The Hard Part of Communicating

 

It amazes me how child-like we become in a hospital setting. It is also interesting how much you have time to talk. Things you would never stop to discuss during a normal day become common subjects when facing illness or death.

In a moment of silence, I voiced the subject I knew lay between us. “So are you scared about the surgery?”

“Yes, wouldn’t you be?” Darrell answered solemnly. I scrambled to fill in the silence.

“Do you want me to call your parents to be here?”

He shook his head ‘no’.  “I don’t want to bother them. If they want to come up, they will. It should be their decision.”

“Ugh. I don’t like stoic German genes. Why can’t you just ask for them to come if you want them here?” I got a stoic German glare in return.

“You know, I have only one complaint about growing up. I had it pretty good, but Dad never would say he loved me. Even to this day, if I say ‘Dad, I love you,’ he says, ‘Same to you.’”

I shook my head. In my family ‘I love you’ was said quite often. Maybe not always with sincerity, but it was common.

“Was it the way he was raised maybe?”

“My grandmother said it all the time. Don’t think I ever heard my grandfather say it though. Maybe that’s where he got it from. But it always bugged me.”

I couldn’t believe it. Darrell had grown up with a “Leave It To Beaver” family life. His mother was a stay-at-home mom who had fresh baked goodie always ready for Darrell, his brother and sister when they got home from  school. They had traditional Christmas’s and Thanksgiving with the Norman Rockwell of family gatherings. I was lucky to get a TV dinner or fast food for a late dinner. Christmas was a time of depression and anger in my childhood home.

Yet, here he was yearning for something deeper. I decided I couldn’t stand by and allow him to do this without family support. I gave the excuse of needing a snack and slipped out to the nearest telephone.

“Does he want us there?” his mother queried.

“Yes, I think he does. I know he’s worried about the surgery. He is just too stubborn to ask you to come up. He doesn’t want to bother you.”

“Oh for heaven’s sake. Well, we will be there this afternoon. We were just waiting for him to call.”

I shook my head as I hung up and slipped back into his room, deciding not to tell him what I had done. I wanted it to be a surprise to him. Yet, for all of my judgement on his family’s lack of communication, I was blind to my own.

Before we had gotten married Darrell knew I believed in God. I asked him once, and he assured me he did also. He had attended the German Congregational Church growing up. And the conversation ended there. I had started attending church and hadn’t ever asked him to go. I believed if he wanted to, he would just do it.

Right now I was clinging to the words I would read in the Bible every night. I was searching for a sign in the scripture to reassure me everything was going to be okay. I would slip from the room taking the Bible with me to the waiting room just next door.

After my little ‘good deed’, I wondered how I could comfort someone else during this time of trial. I knew one of the ways to help myself during stress was to reach out to others. I naively asked God to show me how I could help someone else.

I picked up the Bible and headed out.

“So where are you going?” he asked.

Startled, I turned to face him. “Just next door to do a little reading.”

“Okay,” he said, turning his attention to the TV. NHRA racing was on, a hobby of his.

I had just settled in with a warm cup of tea when a young woman stormed into the room. Slamming a Styrofoam cup down on the counter, she angrily dumped sugar into it. I looked away but out of the corner of my eye I saw her glance at the open Bible on my lap.

“How can you read that? I’m so mad at God, I can’t even pray!”

I froze, staring at her, my mind scrambling to think of something to say.

“Why are you mad at God,” I squeaked out.

“I prayed and prayed and prayed, asking him to heal my father. The colon cancer is back. Why would God do this to him. To me.” Tears glistened for a moment, then rolled down her cheeks.

Why God would allow cancer to steal away our loved one’s lives had crossed my mind more than once this last week.  I took a deep breath.

“I don’t know. But I think it’s okay to be mad at God.”

It was her turn to freeze, looking at me wide-eyed. “You don’t think it’s a sin? I mean, I really am so angry I don’t even know if I believe in him anymore.”

I gave a quick mental prayer asking for the right words. “When you tell a three year old they can’t have any more candy, it doesn’t make sense to them. Why can’t they have something that tastes so good? They get angry at you. But you understand. You know they are not old enough yet to understand the reasons. You just have to say no. When they throw a temper tantrum, you don’t hate them. You don’t punish them. You understand. You scoop them up and hug them. Wipe away their tears. Yet you must stand firm.”

It was quiet for a little while.

“So you are saying we are just like children, that we don’t see the bigger picture. But I’m still hurt. He didn’t heal my dad. He’s a good man. I can’t stand the thought of losing him. Why is he taking him away from me? God could heal him if He wanted to. I’m afraid I’ve been so mad at God for so long He can’t forgive me. And I don’t want to pray. I don’t want to forgive him.”

I shrugged. “I think that’s okay. Father God understands. He says He forgives all our sins, when we ask for forgiveness. You just aren’t ready yet. You may never be. That’s between you and Him. But can I ask a favor of you?”

