May 25th, 2013 by Karen
To say this week was a bit of a rollercoaster at our house, would be a remarkably huge understatement.
My sweet aunt who is fighting a vicious brain cancer took a turn for the worse and so did Alex’s amazing teacher who is fighting a cancer of her own. I’ve been distracted and scattered and the kids of course know that things are wrong and they are still at the age where they believe that doctors and hospitals have super powers…you go in, you come out well and healthy.
Ah, the heartbreak to discover that this is a fallacy.
After a brief conversation with a friend and former teacher at the school last night, I made the decision to take the two little ones to see Mrs. R at the hospital. I fear that time grows short for this amazing angel of a woman who selflessly and successfully worked hard to rebuild Alex’s self esteem this year. She set high expectations for him and poked and prodded and corrected and pushed him to succeed. Under her gentle, old school style tutelage, he is doing far better both in school and at home and we are forever in her debt.
Sadly, I’ve done this type of hospital drill before and I knew what to expect, so we spent quite a bit of time talking on the drive over about what it was like to visit Granny Kay the last time two years ago and if they remembered the machines and such. We talked about how it was important to walk through quietly in case other people were sleeping and how not to push any buttons or fiddle with any knobs. We talked a little bit about cancer (and how it sucks) and that we might not get to see Mrs. R for very long or maybe not at all.
The kids were nothing short of fantastic. Our visit was brief since she was very tired and they had just given her some medicine, but it was good. The kids I think were both taken aback by how thin and frail she was, especially since she’s always been larger than life to both of them. She read both of the handmade cards the kids brought and smiled at the fuchsia the kids had picked out for her. Sophia of course had to explain the pictures in her card and check one last time to see if Mrs. R was -actually- retiring and if she couldn’t just come back to school until Sophia can be in her class. Alex talked to her about the upcoming end of year class party they’ll be having at the bowling alley…one of her favorite pastimes. She perked up at that and he told her that he hoped she could make it. She simply told him to she’d try and to think of her when he was bowling. He promised and she patted his cheek and told him that he was a very good boy, she was very proud of him and that she loved him. It was one of those moments where everything seems to slow briefly…I don’t thing he’ll ever forget that exchange.
After another round of hugs and my gentle prodding that we should go so she could rest, Alex remembered the earrings he had made for her and while explaining that he had made them himself and how, he unwrapped them and put them in her hand. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bigger smile from her and I know that even if she never wears them, it made him supremely joyful to make her smile.
I couldn’t have asked for more.
But sometimes, the man upstairs has just a little more to say.
We quietly slipped out after saying goodbye and telling her we would see her at her retirement party on June 23rd…a large hope on my part. We made it all the way back to the elevator before Alex started to cry. Oh, he tried so hard not to, but his little shoulders began to shake from the effort of holding it all in. It’s a small hospital, so we were outside in just a minute or two and I steered the three of us to a park bench in the shade and just held him as he sobbed. For a moment, I closed my own eyes and cried too and when I opened them, Sophia was no longer on the bench beside us.
She was kneeling beside it, her little head bowed over her folded hands. Praying.
This is my child who never stops, never misses a beat, knows everyone and makes instant friends with strangers. She never stops talking and even talks and sometimes sings in her sleep. She’s like a hummingbird on crack. Yet, she stayed right there praying silently, still as stone for almost five minutes while Alex sobbed into my shoulder. I have no idea what my little girl and the big man upstairs were discussing, but that’s the longest I’ve EVER seen her hold still except to sleep. Watching her was my own little private miracle…such a simple blessing.
Finally, we walked slowly to the car and talked about illness, why hospitals can’t save everyone, death and heaven. It was a heavy conversation, but a good one nonetheless and the kids never seemed to run out of questions. I know it may be a long shot, but I’m hopeful that the next time I see Mrs. R it will be over a cup of coffee. If that’s not the path laid out for us, then we are still all the richer for having her in our lives.