Wednesday, January 5, 2011
It’s Monday, January 3, and I’ve already had 6 of them. Six of those post holiday work emails that say, “I hope you’ve had a relaxing holiday and are refreshed and ready for the new year. Not sure why, but I’ve felt compelled to answer each out loud with a snort and a “Yeah right, buddy.” Of course most of these people can’t possibly know that my life…and this holiday season…have been anything but relaxing and refreshing. They can’t possibly know that on November 19, my world was turned upside and that life…as I knew it anyway…was forever changed.
That day…a beautiful Friday morning…I was awaiting word from my parents that they were in their new car and in route to my house for the winter. Dad would fill me in on their miniature dachshund’s exploits on the first hours of the ride and Mom would have me adding to the list of things to get at the grocery store for the Thanksgiving feast the following week. Instead, as I worked away in my office that morning, I received the phone call that would change everything: “The P’s had a little trouble.” With these words came the news of a car accident…two hospitals…and injuries.
I’m not sure if every child feels this way or if it is just those of us born with the genetic makeup predisposed for worry (thanks Dad!), but I’m pretty sure I was about five the first time I remember realizing that if something happened to my parents I would be an orphan. At seven, when my worry gene kicked into serious overdrive, I realized that something could happen to them at…GULP…the same time and, as an only child, I would then be totally alone. From that point on, every romantic trip, ”adults only” vacation or road trip became a source of serious angst and had me camped at the window or by the phone until Jay and Babs were safely deposited wherever they were supposed to be. Even as the years passed, this fear never subsided and I have had more than one nightmare in my adult life that they were taken from me. Each time I woke feeling not unlike that scared five year old saying a silent prayer of thanks and relief that it was only a “dream.” Oh what I wouldn’t have given for that day…and most of the days since…to be just that.
I arrived at Kansas City International Airport at 11:54 that evening…steeled myself against the bitter cold and rushed to the Rental Car Facility. As my neon blue Ford Fusion and I passed the clubs of Westport where I spent my 21st birthday and turned at the corner where the little music box shop was that my Mom used to take me to as a child, I realized that the roles that my parents and I had played my entire life no longer fit. No matter what happened in the coming hours, days, weeks, months and, God willing, years, this was the event that would change everything and that they would need me in a way they had never needed me before. When I hit the doors at the St. Luke’s ICU, it was as clear to me as that night’s sky, the “luxury” of being “the kid” was officially over.
It might sound curious that with all the growing up I’ve had to do given my own cancer battle and all that’s come with it that I could even think of myself as “the kid,” but until November 19, I did. Fighting for my own life is quite different than feeling responsible for someone else’s…especially an adult “someone else” who has spent a great portion of his (and her) life teaching, guiding and preparing me to navigate moments just such as this. What if I failed? What if I did these beautiful lives a disservice and didn’t give them the voice they deserved when needed most? What if? What if? What if?
In the days and weeks since my parent’s accident, I’ve had to say…do…and know things that I don’t want to. I’ve had to explore the deep dark reality of what life would have been like if they had been taken from me in an instant on that beautiful November day and I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that someday, they will be. I have often, over the last 11 years of my cancer battle, questioned why I am still alive. I think I now know why. My face was the one my Dad needed to see when his heart was stopped and restarted in an attempt to bring it back into rhythm and my hand was the one my Mom needed to hold when she hurt so badly she couldn’t move.
Jay and Barbara gave me life…and a reason to fight for it. I hope in the dark hours of the last several weeks I’ve been able to return the favor.