Empty Nesters. It's kind of a funny term. But applicable. The boys are in college, and while Devin has been around a lot this summer, the fall semester has begun and both guys are heavy into school, music, college living. We don't see them as much as we would like. But it is right. They have their world. They are building ideas for the future. Music. Business. Physical therapy. Computer technology. Friends. Hanging out. I get it. I've been there. Below is a picture of Heidi and me circa 1977. We were just about the age that our Colin is now. We were thinking, and dreaming, and loving, and scheming - just the way our sons are now.
A few days ago I found a draft of something I wrote just a year ago. It was early October when Heidi had some weird, unexplainable symptoms. Severe vertigo, brief aphasia where she was talking but what was coming out was not language. Scary stuff. Life changing stuff. December 5th was her brain surgery and now all is well. But as I read this old draft, I could put myself into that mental space of being afraid of possibly losing her.
My best friend is having a major health scare. What started out as possible fluid in her inner ear, for which she was treated with antihistamines, is now considered something much more serious. It has already involved many uncomfortable tests and procedures. No doubt there will be many more. There will be surgery, a hospital stay, a lengthy recovery time. There will be post –op visits, more tests to see if things are OK and regular uncomfortable tests from here on out.
Throughout this whole ordeal so far she has been calm, resolute, brave – the epitome of grace. Always the teacher, her response to a tense diagnosis has been hopeful and optimistic. She is, just by being her beautiful serene self, teaching all of her family, friends and students how best to meet adversity. Head on. With a strong heart. And, perhaps surprisingly – with gratitude. She has already told me several times how this had made her grateful for her life, for her family and friends. And for me.
So many people who have known her and found out about this episode have called, sent wonderful cards, letters and emails. When I read them, I tear up. Because it’s all true. She has changed lives. Personally and professionally. This world is a better place for the way she has touched so many.
And so she has been grateful for this problem – because folks who might have carried on and known her loving touch, her wise council, her easy laugh and sparkling eyes – might not have shared their beautiful appreciations.
I called to have some questions answered about insurance. The woman on the other end of the phone answered all of my questions clearly and carefully. She wanted to be sure that if there was any way at all that she could help to please call back and ask for her. I said I would. And I thanked her for her concern. Before we rung off she said there was one more thing. “Would it be OK for me to put Miss Heidi on my prayer list?” I was humbled by her spontaneous outpouring of faith and love for a stranger. I only had a minute before my students came back from PE. But I had to wipe my eyes and take a few deep breaths before I could greet them at the door.
When I get into that quiet space to pray, often as I lie in bed well before dawn, before the alarm goes off, when I can hear her soft, steady breathing, and we are touching beneath the covers – my prayers are those of gratitude. Of course I am grateful for my sons and my siblings and our beautiful home in the woods. I am grateful for my vocation, which I love, and for my friends. But what I am most grateful for is the presence of this good woman in my life and the love we have shared for all these many years (36 by my reckoning). And I am grateful for the many years to come.
Here we are a year or so later. Our boys are men, pretty much into their own adult lives. Oh, they'll be back. We look forward to every visit. But it will never be exactly the same as them living here. They know it and we know it. But it is right.
We spend lots of quiet nights scrounging dinner, taking our evening walks, preparing for work, taking care of the dogs, the house, checking out The Daily Show or Rachel Maddow. We are still planning ahead. But because of what has happened we are both hyper aware of the present. And it is right. We are sort of where we were about 22 years ago. Taking care of ourselves and each other. Being grateful for the precious time we have - being alone together.
Isn't it great that we haven't changed a bit?