This is chapter nine of a story entitled The Other One. To start at the beginning, click here. Merry Christmas!
If you had told me I would be spending another Christmas in a hospital, I wouldn’t have believed you.
My entire family found ourselves here on this morning, though, sitting around in a numbness, waiting for any news of what was going on with my nephew Bryce. At some point during the night, the doctors had been able to bring his breathing back, but nothing was stable as of yet. They said they had things under control, but not even Alex or Rachel were allowed out of the waiting room to see him. They said they had things under control, but still had no answers for us.
“Control” was a term we didn’t understand on this particular day.
There wasn’t anything to say to each other in that room. We were spread out in our seats, with my father sitting down the row from Rachel, who was being comforted by my mother and Ashley. Alex faced them, a couple of seats away from me, and stared at nothing in particular. You couldn’t see any expression on his face. There was only existence, which I guess is all any of us had at that point.
I’m not sure which was worse: the silence or knowing that it would eventually break. There was a little bit of peace in the current moment; the not knowing. As for now, there was something wrong, but it wasn’t totally real to us. There was something potentially really serious, but we had no way of being sure yet. So we couldn’t jump to conclusions; we couldn’t distress over what might be going wrong. We could only rest in this inbetween moment, before the transition to how our lives would soon look.
Something about tragedy that people don’t often mention is the change that happens. People know that tragedy is a terrible thing, and that in the moment it hurts. People often forget that every aspect of your life is different after a tragedy, if they’re not living through it themselves. Even when the roughest of the hurt passes, there are lingering effects.
Life isn’t the same, even after recovery. I knew that very well.
The last time I found myself in this room, I wasn’t looking down the road. I wasn’t looking at what might be different after I left. I wasn’t thinking about how much the outcome would determine the years that followed. And because of that, I wasn’t prepared for what was ahead for me.
I tried not to think about that day very much, but today it seemed natural to do so. I vividly recalled the heaviness that sat on my heart the entire time I was there. I don’t think I could afford to look ahead, as what was happening right in front of me blindsided me so. No amount of preparation, no matter how severe a disease is, prepares you for when it actually hits.
But that’s the thing: I couldn’t prepare, but I could reflect. My experience with this heavy room allowed me to look back, when I couldn’t look ahead, and this was huge. At this very moment, when the only place I could look was backwards, my brother had nowhere to look at all.
Things were difficult, but I knew what I had to offer. I knew how I could help.
Waiting rooms are awful places. There is a smell to them, some sort of stale odor, that reminds you of desperation. They make you realize your own weakness and fragility, as the coldness of the walls and stiffness of the chairs remind you how uncomfortable and alone you are.
But at the same time, you aren’t alone. Every person in that room is suffering in some sort of way, and there is an instant, unspoken connection. Nothing needs to be said. Nobody needs to hug strangers and let them know they’re in the same boat. It’s understood. And when you’re surrounded by family, that unspoken bond is even stronger, and infinitely more necessary.
A small tree sat, lit up, in the corner. It served as the only reminded to us that this day was supposed to be one of joy. There were no pleasantly wrapped boxes underneath it to warm our hearts with thoughts of gifts and laughter. But it still brought hope to us. It reminded us why we were all there, instead of being scattered all across the country.
The room was desperate and lonely, but it was not bleak. Not by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, that tiny glimmer of hope that we all felt from the tiny plastic tree brought a strange warmth to us in our moment of greatest need. Even as my brother and his wife were called over to talk to the doctor about what was wrong, we all felt strong. We felt united.
I don’t know what it was, really. I don’t know if it was just the unexpected hope that comes from this time of year. I don’t know if it was a faith we had in something bigger than ourselves. I don’t know if that faith had been rekindled in me. But I knew one thing, and it was never any clearer to me than it was now.
Even now, as my brother held his weeping wife. As they received news that wasn’t hopeless, but was still slim. As we knew this battle would be a long and hard one, not one that would be solved quickly.
Even with all of that, we knew we all had each others backs. We were there. We were together, as a family. We had weathered storms before, and this time around, if we all stuck through it together, we knew we would weather this one as well.
We would make it. And somehow, we would make Christmas merry for each of us once again. We would. We had to. We had no choice.
We were family, after all.