As our family settles back into our home and routine, we’ve been thinking and talking about all we’ve experienced over the past couple weeks.
In many ways, this hospitalization was more difficult for John, and for Maureen and me as well, than his first two (though it was much shorter than the 35 days we spent at UVA after his birth and first surgery). During the first two hospital stays, John was an infant. Now that he’s a bright and observant 5-year-old, he’s aware of what’s happening to him, and susceptible to fear and anxiety. He will remember parts of this experience. Maureen and I kept our promise that one of us would always be with him. We played a larger role in caring for him, comforting him, and helping him process what was happening.
This was hard, but it was also meaningful and rewarding. The other day we were talking about everything that has happened, and John explained that sometimes hard things can be good for you, like the medicines he hates that keep him healthy. Our children all know from firsthand experience that bad times are rarely only bad, but often deliver blessings, such as deepened relationships (with others and with God), tangled up with the struggle. On a normal day most of us don’t expect to hear our friends say, “I love you,” but difficult times authorize all of us to speak more freely. Remembering a dark period in his family’s life, the writer Frederick Buechner referred to the “fearsome blessing of that hard time.”
For me, one of the blessings of what our family has experienced is the opportunity to see even more fully what an amazing person Maureen is. Her strength, courage, intelligence, and kindness have shone especially brightly these past few weeks.
In several ways, this hospitalization was easier than the first two. We already knew the layout and routines of the PICU (we knew, for example, that being present for morning rounds was the best way to learn the latest about John’s condition and treatment plan). And we already knew many of the wonderful doctors and nurses who cared for John.
An excellent Child Life specialist encouraged us to keep a journal of John’s experience so that we could help him understand and tell his story. On the other side of an experience like this one, especially when the outcome is as positive as John’s, it’s easy to forget all of the uncertainty and anxiety of being in the middle of the situation, when things can still move in any direction. During John’s hospitalization our emotions swung back and forth. Even in the midst of steady improvement, watching him struggle with pain and fear was often enough to make it feel like an awful day rather than a smooth path toward healing.
As always, we leaned heavily on family and friends. It’s been absolutely beautiful to see the creative, sacrificial, joyful generosity of so many good people. We can’t thank you all enough for how you have cared for us. As always, we have leaned on God. The day after we returned home, our family prayed through the Bible verses that I shared in the posts written while John was in surgery. We rejoice that these words are true.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” (Psalm 121:1-2)
“Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” (Isaiah 26:4)
“When I am afraid I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3)
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)