I wasn’t sure why I took the trail mix. I’m sure the recipe for it came from one of those cooking shows on TV and I had been making it all spring for my husband and me, the empty-nesters. The trail mix sat on the kitchen island in a plastic container saved from some fast food restaurant.
Our youngest was in college, the middle one in graduate school, and our son, the oldest, was working in Knoxville for a website that covered the University of Tennessee sports.
That April my oldest sister had a small stroke that placed her in rehab and on May 5 (Cinco de Mayo) my husband and I went to visit her. It was a Thursday. As we were leaving the building my phone rang with my son on the other end. He had planned to come home that weekend for a small high school reunion and we could celebrate Mother’s Day a week early. He just wanted to call and let us know he was on his way a day sooner than expected but would be getting in late. I was thrilled to have an extra day to visit and as we stepped into the elevator to leave I gave the mom standard, “Love you and be careful.”
Sometimes as a mom you will say cliche phrases to your children because no words exist on this earth powerful enough to express your love for them.
Little did I know that thirty-three days later I would board that same elevator to visit him in rehab.
The call came around 10:30 p.m. on my husband’s cellphone. Because of his job, Andy is an early riser while, on the other hand, I am a confessed night owl. The call woke him from a deep sleep and as I listened from the other room wondering who was calling this late on a Thursday night, I heard him say, “What hospital?”
My heart sank.
By the time I made it to the bedroom he had hung up the phone and, still groggy and in a little shock, he managed to say, “Cory’s been in a car accident.” After a more coherent follow-up call back to the hospital, we gathered some details. The wreck occurred in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. My son was hit by someone traveling in the wrong direction on the highway, no headlights, a drunk driver. As for my son, the trauma room nurse told us he was “pretty banged up” but okay. We would learn later that to a trauma room nurse “okay” just meant not dead.
As Andy took a quick shower to wake up and prepare for the four hour drive in the middle of the night, I sat on the edge of my bed with my head in my hands, rocking, crying, praying.
Sometimes as a mom you will feel a visceral pain deep in your soul because your child is hurting.
We dressed and packed a change of clothes not knowing at that moment we had underestimated our needs by thirty-two days. It was in the moment of walking out of the front door that I grabbed the container of trail mix. Thus began the four hour drive to a hospital we had never been to in a town I’m sure I have only driven through.
I remember the quietness of the night and of the atmosphere in the truck.
Both of us silently praying with glances back and forth as if to say, “Is this real?” Another phone call halfway there from the same trauma nurse delivered to us more information. Encouragement for our weary hearts. We could hear Cory talking in the background telling the nurse our names again and from where we were driving. It appeared that no obvious broken bones were detected and no head trauma. My heart, before this information, felt like a deflated balloon but just hearing Cory’s voice and the news that he was not paralyzed and did not have traumatic brain injury, buoyed my spirits beyond belief. My husband and I began talking more. Words of comfort and faith. We prayed out loud, we held hands, we even smiled.
Sometimes as a mom you need to lean on the strength of others because when you are looking down at the terrain of the valley, someone needs to keep his eyes on the mountain top.
The next month took us through those hills and valleys on what seemed like a daily basis. While still in the emergency room, Cory received numerous stitches on his chin where his now missing front tooth must have caused a tear. No obvious broken bones turned into fractures in his left wrist and ankle calling for surgery to insert titanium rods. He was not allowed to eat or drink as the doctors monitored his vitals along with his ever swelling stomach. PICC line inserted, NG tube, multiple CT scans that proved inconclusive because he couldn’t keep the contrast down. At one point they decided to put drains in his stomach. My husband had gone back home to gather more clothes and necessities for us as we now understood we would be there for a while. Walking alongside his bed as the transport crew moved him to the surgical floor, I felt like I was in foreign territory.
This was new to me, new to him, and our nervousness was visible. I sat in a small waiting area and was told it would not take long. The drains were necessary to relieve the fluid. I couldn’t say how long I sat there by myself, feeling I needed to exhibit the strength for both of his parents. Finally I was called back to stay with him in the recovery area that was tented by two curtains blocking out the other patients. He was woozy, eyes half open, slurring words, but when I put my hand on the side of the bed by his hand, he reached out. And there we were – a mother and her son, holding hands.
Sometimes as a mom it will be necessary to be still, be quiet, and just be there.
About a week into this ordeal the doctors figured out that Cory’s small intestine was perforated and his large intestine was extremely bruised and swollen from seatbelt trauma. Surgery was needed. When? Right now. The surgery required removing six inches of his small intestine and a temporary colostomy to allow for the large intestine to heal. A follow-up surgery three days later would be required to completely cleanse his insides from sepsis. In all it was seventeen days of ICU care. Days of struggles to breathe, to sit up, to sleep, to control pain. Days of praises for juice, for nurses, for a bath, for family and friends. Knowing this was a time where he was at his weakest, my energy and faith had to be at its strongest.
Sometimes as a mom you will have to dig down deep and bring forth the most powerful version of yourself so that your children can find rest in your strength.
The end of this part of the journey came when we were able to transfer to our rehab facility back home. By now he was sporting a wound vac on the incision from his surgeries, a colostomy bag that we all had to learn to take care of, an orthopedic boot for his foot, and a walker modified for his arm cast. Our time in Tuscaloosa was over, and now we were going home. Waves of relief along with fear rolled through me. We had become comfortable with our situation, with the doctors and nurses, with the routine of it all. Yet home was, well, home. It was family and friends and familiar. I had arrived in my husband’s truck with a purse, a change of clothes, and trail mix. Leaving, my car was filled with medical equipment, suitcases, balloons from well-wishers, and a now empty container because at some point the trail mix was consumed by someone, a visitor, a family member, maybe even a nurse. I had to smile when I noticed. Why did I bring it in the first place? It’s a mom thing, I guess. I’m from the south and food is the ultimate comforter. Funerals, family gatherings, road-trips – all require nourishment. I knew that night when I left home I would not eat that trail mix, but I needed to be prepared in case someone needed to nosh.
Sometimes as a mom our instincts will kick in and we will do something that is difficult to explain to anyone that is not a mom.
Something like bringing trail mix to an emergency room. Sometimes as a mom we just want to offer love, and sometimes as a mom we know that our love can manifest in many forms – patience, kindness, protectiveness, hopefulness, selflessness, persistence, forgiveness.
The thing is, we are NEVER a “sometimes” mom – it is an ALWAYS and FOREVER blessing from God.