Good Friday and Easter Sunday are perhaps the most significant days of the church calendar, and yet, in a real sense, we live our lives on Saturday, the day in between. Philip Yancey

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good Questions to Deeper Layers

I recently was struck by a sentiment that the best verbal support we offer as friends is often through having good questions, not good answers. Of course we have the strong example of God’s counterintuitive words of comfort  to Job.

A friend asked a simple question in passing that got me thinking (I love help thinking). “Have you done tonsil and adenoid removal before with any of your kids?” Yes, Lydia did but as an add-on to abdominal surgery with a PICU admission. Amelia was just outpatient in the office surgery center. Lydia took all her nutrition via tube and Amelia would be a battle of the wills to keep her drinking. Both would lay around afterwards well medicated. That would only be odd for one.

Another followed the past month's general happenings through FB posts yet went to private messaging to dig “I’m hearing how Amelia is doing but how about you? Was the experience hard?” My response was longer to this. In general I was alright but the heart pricks were building and it helped to be asked to share them.

For instance, the girls’ common ENT asked about how Lydia was doing. The prick wasn’t his question but his answer at learning of her death “I’m so sorry I asked.” This made me clamor to come here and remind everyone who dares to read that the speaking of a deceased loved one is a gift. Never be sorry you voiced their name, such a beautiful sound we don’t find many places anymore. We were already thinking about them. Even if tears come, it’s a good thing.

The pre-op nurse would give me a copy of Amelia’s heart and lung clearance “for her baby book”. If Amelia had a baby book that would NOT be in it. The contrast between my reality and the nurses’ assumptions made me unbelievably angry.

While we were near the hospital we stopped in for a GI test that needed to be checked off the list. This took me through walls and across floors that hadn’t engulfed me since the day we received the death-revealing lab results. I walked over the spot where Lydia flooded her diaper and sat to wait. My heart raced and tears welled as the Dad doted on his non-verbal son in the small wheelchair a few feet away. I didn’t try to explain my silent sobs to the technician when our turn came, just smiled in between them and complied with instructions. Amelia demanded words. I promised to explain after we got back into the safety of the van. Next a mother-daughter lunch was planned at my favorite nearby spot. I only ate there when Lydia was inpatient and actually miss it, so we went on. The office staff from Lydia’s surgeon’s office came in and sat behind us. Strangely speaking with them wasn’t as hard as waiting to get the test done. All I can figure is that I visited them on Lydia’s Birthday last year so the initial emotional response was already diffused. I’d had about enough for one day so that was a welcomed finding.

Surgery wait was a piece of cake, not borrowing from the past. Recovery was mostly the same but there was the moment when I sat in that “hospital recliner” with all the medical smells, holding my limp, moaning, head-cocked back Amelia. I involuntarily closed my eyes and she became Lydia. When I couldn’t take it any longer I opened them and grounded myself in the present and tended care for my here and now girl. Amelia ate up her Mama's presence and attention. Amazingly my touch even took some of the pain away, like my kisses still do for the boys. Indeed I was in the present. Those things didn’t calm Lydia.

When I asked Jason how the day was for him he said that he just hates being part of the impetus for his daughters’ pain. Tonsils and Adenoids consent took him back to hospice decisions. A conversation with a respected medical professional during the same week made me realize that their office’s “Lydia debrief” concluded that my care was to blame for the obstruction thus the outcome. I know without pause that spiritually and practically that isn’t true. But Jason waved at me from afar for a week while I waded through the charged internal processing of each what and why of my decisions. I halfway wished I was still in counseling somewhere but glad that a knowing friend was willing to field the call.

That’s it for “surgical impact” on the family but how is school going beyond the surface? Like with seeing the medical personnel, going to the new school has been emotionally easy every time since the first.

School starting up meant “Autobiography Projects” times three. Each kid had to choose what kind of pictures they wanted to represent their family. Lydia or not is a neutral question from me as I start printing things off but at least two of them understand the shock value she adds to their presentation. I asked Sophie how hers went and she said that she showed the family pic and explained that though there were five kids shown one of them is dead now and another died before they were born. But at least it makes her the oldest sister. At this point such attention-seeking conversations just make my eyes roll and we move on.

I assume its fatigue but Caleb’s evening tears since school has started are accompanied by descriptive proclamations of stomach aches. His tummy feels like: someone is fighting in there, cars are racing, he’s been bouncing on his head for hours, he’s been pricked by a thorn, and knives have cut it into a thousand pieces. Yes Caleb is our delicate poet.

Josiah is living a different two year old life. I am remembering to play the Letter Factory so he will actually go to 5k knowing his alphabet (unlike his brother who learned more about life and death last year). And Si’s my first to be pushed out of diapers, because I actually have an end in sight. September 17th marks eleven solid years, a lot of diapers.
A coworker stopped Jason to ask what it was that made the two of them able to not get riled up about the issues at hand. Was it their age? Jason nonchalantly answered, "My child died and relatively this stuff doesn’t matter. You probably have lost a parent." Shocked at the clarity, “Yes, I’ve lost both parents. I guess you are right.”

I love good questions and the chance to work them out together, with reflection, scripture and longing. I ran into an old friend of the family recently. She's one that would have gladly elaborated if I'd initiated beyond the standard "How are you?" Neither one if us was in a rush. There was no reason except my ineptness, yet I left knowing nothing about how her life and heart are fairing her historically hard course. I’m newly resolved to develop the skill of asking more thoughtful questions. At the supper table we started with simple round of:

"What was the best part of your day?"
Josiah: "I peed in the potty lots of times."
Jason: "Me too!"

Silly, dramatic boy throwing his head back and being in the moment! Grins come next.

Considering the age of my group I'll consider the resulting rounds of giggles that echoed as a sign of engaged conversation, a win. We'll keep at it.

What are the best questions you've been asked? Particularly among adults, I want to start asking them.

1 comment:

  1. Caption for Josiah's pic "Oh, what a relief it is!"