Thursday, June 9, 2011

Lessons in Blessings

I'm curled up next to the window on the 8th floor of Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Down the hallway, machines beep and hum. Shoes clack along the linoleum floors. In our room, all is quiet as the warm summer sun streams in the window. Two feet away, my teenage sister Becky is recovering from surgery. She's sleeping off the morphine in the bed next to me.

We are so blessed.

Coming here, I thought this trip would bring a better appreciation for sisterhood, a new opportunity to "mother" and tend to the young woman who had grown from the baby I fell in love with seventeen years ago. I thought it would be about healing and reconnecting.

While those things are happening, the most profound outcome of this trip is realizing just how fortunate we've been in this lifetime. How blessed we are to have one another. How fragile our children are, and how lucky we are compared to some of the families who also call Sick Kids "home" today.

That realization crept in while I sat in the parents room during Becky's surgery. I claimed a seat in a corner, curled up with a venti coffee, and pretended to read from the collection of dog-eared magazines.

A middle-aged couple breezed in, sat down, and instantly started complaining. Their twelve year old son was having emergency surgery for a burst appendix. The father was busy rescheduling business appointments, intermittently apologizing and complaining that his son's surgery might impact the contract he was working on. In between phone calls, the couple said little.

I got up and moved. I chose the busy centre of the room. A young mother and father balanced two pre-school aged daughters. At one point the mother glanced at the clock and commented "Well, it's been 8 hours, we're at the mid-way point." She sighed, returning her focus to her young daughters.

While I wondered what kind of surgery could possibly take 16 hours, I glanced over to the corner where Appendix Dad was still on his cell phone. Appendix Mom was gnawing her fingernails in silence. The hours passed and Appendix Parents made their way to recovery. Families came and went. Another young couple sat down next to us.

Young Couple's son had cancer. He was only 3 years old and was having treatment administered via his spinal cord. 16 Hour Family shared their son's experience with cancer. His surgery today was to replace his liver (for the second time). Their precious seven year old son had conquered cancer, and was back for his second organ transplant. All this before the second grade.

As the families chatted, it became clear what a blessing they were to one another. Somehow, both families had extra love to extend to each other while their tiny sons endured precarious surgeries.  

It occurred to me that the families who had endured the most, whose children were literal warriors in their fight to stay on this earth, seemed somehow more grounded, more compassionate, and so completely undeserving of their plight.

These families had seen mortality on their children's faces and defied it. I don't know if they came to parenting as fighters, but they wore that badge, and wore it bravely.

I'm not worried about the 16 Hour boy, or the 3 year old battling cancer. Their families knows what they need to do to help them win their fight. My concern is for the twelve year old with the burst appendix.... does his family know how lucky they are that this surgery may be his first and last? Would they have noticed the other families, and counted their blessings if they had shut their phones off and opened their hearts a little to the other parents in the room?

I'm not too different from the Appendix parents. My phone was off, and my heart was open, but my mouth was closed. I didn't share any words of encouragement, didn't help to halve the pain either family brought into that waiting room.

Maybe I sat there to learn - to quietly be reminded that my son, and most of our children, are blessed beyond comprehension.