When I arrive at the hospital, my Dad smiles and hands me two small pumpkins. After Ryan and I first got married, I got into the habit of making scratch pumpkin pies. I’ll roast the pumpkin, scoop out the filling, mix it together with milk, eggs, sugar, and spices, and pour it all into a graham cracker crust. I laugh nervously as I accept the pumpkins – an omen that after all of this, he and my mom will still come over for his favorite dessert. That he will be okay. That despite his diagnosis of a 90% blockage in his left anterior descending artery (a broken heart), he will be okay and somehow a cinnamon custard concoction would make this whole mess a little bit easier.
Earlier this year I listened to a psychologist speak about anxiety in children. She explained how when they are stressed or sad or angry, the brain’s limbic system kicks into overdrive. She compared it to a jar of glitter after it’s been shaken up. She held up her own jar – blue glitter swimming around like a tiny hurricane. Until the glitter settles, it’s nearly impossible for them to make a rational decision. My brain has been swimming around since my dad’s first visit to the hospital before Thanksgiving, but today, the glitter will finally settle. We give him a hug, and then we wait. Just as my son waits watching the glitter fall to the bottom of his jar after he loses it when a toddler wrecks his lego creation or water gets in his eyes in the shower. To him – real threats. To us, we know that legos can be rebuilt and water will not actually cause him to go blind.
But today, the threat is real. A quick google search of the diagnosis calls it the “widow maker” artery – because a blockage in the largest artery is often fatal. The cardiology floor waiting room television plays the Ellen show. I hold my mom’s hand. We listen to her stories of working in a factory decades ago. I get up to pee. My sister talks about her diet. My brother eats a clementine I brought along in case anyone got hungry. All the while, the glitter swirls around us – an invisible fog in the air. Finally a tall man in scrubs scans the waiting room. “Are you John’s family?” Then something about his procedure went well, and a blood thinning medication he’d be taking, and he’d get to go home. I take the first deep exhale since before Thanksgiving – suddenly allowing myself to sort through the feelings – like when my son sees the last speck of glitter falling slowly to the bottom of his jar, and he can verbalize why he felt such big feelings in the first place. I was scared. It didn’t feel fair. I didn’t want to lose something so special to me.
I hope this season finds you in a place of deep joy, but this doesn’t require us to deny our suffering. We simply have to embrace peace while we wade through it. Easier said than done. And harder still when we hang our hope on the outcome of a surgery, an election, or whatever else keeps us up at night. It’s why in the very humblest way, Jesus came lying in a manger. So today, we get to claim hope, not just because we got a positive answer to our most earnest prayers, but because we know our hope is grounded in something greater.
I clutch the bag of pumpkins as we make our way through the cardiac floor to the pod where my dad sits – still hooked up to monitors and IVs – scarfing down questionable looking hospital food. I think about how grateful I am for new life. I squeeze a packet of mustard onto a piece of cold sandwich bread for him. It’s not much, but I suppose it will tide him over until he can have some pie.