What a day, I thought to myself. With two of my young children in the hospital, and a third waiting at Grandma’s, I was truly spread thin. Today I had actually passed the infant CPR exam required before I could take eight-week-old Joel home from the hospital. Would I remember how to perform CPR in a moment of crisis? A cold chill ran down my spine as I debated my answer.
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Exhausted, I reached for my grocery list that resembled more of a scientific equation than the food for the week. For the past several days, I’d been learning the facts about juvenile diabetes and trying to accept Jenna, my six-year-old daughter’s, diagnosis. In addition to the CPR exam I’d spent the day reviewing how to test Jenna’s blood and give her insulin shots. Now I was buying the needed food to balance the insulin that would sustain Jenna’s life.
“Let’s go, Janet,” I mumbled to myself while sliding out of the car. “Tomorrow is the big day! Both kids are coming home from the hospital. … It didn’t take long before my mumbling turned into a prayer.
“God, I am soooo scared! What if I make a mistake and give Jenna too much insulin, or what if I measure her food wrong, or what if she does the unmentionable—and sneaks a treat? And what about Joel’s apnea monitor? What if it goes off? What if he turns blue and I panic? What if? Oh, the consequences are certain to be great!”
With a shiver, my own thoughts startled me. Quickly, I tried to redirect my mind away from the what ifs.
Like a child doing an errand she wasn’t up for, I grabbed my purse, locked the car, and found my way inside the store. The layout of the store was different than what I was used to. Uncertain where to find what I needed, I decided to walk up and down each aisle.
Soon I was holding a box of cereal, reading the label, trying to figure out the carbohydrate count and sugar content. “Would three-fourths a cup of cereal fill Jenna up?” Not finding any “sugar free” cereal, I grabbed a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes and continued shopping. Pausing, I turned back. Do I still buy Fruit Loops for Jason? I hadn’t even thought how Jenna’s diagnosis might affect Jason, my typical four-year-old. Is it okay if he has a box of Fruit Loops while Jenna eats Kellogg’s Corn Flakes?”
Eventually I walked down the canned fruit and juice aisle. Yes, I need apple juice, but, how much? Just how often will Jenna’s sugar “go low” so she will need this lifesaving can of juice? Will a six-year-old actually know when her blood sugar is dropping? What if…? I began to ask myself again.
I held the can of apple juice and began to read the label. Jenna will need fifteen carbohydrates of juice when her sugar drops. But this can has thirty-two. Immediately I could see my hand begin to tremble. I tried to steady the can and reread the label when I felt tears leave my eyes and make their way down the sides of my face. Not knowing what to do, I grabbed a couple six-packs of apple juice and placed them in my cart. Frustrated by feelings of total inadequacy, I crumpled up my grocery list, covered my face in my hands and cried.
“Honey, are you all right?” I heard a gentle voice ask. I had been so engrossed in my own thoughts that I hadn’t even noticed the woman who was shopping along side of me. Suddenly I felt her hand as she reached towards me and rested it upon my shoulder. “Are you all right? Honey, are you a little short of cash? Why don’t you just let me…?”
I slowly dropped my hands from my face and looked into the eyes of the silvery haired woman who waited for my answer. “Oh, no, thank you ma’am.” I said while wiping my tears, trying to gather my composure. “I have enough money.”
“Well, Honey, what is it then?” she persisted.
“It’s just that I’m kind of overwhelmed. I’m here shopping for groceries so that I can bring my children home from the hospital tomorrow.”
“Home from the hospital! What a celebration that shall be. Why, you should have a party!”
Within minutes this stranger had befriended me. She took my crumpled up grocery list, smoothed it out, and became my personal shopper. She stayed by my side until each item on my list was checked off. She even walked me to my car helping me as I placed the groceries in my trunk. Then with a hug and a smile, she sent me on my way.
It was shortly after midnight, while lugging the groceries into my house, that I realized the lesson this woman had taught me. “My kids are coming home from the hospital!” I shouted with joy. “Joel is off life support and functioning on a monitor. Jenna and I can learn how to manage her diabetes and give her shots properly. What a reason to celebrate.” I giggled to myself. “I have a reason to celebrate!” I shouted to my empty house.
“Why you should have a party,” the woman had exclaimed.
And a party there will be!
It is an amazing thing when a complete stranger can enter into someone else’s pain, stay there awhile and offer a new perspective. It can be difficult to do even with a close friend. It is much easier to walk by that person reminding myself of how busy I am, or just say a few words of sympathy and close off the conversation. It takes courage, vulnerability and fortitude to truly listen and be present…as well as the precious commodity of time. A person’s struggle is not something we can easily solve. It’s messy stuff.
Another particle of wisdom from this post, the reminder that no matter how overwhelming something is in my own life there is always another perspective. More often for me it is reminding myself of the many many others whose situations are not just overwhelming but dire. My own struggles are but a drop in the bucket.