I swear sometimes my brain’s sole purpose is to drive me crazy, while my heart’s purpose is to bring me comfort. How those two organs reside in the same body is beyond my comprehension. In a way, this post is about letting go of the former for the latter. This happened somewhere during the worst migraine I have ever experienced, and the subsequent kidney biopsy the Friday of my hospital stay.
That Friday did not go as planned. A biopsy first thing in the morning turned into a late afternoon affair, because I needed more platelets and a lower blood pressure reading before they could do the procedure. This may not seem to be a big deal, but it meant no food or water for close to 24 hours. I don’t do well without food. Instead, I received a bag of platelets in the morning, which looked amazingly similar to chicken bone broth, and was fed an abundance of blood pressure medicine and diuretics throughout the day. By the time I went in for the biopsy, my head felt like it wanted to explode. The migraine continued well past the biopsy which is where the story of Scott and my heart began to take shape.
Scott, my son, spent every waking hour with Wes and me in the hospital. He walked the halls with us, played sixty-seven games of Rummy with us, retrieved needed items when I realized I was out. Unfortunately, he also got to witness his mother being wheeled into an operating room, experiencing excruciating migraine pain, and vomiting because of said pain. Back in my room, post biopsy, he gently encouraged me to try eating. He cut up an apple; opened some crackers; held the cup so I could drink. He was doing whatever he could to bring me comfort. Quiet and subdued, I knew he was sad and worried and had been all week.
I had been fortunate enough to be without a roommate since Mary Ellen left me Thursday morning, but Friday night, feeling vulnerable after the biopsy, I didn't want to be alone. I wanted Wes or Scott to stay with me, and before Wes could say, “I’ll stay,” Scott volunteered. I could see Wes struggling with this, wanting to be the good father and the good husband who stays with the wife when she is in need. When Scott briefly left the room, I gently said to Wes, “Let him be the one who stays. He wants to do this for you as much as me. He wants to be able to give you a break.” Wes let that settle in and Scott became my roommate, sleeping in the recliner next to me all night.
The following morning, my headache much improved, breakfast eaten, Scott and I waited for Wes to arrive. He sat at the foot of my bed, one hand rubbing my feet, the other arm resting on the end of the bed propping up his head. “Do you know what I do to deal with my sadness?” he said.
My heart began to break. “No, what?”
“I spend hours on the internet researching alternative ways to treat cancer.” My heart broke open some more. “Would you be interested in what I found,” he continued, “I could send you the links?”
“Sure.” I said. “What did you find?”
He shared the various therapies. Some I had known, others I didn’t. As I listened, I realized, or rather some higher force was making me realize, how important this moment was. It was just Scott and me. My son was choosing to share his pain about me and how he tries to manage it. Part of me wanted to rush in and make him feel better and, honestly, make me feel better. That’s what moms do. Another part kept telling me to just listen. He has a right to his pain and to deny him his pain was to deny him as a person. I was getting an opportunity to see what happens when you just hold a space for someone else to share what needs to be shared. I allowed my heart to break open fully and it was difficult letting that physical pain be there. We kept quietly chatting, he kept rubbing my feet, and all the while I was aware of the help I was receiving to keep the space open for him to be who he needed to be in that moment.
Later, when I reflected on that morning I realized that a broken open heart is where our humanity lies, where true intimacy happens, as the space created invites connection and compassion. When our heart breaks we often close it back up with positive platitudes like, “Oh. I’ll be ok.” or “Don’t worry!” Heartbreak physically hurts, but sometimes those statements inadvertently send the message that your feelings don’t matter, or, your pain is too hard to witness and for me to feel, which is like closing a door to intimacy.
I took from that day a mantra going forward.
Let me be able to just listen and BE with another while his/her feelings are being shared. Let me hold a space for them so they know it is safe to be with me and safe to have these feelings. Let humanity exist within us to be shared and held with reverence and love.
Some days I do better than others. Some days I realize the one who needs me to listen to me is me; particularly when my brain is shouting louder than my heart. But that Friday in the hospital my heart won and gave me one of the most profound life lessons and one of the most cherished moments I’ve ever had with my son. Another moment of gratitude for my hospital stay.