As I sit here, I can’t help but think about how oddly funny this situation is. You know those moments when you just look around and giggle to yourself? That’s how I’m feeling at this moment.
It’s rare I get much time to myself. I had to come to town today for an appointment with my counselor. I had told my husband that I wanted to try to go somewhere afterward with my computer to write and gather my thoughts. He encouraged me to do so. After a great appointment with my counselor, who also thought I needed some quiet, alone time to write, I went looking for a place to go. Nothing were also venues where I just didn’t feel like I fit in there. I know that’s just my own anxiety getting to me, but since this was for me to relax, I respected those feelings. As I sat in a full parking lot, try to decide to and go home or find a place to eat, relax and write, I had a thought.
So here I sit in the cafeteria of one of the local hospitals. Why does it seem oddly funny to me? Because I’ve spent a lot of time here, but never to give myself a relaxing afternoon.
My youngest daughter was born in this hospital. She was in the NICU for 12 days. Those days were filled with lots of emotion, recovery for myself and hours at the hospital. I would come to the cafeteria in between visitations to try to get some nutrition in an attempt to be able to provide her milk. My body had been ravaged, she was born five weeks early and that milk never came. However, I persisted in my efforts, eating a salad or sandwich when the last thing I wanted to do was to eat.
I returned four years later, when my mom was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney cancer in the ER. I brought my dad and my daughter for a meal or a snack just to get them out of her room for a moment. We’d sit together over crab salad – a favorite of my dad and my daughter – and talk about what the future would look like without my mom in it. We returned a few times before she died six weeks after her diagnosis. The food and conversation was different each time, but the heartache and grief were the same.
Throughout the next 17 months, I’d return to this place. My dad, who was battling diabetes, severe nerve damage to his back, arthritis and kidney disease, had been on dialysis years before my mom died. Once she passed away, I honestly expected him to shortly follow. He fought. He worked so hard to carry on with his life. He did his treatments, went to appointments and even saw a counselor. Life was rocky. My mom was gone and no one could replace her. My brother was going through a drug addiction and lived with my dad, would caused much stress and worry. Still, my dad worked hard to be his best for my youngest daughter. They were very close, and he’d also promised my mom he wouldn’t just give up when she died. For those 17 months, he was in and out of the hospital for a large variety of issues. Still, when he called one day to tell me he needed me to meet the ambulance at the hospital, I knew our time was coming to an end. He spent more than a week here – some in ICU and some in a regular room. He would hardly eat, but if I got him crab salad from the cafeteria and my daughter brought it to him, he’d eat it. After a week, he was moved to hospice. That last day at the hospital I remember going to the cafeteria, drinking a Diet Dr Pepper and looking out the window, noticing the hospice where he was about to be transported. It was the same place where my mom had gone. I also remember leaving that day and thinking I hoped I never went back to that cafeteria.
Here I am – the hospital cafeteria. I chose it because it was a place where I was comfortable, I could sit as long I wanted and it had good food. It’s also a place I feel my parents with me. Odd, maybe, but the truth. We had a lot of hard conversations here, but we laughed some, as well. I feel like even though so much has changed since they died, so much has remained the same. The food selection, the decor, the location is all just how I remember it. I wish I could sit here with them and talk about all that has changed. I wish we could talk about how I now have three kids, making the only grandchild they knew the youngest in our family because I adopted teenagers. By the way, my parents would have rocked at being grandparents in our situation. If two people were suited for supporting us during a foster care and adoption situation of two teen girls, it would be my parents. I tried to buy my youngest daughter some crab salad, but the cafeteria was out today. I look around and realize I’m probably the only or at least one of the few who have chosen to be here today. I seen families having hard conversations. I see tired parents of grown children. I see a family near the window laughing between saw moments of silence. I see a small boy running to the window to look out at the city, seemingly unaware of the gravity of this place.
So here I sit, relaxing, enjoying some time alone and reflecting in the most unexpected place of reverence.