Ten years ago today I went through an event that tested my — up until that point, very special — relationship to Thanksgiving.
My wife and I had agreed to meet at home to do some last minute cleaning up and food prepping. Work for her that afternoon was ending early and I had a limited amount of things on my self-employed calendar.
I made it home before she did — by about twenty one days. That was the amount of time she spent at the Intensive Care Unit of our local hospital. On her way home from work she had been involved in an accident.
Thanksgiving has never been the same since that day. In many ways it now means more and the joy and gratitude are deeper.
I was sitting in our home’s front stoop holding on to both phones, the cell and the land line, waiting for information on my wife’s whereabouts. Around 6:00 pm I received a call from the hospital. Someone with the same name as my wife, oddly enough, was calling to tell me the awful news. I heard only every other word: hospital…accident…operating room…critical condition….
I notified the family. The worst news I’ve ever had to deliver. Then I called a friend in Brooklyn, and I continued speaking to her as I drove crying towards Jersey City’s Medical Center. I arrived at the hospital as they were wheeling my wife out of surgery. I was then given all of the unbearable details about her condition. That first night someone sat by my wife’s bed, keeping an eye on her the whole time. I thought that this was what “guarded condition” meant.
One of the clear images I have from that night is of me, alone in the small waiting room by the ICU area, wondering if my partner was going to make it through the night while It’s a Wonderful Life played on the TV. My favorite movie, playing on the eve of my favorite Holiday and I was suffocating in despair. I could not see one single thing about which I could feel gratitude. Most people would find this understandable.
Even if I could not see them at the time, miracles were there for us, to be discovered later: the surgeon who performed the surgery to remove the blood clot was a well known, highly respected, eminently qualified doctor — maybe even the best in the state, I was later told — who just happened to be on duty that evening; the nursing staff was equally top-notch, one of them breaking “protocol” to tell me that she believed my wife was going to make it judging by the way she was fighting the staff; and a small butterfly flying around me for a brief moment outside the ICU doors, far removed from her normal habitat, to remind me of life and re-birth.
From the ordeal, I mostly remember the outpouring of love and support from friends and relatives alike. The first time I came home a couple of days later, there were 56 messages on the answering machine. A couple of them from people I didn’t even know. A friend flew from California to be with me, a day after she had arrived there from the East coast. She turned around because she wanted to support us through our difficult hour.
I also remember the kindness of the medical staff, arranging special visiting times for me and regular updates on my wife’s condition. And I valued the competence and professionalism of the doctors and specialists that brought her back from the brink. They always seemed to make time to speak with me, a scared and questioning bundle of worries. These were the things that got me through.
My wife came home three days before Christmas. The first few months after that were filled with doctors appointments, trips to the different therapists and tests of every kind. Back then a walk around the block was a major success. Planning was reduced to getting through the day. The future was getting to the next meal. The two overwhelming feelings were tiredness and gratitude.
Ten years later those two feelings are still very present in our household, but for different reasons. Our son Nicolas, born seven years after that terrible accident, keeps my middle-aged body tired from sun up to sun down. He also keeps my middle aged heart overflowing with appreciation for the miracle that his life represents.
I’m hoping that you find something to feel gratitude about not only on this day, but on every other day of the year. And if you’re going through a particularly difficult spell, blessings and miracles are around the corner. Just hang on tight.
Now, the family in the picture is going for a Thanksgiving stroll. We’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life on the TV later tonight.
Blessings to you and yours.