“What?”

“Do you mind if I pray for you and your father?”

She squinted for a minute, thinking, and the anger faded away as the furrow between her eyes relaxed. I noticed for the first time they were a sky blue.  She stuck out her hand, lips turning up into a sad smile. “I’m Sarah, my dad’s name is John. Do you have someone here too?”

The conversation turned towards Darrell and his condition. He was a very private person and he asked me to keep the door to his room closed all the time. Sarah commented she thought someone was dying because that is what the staff usually did for the terminal patients.

“No, he’s not terminal. There is still hope. He also has colon cancer.”

The conversation then turned to statistics, survival rates and symptoms. I realized Darrell was blessed to have his cancer found so early. We exchanged phone numbers and promised to meet up again. After she left I scurried back to Darrell’s room.

As I put the Bible back into my bag, Darrell spoke.

“You know you don’t have to leave the room to read the Bible. Can you read me something from it?”

I froze for the second time that night. “Sure, what are your favorite passages?”

“How about Psalms?”

Obviously I needed to work on communicating with my husband as well.

The Story Continues

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I like hospitals best on weekends. The weekly hum of diagnostic staff, nurses and doctors is replaced with a quiet hush throughout the halls. Things slow down as the ancillary staff takes the weekend off.

As I went through the glassed walkway to the cafeteria I could see the dreary skies outside the Deaconess Hospital in Billings, Montana. It had been overcast and raining on and off for a week now. It mirrored the darkness I felt on the inside. The only bright spot was when we were able to take Darrell out for a small ride with his sister and brother-in-law. Darrell grew up primarily in Billings, so I had listened, with a smile, when he related different childhood stories. He pointed out places that were still there and their history and other places long gone. I got to see where he had started his own business as a young gas station owner until he figured out it was a lot of hard physical work for little pay.  But still, I admired his entrepreneurship.

Now, we were back in the reality of life and death. The breaking of the monotony of staring at four sterile walls was only done by lab tests, preparing for tests, and procedures.

For instance, he had to drink a gallon of a thing called “Go Lightly”. His bowel needed cleansed before surgery. “I don’t who came up with the name for this stuff,” Darrell joked, “it should be called ‘Going Tsunami’.” This was after about his twentieth run to the bathroom in less than a half hour.

The next adventure was when the student nurse came in to place the IV for the blood transfusion he had to have before surgery. She was a trembling, quiet little blond-headed girl that I thought looked more like fifteen than the twenty-five she said she was. Darrell had notoriously small veins, like his mother, and it was a nightmare for anyone to get an IV needle in his arm.

Patiently he stared at the ceiling, as she tried, failed, blushed and stammered an apology four times. On the fifth try, Darrell did something I had never seen him do. He grabbed her wrist and quietly said, “Enough. Find someone who can do this.” I know I had a dumbfounded look on my face as she fled in tears.

The room door flew open next to admit a tall, Amazonian looking woman in a helicopter life flight suit. Her voice boomed in the small room. “I hear we have a problem in here.”

Darrell growled back. “Yes, I need someone who can put an IV needle in the first time instead of poking me five times.”

The Amazon smiled. “You got an expert here Mr. Gabel. Let’s see what the problem is.”

Within seconds they were best friends. Darrell had that ability to connect to people in a warm, gregarious fashion. Joking around, she proved her expertise by getting it in with one try, while tisking about the new crop of student nurses. She apologized for the little blond, stating that she should have come and gotten someone after the first failed try. Darrell apologized for scaring her by grabbing her wrist. In the end, all was forgiven. The Amazon even checked back before his surgery the next morning to make sure all IV’s were done to her standards.

Meanwhile I was busy making phone calls and dealing with nervous family. In times of stress, we all say things that are slightly, well, off. Take for instance my father. He was always a man of few words, very smart and yet socially clumsy. I grew to understand this, take his wisdom and not be offended. This was one time I failed.

After a long description of Darrell’s health problems, my fears and the impending surgery, he tried his best to comfort me.

“Well honey, you are still young enough if something terrible happens, you can always remarry.”

It floored me. How could he even think that? Didn’t he understand Darrell was my soulmate? I hung up and fled for my stainless steel sanctuary. On the way a beveled glass doorway winked at me in jeweled colors. I held the storm of tears long enough to be able to read a sign that said, “Chapel.”  Cautiously I entered the quiet sanctuary. No one was there. I let loose the flood.

The chapel was  simple and non-denominational in appearance. Wooden pews glowed with a warm polish. A Bible lay open on a podium. One wall was lined with books of all faiths, and pamphlets filled with hopeful words.

My heart cried out in desperation, asking for healing, wanting more time. In situations like this, you sometimes bargain. I asked simply for fifteen more years. Why that number was important, I don’t know. It just was. But slowly I realized, it didn’t matter how many years, it would never be long enough. I never wanted to be parted from him. I wanted it to last forever.

The chapel would become my new sanctuary.