I have been very fortunate to have a lot of good people enter my life…
Some enter and stay for a long time and others enter only for a short moment. There are those that left me way too soon and others that really outstayed their welcome. But, they all seem to have a reason for crossing my path when they did. Even with those that seemed to cause me heartache at the time, I can usually see later how they taught me something or fulfilled a need. Usually the experience of knowing them teaches me something I needed to know or helps me in some way.
There is no doubt in my mind that some people come into our lives for a reason. There was an individual who crossed my path a couple of years ago and I have not spoken to him since. Yet, I believe I will have the memory of him forever because of what we experienced. I think about him often and I hope he is doing well. This is an example of a chance meeting in my life with a great individual who helped me more than he will ever know.
Back in 2007, I spent a lot of time in doctor’s offices and hospitals caring for my mother who had become very sick in her later years. It seemed to fall upon me to be the one in the family who became her primary caregiver. I did not ask for this job, but I loved my mother and was grateful that I was in a situation where I could help her. Anyone else who has had this duty knows how difficult and draining it can be. There are many more hours of worry and concern than of positive bright moment.
During the course of that year, my mom was hospitalized seven different times. I spent a lot of time waiting and worrying about her while she was being helped by doctors and nurses. If you have ever spent a lot of time in waiting rooms at the doctor’s office or in the hospital waiting areas, you know how uncomfortable it can be. It always seems too cold – probably because of nerves and worry. There is really no way to relax and be comfortable when you have to wait for literally hours.
On one of these occasions, my mother was in Intensive Care at the hospital. I spent many hours in the ICU family waiting area. The hospital had provided a microwave and a sink, but other than that it was seriously lacking for staying any long period of time. I questioned whether I should just go home several times, but it just didn’t feel right to leave Mom. Now, I know that it is not the hospital’s job to be a hotel, but after being there for so long, it was easy to complain.
To add to my discomfort was what was going on around me. I saw loved one after loved one come into the waiting area while their family member was being taken care of by the medical staff. Some looked like they were in shock, some looked like they didn’t know what to do with themselves, and some just looked totally distraught.
In between the times I checked in on my mother, I became an observer of these fellow “waiters” for several hours at a time. When the nighttime arrived on the first day I was there, another family entered the waiting room. I had given a casual, “Hello” to some of the people I had seen before them in the waiting room, but with this family it was different. We immediately struck up a conversation and I found out that the patriarch of their family was the patient. He was in his seventies, and he was clearly beloved by his family. He was brought in and put in the Intensive Care Unit after suffering a heart attack and a stroke. His wife, their adult children and their spouses, and the grandchildren all began arriving in little groups. Before I knew it, the room was full of this man’s family. Apparently, the heart attack and stroke was a sudden and unexpected thing, and the family was totally distraught.
I had been alone in the waiting room and to watch this family come together to support one another was very moving. It became very interesting to see who would come in next to find out about the condition of their father, grandfather, brother, uncle and friend. I was impressed by the huge showing of support by this family to one another and the patient and yet a bit overwhelmed at how much this man must have affected all of these lives.
At some point that night, during all of the people going in and out, I had a chance to talk with a lot of the members of the family. There was one member of this family, however, that I will never forget. His name was Steve and he was the son of the man in Intensive Care. He was of about the same age as me. As we talked about how difficult it is to watch your parents get older, we formed a bond.
The next morning when I arrived back at the ICU waiting room, many members of Steve’s family were already there and some had stayed the night. They looked totally haggard. They brightened up a bit when they saw my familiar face and immediately inquired about my mother and I asked about the condition of their husband and father. I found them so compassionate and empathetic to ask about me amidst all of their own suffering.
This was a family who organized and prepared and by day three they began to bring in food. They adopted me right in as one of their own and invited me to eat with them. I was so grateful to have something other than the hospital cafeteria food. Over the next few days, I also began to bring food to share and they continued to bring in food as well. We had a lot of good food and good conversation about our families – especially considering our circumstances. It was amazing how much this family came to mean to me after only a short period of time.
Before I knew it, a week had gone by. At the end of a week of watching this family pull together and support one another and me, they lost their beloved family member. I had entered the waiting room that morning and when I saw that none of them were there, my heart sank. Somehow, I knew. I went straight to a nurse and she told me that Steve’s father had indeed passed away. I had become so close to Steve and his family that I felt as if I had lost my own relative --even though I had never met the man. They had told me so many wonderful things about him that I felt as if I knew him. In many ways I did. If the memory of this man’s life was to be his family, he had a great legacy indeed.
I saw them later and saw how crushed Steve was. I cried with him and with the rest of the family. Their spirits were so broken, and yet, they were still concerned for my welfare and the welfare of my mother. As we parted ways, this family actually promised to pray for me and my mother. “What an amazing group of people,” I thought.
The following day, which was day nine of her stay, my mother was released from the ICU, and I realized how blessed I was to still have her with me. I recommitted myself to making sure she knew that I loved her and that I cared about her each day that she had left of her life. It was much easier after having this wonderful family as an example.
A couple of months later, my mom was back in the hospital again, but luckily, not in the ICU this time. A business trip came up that was very important that I take. I hated the thoughts of leaving my mom at the hospital, but she assured me that it would be okay and I should go.
So, reluctantly, I boarded the plane and found my seat. As soon as I was buckled in and had pulled out a book for the flight, I took a deep breath. As I thought about my sick mother back in the hospital, I felt like maybe I had made the wrong decision in going on the trip. I began to get tears in my eyes and I turned my head so the passenger next to me would not see them. As I looked out the window, I saw the usual things one sees; the baggage being driven and loaded under the plane, a few maintenance people checking the plane, and that was when a person I needed at that very moment was there for me…
I had thought a lot about Steve after our talks in that waiting room and I thought that I would probably never see him again. Sometime during one of our conversations, I had learned from Steve that he worked at the Salt Lake International Airport. I had even thought about him when I entered the airport that day but I knew there was a very slim chance I would see him there.
The chances were slim, but they were not non-existent. I looked down and saw an airport employee in his orange jacket with reflectors guiding the plane back out of the airport terminal. He was using paddles to guide the pilot. As the plane came to a stop, I rubbed my eyes to make sure I was not hallucinating and sure enough… there was Steve. He was standing directly below my window. He looked right up at me and I waved. It took him only a few seconds to recognize me and then he smiled widely. At first I wondered why he did not wave back and then I realized that flailing his arms around may not be the best idea considering his job. He did, however, give me a small “thumbs up.”
I cannot begin to tell you how important this moment was to me. There was the man that I had seen only a couple of months earlier so broken by the passing of his father, and he was smiling at me. His life had gone on and he had survived the ICU waiting room experience!
We both started laughing as the plane started to slowly move towards the runway. I took another deep breath as I realized that Steve was exactly who and what I needed at this moment in my life. I took a minute to thank God for his grace in sending a person into my life right at the moment I needed him. It was precisely at that moment that I needed a smile and a “thumbs up” by someone who I knew understood my pain. He had survived his “waiting room” experience and so would I.