I’m going to share something a bit personal, and I hope that’s ok because I think it’s an important time to connect to our humanness. My last blog post was about reflecting on 2020 and the insight and experiences we’ve all collectively shared. Well, the universe may have felt that I gave it permission to test me because I had a pretty major life event happen recently.
I’ll jump right it and tell you that I recently spent 3 weeks on the east coast supporting my family as my dad was having a life-saving heart operation. The news came unexpectedly and suddenly, with little time to process or rationalize what was happening. My fears about taking my first flight during the time of COVID barely registered as I had a critical mission to focus on. It’s funny how something you worried about one day can be rendered completely irrelevant and superseded by something more important the next.
Woah this isn’t about trailers at all. Why am I sharing this with all of you? Well, I’m sure the holidays look a lot different for all of us this year, and it might be challenging to continue to find the silver lining in things. And to be honest, sometimes I need a break from trailer talk. I’m married to my very technical, geeky business partner after all. The last month of life has inspired me to explore all of the emotions experienced in the last month. Most people agree that there are four general emotions that humans experience: fear, anger, sadness, and joy. With 75% of those being negative, we need to work a little harder to ensure we are not missing out on the one feeling that makes us happy to be alive, despite the constant negative external circumstances around us that we cannot control.
This is story about joy.
As I was catapulted from my daily life in sunny Santa Barbara to the foliage lined streets of the New England house I grew up in, I gave myself a pep talk and braced for the unexpected. I suddenly found myself back home, filling the very role of the youngest child – as if we all picked right back up where we left off – 20 years or so since I left home.
Time seemed to stand still as I waited with my mom and sister in the living room. Friends reruns played softly in the background while we tried to do something, anything besides for stare at the phone as we impatiently waited for an update. We finally got the phone call that the surgery went well, and that the next 24 hours would be critical as his vitals continued to be monitored closely. The next day we were allowed one by one to enter the ICU and see him, for only a few minutes each.
My mind was surprisingly clear as I turned the corner to his room in the ICU after his surgery. I can’t recall the last time I was so present. It oddly reminded me oft the time my father and I began our walk down the isle hand in hand the day of my wedding. I was so overwhelmed by the emotions I was feeling once I allowed myself to remove the clutter of anything that did not belong to that moment. There was no multi-tasking, no checking my phone, no to do list running through my mind. My usual monkey mind slowed down and was able to focus on the important matter at hand. All the usual nonsense faded away into the backgrounded it was just me and my dad.
We were all relived that he made it through the surgery but knew that was just the beginning of the recovery process. Day after day COVID visiting restrictions were tightened as my father progressed.
Every small step was an achievement.
The first time he opened his eyes.
His first words.
His first flight of stairs.
Impressed. And grateful.
I’m the baby of the family, and here I was seeing my dad in his most vulnerable state. Talk about role reversal. I knew going into the situation that I was there to support others. My needs and fears had to be pushed aside while I helped my family heal and become whole again.
I was so incredibly grateful that my father was in that room getting stronger and healthier every day , instead of the negative pressurized room across the hall from him someone getting progressively worse. I was grateful for Gail, the front desk attendant that always welcomed my sister and I with a smile and had our visitor tags already printed for us awaiting our arrival like a Swiss train. “Hello my beautiful girls!” she’d chirp. “Isn’t it beautiful outside today?” That’s a hard job, to be cheery and kind when everyone you are encountering is managing their way through some sort of personal crisis. This immediately struck me as different. How was she so positive? There was something about her fizzy grey hair and a festive vest complete with a rhinestone brooch pinned to it that put us both at ease. It felt very non-medical. Like the kooky aunt that gets way too loud after only one drink. A very nice contrast to the starkness of the hospital room we grew to know so well. She radiated joy beneath her mask and took away the sting of our emotional daily visits.
As we clung on to every piece of good news and positive interaction, I started to notice that despite the circumstances, there was so much to be grateful for in those precious tiny victories. We celebrated every small thing that went well and just happened to ignore the negative ones that usually dominated our interactions. It’s not that these things disappeared, the volume knob was just turned down a bit in spite of my dad’s rock concert going on next door. Or perhaps we simply could no longer hear that tiny violin.
Building on every small item was a triumph as we watched my dad slowly regain his independence. The first time he went for a walk outside, I was no longer thinking about the fact that he was breathing on his own. The thing about these moments is that they live in a vacuum; It’s a snapshot that stands still in time that eventually needs to make way for new moments.
Our world is big and moves quickly. It’s so easy to take for granted the things we prayed for just days ago because now we are in a different place in our life with new problems and goals to work through. We can’t just sit around being grateful all the time. Or can we?
I’ll tell you now that my father is fine and is recovering remarkably well. He had an amazing team of doctors and remained in good spirits the whole time.
Aside from being grateful for my father’s health, I was surprised to find that I connected with my family in a new way than I ever had as an adult. We are always so busy and it’s rare we are even in the same state at the same time. For this first time since I was a kid, we spent three uninterrupted weeks together. My older sister and I laughed over made-up words as we played Scrabble tournaments. I held my mom’s hand as we visited our favorite park and picked fallen leaves to take home and press. My dad and I sat on the couch and watched What About Bob and laughed like we never had before. It was so good just to sit next to him.
These moments all seemed so simple, yet they carried an undeniable force behind them. I realized there is so much to be grateful for right now, despite the constant unavoidable hardships of life. We often are just too busy to pause and taken notice. This Thanksgiving, I’m learning to accept life as it is and to choose joy. I know so many of you are experiencing loss and heartache too right now. My thoughts go out to you and I want you to know, there is meaning in these tough moments.
We often try to fight the circumstance instead of adapting. Longing for what’s lost instead of cherishing what we have. Sometimes we have to look hard to find the silver lining in things, and sometimes all we need to do is take a deep breath and remember that this one life is precious and being here to experience it is the greatest silver lining of all.
My dad celebrated a birthday just weeks after his surgery once he was allowed to return home. There was no party, no fussy celebration. just enjoying a short walk in the crisp air, taking in the fall foliage and slight breeze. The four of us had a simple and healthy meal and smiled as we all sat together at the table. He never felt more loved or grateful to be alive.
When I came back home, I realized I had so much in my daily life to be grateful for, too. The California sun, my husband who I had never been away from for more than a few days and a wonderful team and job that I love. I missed having my Aussie pup Luca around; It’s amazing how much love and happiness these furry little animals add to our lives. I exhaled a deep, long breath as the three of us spent a quiet night reconnecting at home.
The anger, sadness and fear melted away. That evening I Iet joy win.