Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Curled Up and Not Crying

Twenty-four hours ago, I was curled up under the covers, huddled against my husband, whose breaths were steady finally. I reached for my iphone to check for any sign of a callback from the doctors' paging service. No missed calls. No voicemails. No google voice emails with the transcript.

Fifteen years of marriage and I've never curled against him for more than fifteen minutes. This night I am spooned around him, breathing a cadence I want him to breath. Slower breaths. Deeper inhales. Like John curled around Yoko in those iconic Rolling Stone pictures, I wrap myself against his cold torso, sharing my heat and holding the shaking arm still against me.

He can't breath. His chest is crushing him. We are in Dayton, staying with my family. My phone is clutched in my arm. We are waiting for a reply to the first of three calls to the doctors emergency paging. At four-fifteen am, I call again. I call again just after five am. I rest my warm feet between his cold soles. I doze as his breathing slows. I start awake again and again checking to see if the breaths are still coming. Like a mother worried about SIDS.

It occurs to me this might be more than GERD, or a reaction to something he ate or an infection. It might mean widowhood, but it isn't being alone that startles me awake over and over until six am. It's the end of his breath. I give up on the doctor's callback. I just want a sleeping husband. It is a sign that the crush that he says radiates through his shoulders, up his neck and crushed down hard on his chest, that the pain is subsiding.

At eight-thirty he is breathing steady. I thumb type an email on my phone to a presvytera in Macon. I wonder if I should call my sister. I have several close friends and family who are clergy families and I need their advice. Who to ask in what order? This is a new dynamic. I don't just have a sick husband and children to shield. I have a parish family who might worry about the young priest they just welcomed. He's thirty-six. We're here for the long-haul. We're fresh from seminary, just six months from graduation and placement.  This is not supposed to happen.  What if I reveal this and it worries them beyond what they need. If he is fine, I've been over-emotional, and hyper. If the worst... when do you tell them. Not when he is dead, certainly. It's been five hours since he woke me. He could, if he were going to, die and I'm the lynchpin who is either protecting him, caring for him, or being something less than a true help meet.

I thought of calling my trusted clergy wives, my family, or just running. I run 15K a day and it's relatively warm here in Dayton the week before Christmas.  I could actually run outside. I feel frozen and unable to decide.
I did what all little girls do. I called my dad.

But I forgot my long morning prayers. My father helped me clear out the hair-brained scheme to send my husband, via plane, back to Pennsylvania, where we are covered by medical insurance, unlike Indiana where we live or Ohio, where we are visiting. I started repeat dialing the medical office, angry at the lack of callback. I got them forty minutes later and had to shout into my phone. It woke my husband.

I was shouting, and the receptionist was interrupting, "Take him to the hospital."  I demanded a doctor and my husband was heaving again. The doctor asked, then said, "Take him to the ER." We go to the ER at nine-thirty or so. I pray there. I curl my scarlet prayer bracelet around my thumb and forefinger over and over. My uncle drove us here and he's clergy. He prays with deep and simple conviction when my husband leaves triage for the trauma room. This is bad, we think. I stay for a while, then go to call the children, the parish, my mother-in-law.  So much for discretion and protecting others from worry. Little mama don't know what to do. This is the best I can think of. Within thirty minutes, the parish council president knows. My teen daughter was spending the night at her house. She calls the council and the Church Dean and the retired priest. I call my brother-in-law, my mother-in-law, my dad, my sister, and my fourth call to my gal in Macon. We pray.  Then I go into stasis.  Survival mode replies. Facebook updates. People deserve to know. And, like a typical day, the prayers seem to fade from consciousness until night. This is the poverty of my busy days. Where is God and my heart once the busy-ness kicks in?

Twenty-four hours later, I'm curled up under covers, wondering what to do this morning. Should I get a little exercise before calling the hospital? Another day of sitting in a vinyl chair, rubbing his arm and restlessly wondering what to think and feel and do makes me edgy. Maybe I should write an update? I couldn't do that last night. The computer froze. So did I. I hate using cellphones to type messages and emails. They are short and cryptic. This does not satiate the praying and waiting public.

