Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sitting Vigil

Reading Amalah’s post about her Dad got me to thinking about those moments in my life when being present was really, really important.
Both my daughters have had open-heart surgery: Youngest when she was six months old and Eldest at 3 years old.  Youngest surgery was by far the scarier.  Hers was considered urgent.  Not emergency as in we do this today or she’s dead, but within the next two weeks or it might get to that point.
She had a tetralogy of fallot repair, which in simple terms means she was a blue baby.  Her pulmonary artery was too small and she had both holes in walls between the chambers of her heart.  She spent a total of six weeks in the hospital due to a complication that caused her pleural cavity to fill with fluid.  She had to have a drain tube in her chest for most of that time.
My parents and both sisters came to Austin for the surgery.  One sister stayed with Eldest at our home during the surgery.  My parents and older sister, along with my husband, were at the hospital. It was quite amazing to she her after the surgery.  She had tubes everywhere.  The aforementioned chest tube, IV tubes, pulse oximeter, you name it, it was somehow attached. 
When Eldest had her surgery six months later, it was somehow more difficult.  Her surgery was done under the idea of, if we do it now, she’ll recover quickly and hardly remember it.  Otherwise, her condition probably won’t give her any problems until she’s a teen or adult at which time her recovery is much more difficult.  The children are made of rubber theory.  It worked.  She was in the hospital 9 nine days. Still, hers was harder on me.
It was during this time, I came to realize that the idea of what I call sitting vigil is one of those things that, while you hope to never have to do it, are a vital part of a healthy family.  My family responded.  They dropped what they were doing and came for Youngest’s surgery.  My parent’s came for Eldest’s.  My sister’s called regularly.  My husband’s family stayed in Omaha.  His brother did call when Youngest had her surgery.  His parent’s, who had never seen their youngest grandchild, stayed away.  They did the same with Eldest’s.
The contrast in how our families responded to this was enlightening.  It helped form my belief that sitting vigil is simply the right thing to do.
Being present is important.  Coming to the side of a sick friend or family member is important.  Your presence says everything.  Words are not needed.  We learned this when our Youngest stayed in limbo for so long.  She was in the ICU unit almost the entire time.  She was certainly not the sickest child there.  Indeed, she was there only because her chest tube made her condition too precarious for the regular floor.  While she was there, 6 children died, a few even younger than herself.  It was heart breaking to be witness to, however, peripherally, the struggle and loss.  Being present was all I could do.
We’ve sat vigil with friends after their teenaged children nearly died in a car accident.  We’ve sat with a friend while her husband sat in ICU with a brain injury. No one knew whether or not he would be the same person he had been that morning. We’ve sat with other friends while their 17-year-old daughter was in labor.
You come.  You pray.  You talk.  You bring food. Most importantly, you listen.
We forget sometimes.  We forget how important it is to connect.  It doesn’t take much:  A word, a hug, a smile, a small gift, a hot meal.  It takes illness or crisis sometimes to remind us. 
So, as we remember Amy and her father, let’s remember the people in our lives that mean the most to us.  Call them.  Send them a card.  Give them a hug.

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