Last week I went to Arizona to visit Stephanie and Christian, both recovering from major trauma. I’ve had a week now to reflect on what I saw and what I learned, and most of it is very sweet and tender to me, and only a little bit horrible. Surprising to me, however, is what has stayed with me the most is the idea of perspective. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind.
Everyone who had gone down to visit them before prepared me for what I was going to see. For the sights, feelings, smells, and all the logistics, but walking down the winding hallways through the burn unit, I knew that no one could fully prepare me for what I was about to see. Despite understanding that, I found myself walking faster and faster, wanting to be there with Stephanie, as if in the back of my mind I knew it didn’t matter what I thought about the whole experience of being there and seeing her like that, wrapped head to toe on beeping machines of every sort. What mattered is that she wanted me there, and, suddenly, I wanted to be there.
While she is sleeping, we, as the family, have had time to adjust–to think about what life will be like for Stephanie and Christian and their children. We’ve formed opinions, thought about all the possibilities, ramifications, choices, difficulties, and processes they will all face, particularly for Stephanie. There are countless decisions that she and Christian will need to make together. So much of her recovery is still unknown, and we are so encouraged and hopeful by every report, but it is a long road of progress and setbacks, and we have to be patient. We. Have. To. Wait.
Through all of this, I kept thinking of all the possible outcomes. All bandaged, without a medical degree or crystal ball, I couldn’t tell. Will she be able to tie little shoes again? Pick up children? Make a meal? Type? Paint? Turn the pages of a book? Make a craft? I asked this really energetic nurse, after I listened to her give this week’s update. I knew she not only had the experience and knowledge of a seasoned nurse, but that she had compassion and real love for each one of her patients. I knew she could answer my question in a realistic way, so I asked her what the most likely outcome would be for Stephanie. I was expecting a specific list of what she would and would not be able to do, but what I got was a 30 minute explanation that has changed my way of thinking.
She explained that there’s no way of knowing what the future will be, and that, basically, I was asking the wrong question. She spoke of other burn victims, how well they’re doing now, what they’re doing now, the successes and happiness they’ve expressed to her. She told me that everything is different now and that things will never be the same. Ever. If we, as her family and friends, are constantly comparing her to the way she used to be, then we’ll never be satisfied. It will never be enough. If, however, we compare her to how far she’s come, each step of the way, and see the miracle that her body is in surviving and changing, then each success will be a leap, not an inch, forward from a devastating moment. If we say, Look how much better she’s doing since September!, we’ll be encouraged. Or, at Christmas, if we say, Look how amazing she is since Halloween! , we’ll find joy in her success, not frustration. It reminds me how the Clarks, on the 4th of July, always say, Before you know it, there will be snow on the mountains, and it will be Christmas! and on Christmas say, Before you know it, it will be hot and we’ll be celebrating the 4th of July! It’s right around the corner! We laugh about it, but we’re always really thinking that. From holiday to holiday, that’s how we mark time.
I’ve been thinking about how I mark progress and how often my perspective, although linear, is off. I’m frustrated when I think of the ideal in my head, whether physical, spiritual, mental, or even emotional. I think I have unrealistic expectations sometimes, mostly in how fast I think I should be progressing. If I evaluate myself in terms of an ideal, I will never feel a period of rest or success. When I look at myself, in all aspects of life, all things considered, from a different perspective of several years ago, a few years ago, or a month ago, and allow myself to see how far I’ve come, then I can see it. I can see what difficult experiences have taught me–what knowledge they’ve given me and what incredible value they hold for me. And any progress, no matter how slow, is progress. But. I. Have. To. Wait.
I spoke with two of my sister in-laws whose fathers both died when they were young, and Topher’s grandma who lost her husband when she had a house full of little kids. They all made the same four points, individually, to me this week: 1. We all have tragedy in our lives–no one escapes it. 2. Looking back, I can see so many blessings coming out of the tragedy. 3. We were meant to help each other amid tragedy, and 4. We can be in the middle of a tragedy and still be happy. Somehow, these points help me see how far Stephanie has really come, and how truly inspirational her healing is. It makes me think that when we think we’re waiting, we’re really progressing.