I stood in the doorway between Ryan’s room and what is now his therapy area. It’s the middle of the night. The house, and every human and animal in it, is asleep. Well, except for me. There will be no sleep for me tonight. I’m pulling a “all-nighter”. It’s my second one this week.
As a full-time caregiver, it comes with the territory.
Shadows of the Past
The house is quiet (save the continuous hum of various medical devices) and dark. I have one leg on each side of the doorway threshold with my head resting against the door frame. I look back to Ryan. He is sleeping… as far as I can tell, that is. Sue is cuddled up next to him in his bed. Her face is pressed against his cheek; as she typically does when there is no nurse. The cat is snuggled into the crook of his other arm.
If for any other reason, this would be worthy of a picture for the ole’ scrapbook.
I suddenly remember back to the time when Ryan was in high school. He wanted this area as his bedroom but I always felt better having him upstairs. At that time it was our storage room in the back corner of the basement. Really, it was nothing more than the area where we stored boxes of items that we probably never would get back to opening for decades. More than a few of those cardboard containers moved with us twice without every being opened. Once nicely stacked and organized it had become nothing short of a total mess as the years went on.
I realized Ryan wouldn’t recognize the space any longer. It had changed so much, yes, but I imagine he would wonder why we decorated a hospital room to suit his tastes. How would he ever make the connection that this was our previous basement storage area?
I looked out of his room to another space he would not recognize any longer. The area that once was about fun and entertainment. The foosball table is long gone; replace with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber (that he almost certainly has no idea what it is). The burgundy-felted billiards table has vanished. Gone too are the bookcases that shelved all of his and Kari’s awards and trophies. The huge leather sectional sofa that he spent so many hours on watching sports and hanging out with friends is now relocated. These familiar items are replaced by an assortment of therapy equipment, medical devices, and related supplies.
Nothing is as he would remember it.
He wouldn’t even know he was in our house. To be fair, it doesn’t even look like a person’s house — let alone ours — so I wouldn’t blame him one iota. So much has changed; both inside and outside these walls. Nothing is the same: People. Life. Time. Me. Ryan.
Yes, especially Ryan.
So often, in the still of the night, I must remind myself that a new day will wash away the darkness and give another chance at… what? Normalcy? Yes, normalcy seems to fit. It’s one more shot to find our way back to what is familiar… even if it doesn’t look quite the same.
It is hope.
What would I be without this? Where would I be? To me, hope is a flaxen-haired angel that unselfishly gives to me something I simply could not live without. To not have hope it would probably just about kill me. Sometimes… many times… hope is all I have. Hope compels me to never give up. I never will…
until all hope is lost.
You should know by now — at least I think you do — that I am a realist. I know what I’m up against. I get it. There’s no sense or value in fooling myself. I’m scared by it, but not at all intimidated to carry on. Neither are you. Let’s face it, the odds are clearly not stacked in our favor.
Still, you share my hope. You are relentless in your compassion, support, and generosity. You care deeply for my son by continuing to give his life meaning. His voice and words have fallen silent by senseless brutality by violent thugs, but you allow him to speak through you. You see, you do this every time you share his story or think of him.
Most of all, you refuse to allow others to forget.
As much as I hate it to be my only son as the reason, his life teaches us something greater than merely his circumstances. I thank you for your profound wisdom in recognizing this… and then taking action to do something about it. To willingly feel the sorrow — when the easy thing would be to turn away from the pain — is truly emotionally pure.
Do you even realize just how special you are? I’m humbled that you are known collectively as Team Diviney! You bring such honor to my family’s name through your association.
Now, before you start, I’m going to gently cut you off. I’m 100% certain most of you were already thinking of commenting something to the effect of “No Ken, it is you who is special. We are only glad that you allow us into your life and include us in caring for your beautiful son”.
Am I right? (No need to answer… I know I am).
Well, taking care of a one’s child — as I do with Ryan — is one thing. Taking care of another’s child — as you do with Ryan — is entirely different. World’s apart! You taught me how to love and care for others for compassion’s sake; something that never grabbed my heart before you offered it to me and my family. Quite frankly, I was shocked by it! I’m embarrassed to tell you that I even became suspicious. I never had the insight to grasp the significance of it. I’m not saying I was mean or a dick, because I wasn’t. What I am saying is that you where on an entirely different level. A higher and more sophisticated stratum of the human element.
Sure-as-shootin’, I’m a better person because of you. Damn straight, I am! I’m also filled with deep remorse that I was too self-absorbed to understand what seems to come naturally to you. Ah, yes, ignorance is most certainly bliss. Some days I literally watch items fly off Ryan’s Wish List and it adds to my regret… because I now know better. I wish I had been even a sliver as you. Even though you repeatedly tell me that I owe you nothing, the truth is, I owe you everything.
I fear that, because of the circumstances, I have lost the opportunity to make it right or redeem myself. With such a debt how many lifetimes will it take until I can “pay it forward” and be as worthy as you?
It’s unimaginable how I could get to where you are.
It might sometimes be best to learn a lesson the hard way. As I did. It certainly drove home the point, but I can also tell you that it can hurt like unholy hell for a long time afterwards. Still, it was well worth learning and I hope that someone takes my experience to heart to save them from being like my former self. It’s damned easy to be kind, generous, and loving to family…
But you, and people like you, are special souls to care for others like one of you own.