Thursday, January 16, 2014

The things you don't regret

A week ago, my dad was heading home from the hospital after having brain surgery.  He had been diagnosed with a meningioma—a brain tumor— in early December.  For a long time, as much as several years, he had been having blurry, fading vision in one eye.  Optic neuropathy, the doctors called it, but they didn’t know why it was happening.  Finally, my dad had an MRI and they found the tumor.  Right on the optic nerve.  Leaving it alone would likely mean total blindness in a matter of time.  But taking it out would mean… brain surgery.

This diagnosis came at a moment when I was poised on the edge.  My job had basically imploded, and I was trying to decide whether I would stick it out for the remainder of the academic year, or whether I would give my two weeks notice and not return for spring semester.

The meningioma did it.  I sent my letter of resignation the morning after I found out.  We didn’t know what would happen next with the brain tumor.  Surgery was risky and terrifying.  I didn’t want my parents to be alone through this.  I didn’t want to have to parse out vacation days from a dead-end job I was planning on quitting anyway if I could instead just be there for them, indefinitely, if that was what they needed.

When news of my imminent departure got around the department, one of my coworkers told me, “You won’t regret this.  Time with family is so important.  You have to do whatever it takes.”  It was unspoken between us, but I knew she said this because she had lost her father a few years ago, and my situation rang familiar.  I wish I had been able to tell her how sorry I was for her own loss, but at the time I couldn’t.  It was all I could do to maintain a modicum of composure, and I didn’t want either of us to have a break down in the hallway, in front of people, on a workday.  I think I managed to thank her for her for her words of support, but what she said has stayed with me. I am grateful for that.

My dad's surgery went well.  Amazingly well.  As well as you could possibly hope for brain surgery to go.  And I was there for it, only by the grace of Rob’s bravery and driving prowess:  we were hit with over a foot of snow and ice and wind chills of negative 33 just days before the surgery was to take place.  Roads were still nearly impassible when it was time to leave.  The interstate was like driving on a sheet of ice for 4 hours, but Rob got us to my parents’ house safely.  Because he did that, I was able to be in the pre-op room before they took my dad away, and I was able to sit in the waiting room with my mom while we managed to pass the time until the neurosurgeon came to tell us that everything had gone well.  They had gotten the whole tumor, and my dad was in recovery.  We would be able to see him soon.

When my mom and I finally went back to the house that evening, I took it upon myself to get out pots and pans, make dinner, make everybody sit down and eat a solid meal for the first time all day.  Grandma Florence would have been so proud of me.  We washed up the dishes, and then I crashed.  I fell asleep out of pure relief and exhaustion.  This was behind us now.  Everything was going to be okay.  My dad was unlikely to get his lost vision back, but at least he would not lose any more, and my parents could pretty much resume their lives as normal.  

I held Will in my arms, and I slept for twelve hours straight. 

The relief and gratitude I feel now that this is over is immense, but it also gives me time to reflect on the drastic changes I have made to my life and the uncertainty of what will come next.  Will is no longer in daycare or pre-school since I quit my job (he is not eligible for his former pre-school, as it was offered through my employer), and I am at home with him full time.  In the past few weeks, we have definitely had our ups and downs, but the good news is that the ups are on the rise.  Before, everything was a rush.  Quickly, quickly, get up in the morning and brush teeth and get dressed and eat breakfast and go to school so that I can go to work all day; then in the evenings, it was always quickly, quickly make dinner and eat dinner and take a bath and read a story and get some sleep so we can do this all over again in the morning.  It was a never-ending cycle of emptiness and frustration.  Now, things are more laid back.  There is no rush.  We have all the time in the world.  You can brush your teeth now or 10 minutes from now.  You can play with this toy until you are done with it and then move on to the next one.  We take things as slowly as we want.

The support and encouragement that people have given me throughout this process have been tremendously helpful.  On my last day of work, one of the graduate students, who was a stay-at-home dad for the first 5 years of his son’s life, shared a key insight that he learned through his own experience.  “No matter what happens next,” he told me, “You won’t regret the time you spend with your son."

This is so true.  I think of these words everyday.  I don’t know if we will ever really make it to Colorado, and if we do, I don’t know that we will be happy there.  I don’t know that I will ever be able to find another job, much less another career, again.  But at least I know that I am claiming these moments I otherwise would have missed.  Like when the cold front finally passed earlier this week and the snow began to melt— Will and I went outside to play.  He got tired so we sat on the front porch, and he laid down with his head in my lap.  We both looked up at the blue sky and soaked in the sun.

These are the things you don’t regret.

Thanks to everybody who helped out my parents during this process; thanks to my aunt for texting, thanks to the friends, family, and neighbors who made sure that all needs were met. And thanks for your continued support of my giant leap into the unknown. 


Jodi said...

Nice!! I'm so glad your dad's surgery went well and that you are able to spend time with him and with Will. No question you know what the priorities are.

Anonymous said...

THANKFUL>>>>>>>>> that is the only word I can utter now........ thankful FOR SOOOOOOO many things, having you with me meant more than you can ever know........ THANKFUL for ROB , making sure you were here!!!! Thankful for WILL, in his darling distractions!!! it all helped me through a time of STRESS! Keep looking ahead,,,,, finding the happy,,,,,,,, no regrets EVER!!! do not let that word into your vocabulary........ ENJOY each other and Will,,,, and go where the ROAD takes you..... luv and hugs, mama.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written!! You must keep writing!! Love, auntie