There’s nothing quite like watching your chid struggling to breathe to put a little perspective in your life. I thought I had this perspective – a big part of wrting If I Should Lose You was me as a mother trying to come to grips with the terrible idea that children can be lost, that catastrophic things can happen and that even though you try to manage everything so that your children are always happy and healthy, there are some things completely beyond your control.
I was lucky. My daughter had pneumonia, complicated by underlying asthma, but with antibiotics, increased asthma meds, rest and love she’s recovered. But there were many moments at the hospital when I found myself catastrophising. When the doctors said pneumonia, I immediately thought of the sheep manure we’d put on the garden the weekend before while the kids were playing outside and helping us plant flowers. Could it be Legionnaire’s? Could I have done something to contribute to my daughter’s illness? What if she got worse after they let us go home, and what if it was at midnight in her bed while she was asleep and I didn’t know she was struggling to breathe again?
Then I learned that, one hour before we arrived at the hospital, another child, a three year old, had died of a chest infection. This child had cancer and because of the cancer treatment, had no immune system left to fight a chest infection. Unlike my lucky, healthy child who could. My catastrophising seemed suddenly selfish, a waste of time and energy that could have been spent doing something lovely and productive, like having my mind one hundred percent with my child in the room, rather than partly absent and fretting over things that didn’t happen.
A couple of days later I ran into a friend whose three year old child had had a liver transplant when she was a baby. I asked how the little girl had been and her mum said, ‘Great. Except for one scare.’ The scare turned out to be a tumour in the girl’s leg. She has to take immune-suppressing drugs to ensure her body continues to accept the new liver. This puts her at increased risk of cancer. So her mother had to sit and watch as her child had an MRI and then a CT scan, worrying the whole time that the tumour would prove to be cancerous, and then having to endure treatment for that, on top of already having to go thorugh the long and extremely difficult path of finding a donor liver for her child. What a relief that the tumour was deemed to be benign. But the risks of operating outweigh the risks of leaving the tumour there. So now it’s a constant reminder to this family of all the potential catastrophes the child might face. Unlike my lucky child whose cough and wheeze have gone, leaving no real trace of her ever being sick. A one-off scare, as opposed to a lifetime of real fear.
Children are so robust yet life can suddenly, inexplicably be so fragile. There is so much to worry about. But hearing about these other families made me see that my worries are wasteful – I have nothing to worry about and everything to be thankful for.
Then I went to yoga and my yoga teacher talked about our potential to resolutely abide in the peaceful space. Maybe that sounds strange but I really connected to it. Because what she meant by resolutely abiding was to be consciously present, mindfully focussed on the actual moment I am living. Not thinking ahead to what might happen (but probably won’t) or thinking back to what has been. And finding a peaceful space in whatever I am doing. Treasuring the precious moments alone I had with my sick child – we so rarely spend time together, just the two of us, yet we had hours together in the hospital to read and chat and tell stories.
I get cross and cranky sometimes with my kids when they take half an hour to get dressed in the morning instead of ten minutes, when they don’t listen and I have to repeat myself five times, when they all decide they want to play with the same toy at the same time even though we have dozens of toys. But that’s all about worry again, worrying that we might be late for school so I get cross now, in the present moment. Yet does anyone ever look back on their life and regret that their kids took longer to get dressed than some hypothetical ideal? I doubt it. But I might regret not resolutely abiding in each and every moment with my children, not finding the joy and the peace in what they do. Not appreciating the fact that I am lucky enough not to have a child with a tumour in her leg which sits there like a real and physical manifestation of all the terrible things that can happen. Instead, our family is blessed with wonderful possibilities that I can try to make the most of.
So I learned a big and real lesson this week. I don’t expect that I’m going to be a pefectly changed mother as a result of seeing what other families endure. But I will hopefully spend less time checking my emails on my phone when one of the kids is asking me a question, less time trying to prevent fights about toys that haven’t yet occurred and more time enjoying every now that my children and I are able to spend together.