my own. The timing is being set by an all-knowing God who loves me. And, really, could the timing of something like this ever be right? It could have certainly been much, much worse.
But that will come in another post. A post about the tiny coincidences that, when all stacked up together, created a miracle and painted another coat of color on the testimony I have of my Savior's love for me. That He's watching my life... directing my life... and caring deeply about the outcome of it. Even in the midst of suffering, He's there. Working for good in the details.