And so the journey to the other side begins.
It occurred to me the other night as I packed and repacked my suitcase for our trip to Los Angeles. This is our last (God willing) hospital trip. This activity that we’ve had to engage in over and over these past seven years is ending. No more preparing for surgery, not physically or emotionally.
What will that be like?
A couple days ago, I gathered with some of my Jewish women friends and we sang and meditated and they bestowed beautiful blessings of strength and presence and awareness on me. As I climbed into my car Barbara said, “See you on the other side.” That made me pause.
The other side. The other side.
This side I have been on has been fodder for my writer’s heart, no question. Angst and sorrow certainly does seem to call in the Muse. Ask any country music singer. Ask any artist. Ask van Gogh. And in this part of the journey I am sure I’ll have plenty to write about.
But afterwards? I spoke to a friend who I met years ago on a support forum for parents of kids seeking scoliosis treatment at Shriners. Her son went through the same stapling and hybrid rod adjustment surgeries as Ben, at the same time as Ben, but two years ago his spine just was curving too aggressively, so he underwent fusion then, at age 12. She told me that she barely could remember the time before fusion. Things are going well now, and those days of going in and out of surgeries like walking through a revolving door, well, all of that is just a distant memory.
So, of course, that sounds good and it’s so hard to imagine, as well. Like imagining you’ll meet your handsome prince when you’re out on date after date with frogs.
How do we define ourselves now and how will we define ourselves after, on the other side? Who will we be then and there?
Especially for Ben, this time will be transformative in more ways than one and certainly in more ways than just physically. But physically first, he will be a couple inches taller (straightening out a side-to-side curve, a rib rotation will do that to a body) and less self-conscious about his posture (something he shared with me today). In fact, he’ll have the best posture around…whether he likes it or not! Emotionally, it’s a different story. This is the end of so many years of hesitant living. An exhaustion (that is also physical) hangs over all of us, and I don’t even think we realize how heavy it truly is. So as that lifts and we feel lighter and lighter with no surgeries down the pike, well, I can only think it should mean we will feel more and more free. But, especially Ben. And perhaps less and less different from everyone he knows.
I am struck by Ben’s grace throughout this whole ordeal. (And by “whole” I mean, this surgery, this year’s several surgeries, these past four years…his whole story.) Today, the day before surgery, was challenging and yet Ben was fine through it all. I noticed how sweet he was with the nurses at Shriners, even when they kept us waiting and waiting, sent us home and coming back for a messed up appointment time. Even though it all worked out in the end, I found myself telling and retelling the story of our waiting to whomever would listen. At one point, after I rehashed it with the nurse at the clinic desk, Ben said, “Thank you! Bye!” over his shoulder as we headed to the elevator. “Mom,” he hissed at me, “You shouldn’t be complaining to the nurses. They have so much crap to deal with every day.” Word.
He heard me telling it again, though, to Mark and I heard him mutter, “I put that down hours ago, when will you?”
Later he chastised me for jaywalking. “It’s not as if there aren’t crosswalks all over the place!”
He put my hand back on the steering wheel when I patted his knee, lovingly, as we drove home from our appointment. “Keep both hands on the wheel, please!”
“I didn’t know you had such a penchant for justice,” I said.
I am listening and learning from my boy. He is definitely my teacher.
At some point today, after the appointment with his surgeon in which we went over every detail of the surgery, every gory detail, with a fine toothed comb, I noticed he was a little quiet and asked how he was doing. “You know, I was just thinking about that,” he said. “When Dr. Cho talked about the [urinary] catheter I noticed my arms started shaking. Now I’m not sure if I’ve just been in a state of denial or acceptance.”
“Maybe it’s both,” I suggested.
“How can it be both? They’re the antithesis of each other!”
Maybe not. I see them as easily coexisting for him. One part denial, one part acceptance. It’s like just enough of each to maintain equilibrium. Until the doctor starts talking about catheters. And then it gets all too real.
And life is like that. Equal parts light and dark.
Tonight on the precipice of the Other Side, I am feeling how I've been, who I've been on this side for these many long years of surgeries. Being Ben's mom has definitely defined me in some ways, and being his mom is a huge honor. And a learning experience. When I consider it this way then it feels that I will just continue on the same...honoring my son, being awed by him, loving that I am his mom.
I'm ready to say goodbye to this chapter. It's definitely time.
And, it’s also time for bed. Ben has unplugged his Xbox, is getting ready to call it a day. Tomorrow we rise bright and early and head to the hospital by 7 am. I will attempt to write and post while he's in surgery, or at least when I get back to my digs. I have more to tell you. But it’ll have to wait.
Think good thoughts.