Three pages is a short chapter, even for me. But given that I let another month lapse in between writing sessions, I decided that was perhaps a good place to pull back a bit. It’s been a very long time since I’ve let a story meander from my head to the keyboard in this way, not when it’s something that tumbles out so easily when I actually sit to type. I realized as I re-read these pages how fundamentally this moment and the days to follow changed me.
Before the accident, I had been preparing. I felt deep in my soul that God was calling us to something else, and the kids and I felt this overwhelming pull to leave the city. My on again, off again desire to return home to the Ozarks had become a full-blown obsession for both me and my boys. I was learning all I could about homesteading. I didn’t really know why or for what, but I was preparing for something.
I can say the accident coming wasn’t even remotely on my radar. It’s funny, even now, years later, our family refers to it as “the accident.” It doesn’t need a further name than that; we know exactly what we’re talking about and are a little surprised when someone doesn’t. Perhaps that should be uppercase, but I digress. I’m procrastinating again.
The next few days were a haze; we were sustained by God and the kindness of those around us. Every time the medical professionals would proclaim the worst, it would be countered with a glimmer of hope and a skosh of forward progress.
“There is no brain activity on the scans. We’ll do another scan tomorrow and see.” Blake squeezed my fingers, seemingly in response to my voice. Hope renewed. Next they said, “If he doesn’t wake up by tomorrow, we’ll need to do surgery to alleviate the pressure.”
With that pronouncement, my sisters—unbeknownst to me—called the local Christian radio station to tell them the story and ask for prayer. The entire city began to pray for our son. Strangers would pop their head in the room to say “I’m praying for you.”
The next morning, his eyes fluttered open. The accident happened on March 31st. April 1st, my oldest sister’s birthday, had been spent in a haze of prayer. April 5th, my mom’s birthday, Blake woke up. When the breathing tube came out, my mother and I stood on either side of him, holding his hands and trying to reassure him he was okay. He’d been in an accident and he was in the hospital, but he would be alright. His first words were “Can I have some vegetables please?” My mother and I laughed and promised him all the vegetables he wanted. (He doesn’t remember that now, and has pretty staunchly refused to eat vegetables since. Figures.)
There are things I want to share, pieces of the story that matter, but they are a jumble in my mind. I remember my former pastor being one of the first people there – even though the latest upheaval in my marriage had led us to leave his church with hard feelings all around. He was there when we needed him. I remember my dearest friend taking my other two children out for dinner the night of the accident. My sister taking them home with her.
Blake’s first roommate was an 18-year-old with a heart condition. When my sister’s pastor would come by to pray, his voice was louder than Blake’s roommate felt comfortable with. The louder that pastor would pray, the louder the other patient would cuss us. I suggested the pastor to pray quieter or from the waiting room. Still, the hospital moved us to a different room with a different roommate. That roommate was a little boy named James, who was battling his second round of brain cancer. His mom had other children, including a brand new baby. I cannot even fathom the trials she was facing.
A friendship would blossom between the two of us over the coming days. Sadly, James lost his fight—later, after our lives had largely parted ways. Thanks to Facebook, we stay in touch. Though we’re not a part of each other’s daily world, I still feel a deep connection with this woman, one that I’ll never be able to fully convey.
Another memory is Blake’s nurse, Dan. All of the nurses were amazing, but he stood out. He was so kind and gentle. A less pleasant memory was the day after Blake’s breathing tube came out. He kept having painful coughing spasms that would fill me with a desperate need to help him, to ease his suffering. He was in the middle of one such spasm when a woman approached me, calling my name.
“Yes?” I glanced over my shoulder at her, irritated.
“I’m with patient accounts, and you have a deductible.”
“I’m in the middle of something here.” My son was blue, in a coughing spasm that wracked his entire body, with tears streaming down his cheeks. Mind you, his face was still swollen and black and blue as well.
“Well, I need to collect the deductible from you before I can go.”
“Then you’ll have to wait here a minute…”
I came close to being curt. My sisters later found out—they were more like a force of nature descending on hospital administration. My sisters are amazing like that.
The hospital had requested that there be only two visitors at a time in ICU, and that they be immediate family. One of our family members couldn’t understand that this request was for Blake’s benefit—the last thing he needed was germs to fight—and kept a steady stream of strangers coming by the room, no matter how many times or ways I asked it to stop. Oddly enough, that was the thing that left me sobbing in the bathroom. I was sure my son would die from a cold brought to him by somebody who’d come to gawk.
It was my middle sister who took me in her arms, right there in the bathroom, and prayed that God’s peace would cover and sustain me. And it did; I could feel it wrapping all around me like a warm blanket. You know, it was that same sister who held me in her arms in a different hospital bathroom as I cried, years before when our grandfather died. I wonder sometimes if my sisters know how crucial they are to me, how pivotal they were to my becoming who I am.
It might sound odd to say there was anything about that time that I liked, but I actually loved the presence of God—every Christian who came to visit us said they could feel it, the instant they hit the waiting room. It’s not surprising, though. I and my family prayed as we’ve never prayed before.
I fasted and prayed at Blake’s bedside until he woke up. After he woke up, I started slipping away once a day to eat with my other two boys in the hospital cafeteria, who were brought by to at least see their parents. Eventually, I chased Adam home to be with them. I couldn’t tear myself away. Once in 10 days, I went home to shower and hug my kids, but I couldn’t bear to be away from Blake and was back within two hours.
For the first five days, I sat in a straight-backed chair right next to Blake’s bed. It was a Spartan piece of wood furniture, not at all comfortable, but I didn’t care. I occasionally dosed off, with my head resting on the railing of his bed. I did nothing but hold his hand and pray. By the time he woke up, someone had produced a comfortable chair for me to live in. I’d also started taking small breaks to visit with my family in the waiting room. Hearing their voices, their stories, even their laughter kept me going. There was such an outpouring of love and support.
I’d like to believe my family’s presence there blessed others, too. One mom came up and asked us how we were so calm in such a terrible place – she’d heard Blake’s story and her own son was in a coma. We talked to her about our faith, and she asked us to pray with her. We did, happily. Her son woke up from his coma that evening. We would see them again—later, when both boys had moved on to rehab. I’m not sure what happened to them after our stories parted ways, though.
At one point, another family filled the halls, their grief permeating the entire floor as they spoke with hospital staff about organ donation; their little boy hadn’t made it. After a little while, my mother walked up to one of the women and apologized for intruding before saying “Can I pray with you?” The woman agreed and the two prayed together before the woman collapsed into my mother’s arms, crying and clinging to this stranger.
I’m not sure if it was my mother listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, if her heart recognized the pain of losing a child—having lost her own son years ago—or a combination of the two, but the boldness she showed that day wasn’t normal for her. She later said she had no idea what came over her. But I’m glad she did it. I’ve always been proud of my mama, but that moment so beautifully illustrates why.
When I was little, my family lived in Florida. If a hurricane came, Mom would pack us kids up and take us home to the family farm in the Ozarks while we waited out the storm. Daddy always stayed behind with the house. There is a favorite story of one particular storm, when traffic was bad getting out of town and looting rampant, that mom put a hatchet under her seat in case someone stopped our car and gave us trouble. The woman is five foot tall if she stands up real straight and she had an ax under her seat to keep her babies safe.
That same woman held a stranger in her arms and grieved openly with her over the loss of her young son. My mother is the very definition of feminine strength.
To be continued...
Rolling hills that had been vibrant green just weeks ago were now muted in tone, as if they were taking a deep breath before bursting into the song of fall.