It is 7:44 a.m. on December 21, 2013. Fifteen years ago at this moment, I was in the midst of a maelstrom of emotion that threatened to suck me down into its swirling vortex. Sitting in the MRICU (Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit) of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, I was waiting for the inevitable. On November 11th of 1998, my husband Michael had been wheeled through the doors as he had predicted a few months earlier saying that he would be Status 1 on the UNOS list for a liver transplant when he was “flat on his back in the ICU on a ventilator.” And so it was.
In 1992, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C after we had volunteered to become bone marrow donors. Six years of unsuccessful treatment (Interferon) that caused all of the symptoms of chemo, minus the hair loss had considerably diminished his quality of life, and had led to this day. My mother, sister, son, Michael’s sisters and father, as well as friends gathered around me, circling the symbolic wagons. The night before, the young intern (my mother had referred to her as “the baby doctor.” since she was around 26 at the time ), had told me that there was nothing more they could do for him since the long awaited liver transplant was not going to occur and that the machines that had sustained him were all that stood between him and his next incarnation (she didn’t use those words, obviously).
Her message seeped into my sleep deprived brain as I knew that it was a choice-less choice. For the previous 5 1/2 weeks I had literally lived there, curled up in chairs, love seats when they were available and on the floor when not, since family members of other patients were there as well. Family of choice we became as we prayed our loved ones into healing. That word takes on different forms. I believe that when the beeping monitors were turned off and Michael’s heart stopped beating, he truly was healed, if not cured. In that moment, my own momentous journey continued. I had both prepared for and denied the instant when I would become a 40 year old widow with a then 11 year old son to raise. During the time in the hospital, I wrote copious amounts; letters to God, to the potential donor and family, to Michael. I did what I called God Wrestling, stating emphatically “He’s mine and you can’t have him,” and the Divine kindly, but equally firmly reminded me “He’s mine and he’s on loan to you like everyone else in your life.” I skated on the thin ice of the pond; or perhaps the moat that surrounded the castle which I attempted to storm to rescue him from the dragon of disease and death. Ultimately, I knew that in the act of letting go, I was freeing us both.
In the years that followed, I have re-created my life; changing jobs several times, becoming an interfaith minister, honing my writing craft, patching and polishing up my ravaged heart in the process of loving again, of allowing in healing in the form of friendships and romantic interludes. My son is now 26 and in his own wonderful relationship and a surrogate father to a precious/precocious 3 year old little boy.
I honor what Michael and I shared in the 12 years we were together, as we co-published Visions Magazine from 1988-1998 which seed planted the crop that became this blog and others that I write in my career as a journalist. I acknowledge the joys and sorrows, the pain and pleasure we experienced as perfectly imperfect soul mates who unpacked our baggage with each other, butted heads and blended hearts.
When I look back at the woman who lived that soul searing experience, I saw that she was fraught with fear, uncertain who she was, sleepwalking through life, tap dancing for approval, a people pleaser who had allowed herself to settle into complacent paralysis, in terror that she would be swept away in the waves of her own making, had she dared to stir them. These days, she makes conscious choices, sometimes unclear what the outcome will be, but daring to leap anyway. She lives heart forward, rather than being led by fear. She lives full out and welcomes opportunities to, as guides a line from one of her favorite movies (Harold and Maude) “Go and love some more.”