I have cried- as much as I do, which is not much. I don't have many emotions. I wonder if this is dispassion, but I doubt it. Sometime in my first year supporting my husband through seminary, I stopped writing more than an occasional poem. My feelings slowed. It was hibernation. There is a link there, between my creativity and my feelings. My primary self-expression is confession and I've learned to be silent. This is not what others expect now. They expect tears. What they really want is a strong momma, who knows what to disclose and assures them it's all going to be okay.  They want permission to feel. They want something between the other leader of the house and an empathetic model. No one expects silence now, when my husband has been on a round of heart-monitoring for the past day. They want to know if Father is okay. He will be up and running, right? I have to tell them what I know. I went to bed knowing the tests yesterday were promising. They were confirming an infection around his heart, but not a heart attack.  I need to be sure they know this.

Then I need to call my husband and make sure.  I wish I could curl up around him again. I should have done that many more nights in the past fifteen years. Will this shake me from my coldness and my cocoon to become the little mother I should be at this moment?


  1. I can't speak for everyone, but as for my family, I hope it is some comfort to you that we care about you. We aren't only interested in Father up and running--but we truly want to help. Sure, we're worried. It's because we imagine you'd be worried, and we love you, and we feel it with you as much as we can.

    I will look to find out when you're home and see if we can bring you some dinner. I have a lovely lentil soup recipe given me by one of our Serbian ladies at church in Cleveland.

    Can you have lentils?

  2. Thank you for posting this link. I can relate to so much of your self consciousness in your reaction to all of this. Remember this little mother...in our weaknesses, His strength is made perfect. Awake and emerge in His time...not your own pressurized schedule. Glory to God for all things...especially in the compromised but not catastrophized health of Father.

    Now stand before your alter with him and seek the Lord's wisdom and discernment concerning all of this...if...perhaps...an attention getter was at hand and what exactly was it awaking you too.

    Much love,
    your Macon Gal

  3. Btw, sorry for my clumsy words. I do think I can speak for everyone in the church when I say that we care about you. I was only speaking for my family when I said we're not panicking--just truly want to help as you've helped us so many times before.

    Lots of love.

  4. We are praying hard for you and Fr. Joel. Thank you for letting us know.
    Fr. Mark & Presv. Suzanne Lichtenstein

  5. I can only imagine the stress and anxiety you must be feeling and please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers.

    Never worry that you need to "be" anything during a time such as this. Today you are simply Joel's wife. Thank you for sharing your heart so simply.

    The Lord holds us all in the palm of His hand and nothing passes without His notice.

    Grace and peace to you during these difficult days.

    Stephanos and Juliana Bibas

  6. Maria,

    Sometimes when life overwhelms us, we go through the emotional overload that puts us in a silent stage. It's part of us not knowing how to cope with something we've never had to cope with and part just knowing that all we can do in that condition is pray. Cry out to God with or without tears, but pray. Ask Him to heal and help your hybernation and what feels and seems like an emotional detachment, but what in reality is shock and the inability to even begin to react or respond to a new and uncharted territory of life's murky waters that the devil seeks to drown us in.
    I was so glad to hear you mention the loss of your daily morning prayers. This is you knowing and diferentiating what is important: your link to Christ. Truly our only hope of emerging from those dark waters to the light. And some days, I too wonder if I could emerge without my spouce. But don't let your thoughts take you there. The "what ifs" are always the demons. I was once told by an Abbot. So stay in the now, stay in the prayer rope (your long morning prayers will have to be replaced for the time being) so make every knot that you can count; knowing that it is the connection with God and the Hope that He offers that you crave.
    "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" -my dad taught me that and I always come back to it during the overwhelming times in life when I seem to be the only one trying to keep it all together. But remember that that is Christ's job, not yours -so allow yourself that exhale. And then go back to just being by Fr. Joel's side and praying. And know that we're all praying right there with you.