Hand Squeeze


At this moment, I am sitting in our sunroom listening to the sounds of the furnace kicking in and noting my dog that is whining because Don is not here today. Not prolonged whining but one big sigh. I have a full stomach (oatmeal with toppings) and coffee with Hazelnut Sugar-Free CoffeeMate.


I am struggling to not move my mind too far forward or hold on to yesterday’s concern and fatigue waiting for Don to come out of triple bypass surgery. And then there’s the grocery list I have to reorder to make it easier for my friend, who asked what she could do for me and was willing to tackle this odious task, to find the items on the list.


Then, sometime this morning I have to give the dog a bath because sometime between dropping him off for boarding and then picking him up, he or some other dog peed in his bed and then he slept in it--not just a little spot but a saturated, spreading half-absorbed puddle. I put the foam innards into the washing machine last night, silently praying that I wouldn’t be left with a shredded mess when I opened the washing machine door this morning. (I wasn’t, and I was delighted.)


Later in the morning, I need to call the hospital to find out when I can visit (for one hour). Yes, yesterday, Nurse Nazi was keeping time and almost had me extracted from the room before Don was extubated. I pleaded with his hands-on nurses, and they allowed me to stay an extra 45 minutes so that I could hear his first words to me after surgery, “I love you.”


You see where the mind goes? If I allowed it free range (sort of like chickens), I could never taste the sweet mellow coffee I made this morning. I would miss the full tummy and the gratitude I feel to God for giving me plenty to eat. The furnace noise would be relegated to the background and never even noticed, taking away the opportunity to also feel grateful for a warm house and bed--something I did nothing to deserve.


Yesterday (yes, I do have to go back there to make a point), when I was allowed into Don’s ICU room, I took note of all of the machines and tubes, the ventilator, etc, but my main focus was on my husband’s face. When I pulled up a chair to the bedside, I paid extreme attention to his every move. I inwardly cheered when his eyes opened for the first time. I became concerned when he tried to move his arms only to discover that they were restrained (common practice). I touched his face and his hands and attempted to pull his blanket up closer to his neck because his shoulders were cold. I continued to be laser-focused on everything about him.


As he moved into consciousness, I read his eyes and felt the squeeze of his hand--the three squeezes that are a silent language between us and have been since we met over 53 years ago.


After I had been with him for awhile, I told the nurses that I am a chaplain and that all of the machines didn’t bother me one bit because I knew he was getting what he needed. One of them, Sam, remarked, “We wondered how you could be so calm. That’s pretty unusual.” I shared about the peace of God and the prayers that were being said on his behalf.


When Don’s surgeon came by to see him, we stepped out into the hallway for a conversation. It was then that I shared with him what I did for a living. Our conversation changed into a smooth and invigorating camaraderie. We talked about focusing on the task at hand and keeping emotions at a distance. There would be time to feel later. You could say that my peacefulness had more to do with my training than anything else, but I know better. Dr. S and I built a nice bond before he had to move on.


I was so focused in the moment in his room that everything else fell away. I could sense being in a cushion of care and love. Peace was the predominant feeling in the moment.


I thought I would fall apart when I got home, but I did not. I shed a few tears when I prayed for him before I went to sleep. When I awoke at 1:30 am, I thought it was time to get up. I felt so rested but then realized it wasn’t time to get up at all, so I took the opportunity to pray once again. And fell asleep once more.


This morning, during breakfast, I read an article from a writer that I subscribe to: David at Raptitude. His article was what inspired me to think about the concept he presented.


The general rule seems to be this: the more abstract we make an event – that is, the more we see it in terms of its meaning to the mind, rather than how it feels to the senses – the greater the psychological pain that is created. The more we can zoom into the direct experience, and refrain from engaging with the story around it, the less of a pain in the ass it is.


He was referring to cleaning the tiles in his bathroom and how important for him it was to focus on cleaning one at a time instead of looking at the entire room. He actually came away enjoying the task. (I know, hard to imagine, right?)


All of this is to say, and you’ve heard it a million times, be in the moment. Focus on what is, not what was or will be. Don’t waste your energy. As I Peter 1:24-25 says:


All human beings are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.


I sit in my sunroom watching the sun break through the trees, the horizon fading from a dark pink to a shimmering pastel pink. The plant on my breakfast table has grown enormously over the past year, its branches vibrating with my typing. The dog is silent and comforted by my presence. There is a slight sprinkling of snow on the ground that reminds me of powdered sugar. I breathe deeply and immerse myself in the beauty of this moment.