We pick up my journal on Thursday afternoon, the day after my heart attack. The ripple of communication about my Montreal surprise is just beginning to widen.
“I didn’t have much of an appetite and hadn’t eaten since breakfast on Wednesday. For lunch, I ate some fruit, a small salad and a cracker. I couldn’t eat the spaghetti, although it looked good.
Curt was finally able to reach Jenny by phone after school on Thursday. She quickly called me back on the hospital phone in my room. We talked for several minutes and were both in shock. And we were both encouraged that my voice sounded strong and healthy. Pretty normal. I told her what had happened and we talked about how we would tell the boys and my siblings. She would call the boys and our daughter-in-law and invite them to call me. I would send an email to my two brothers and sister. I also sent an email to the elders and pastors at my church and a few other friends.
I suppose it was no surprise that everyone was shocked by the news. Since I was hundreds of miles away, we had made the decision to underplay the significance or the severity of the heart attack for a few days by not going into a lot of detail. And since I was sounding pretty good on the phone – I guess I still had some adrenaline in my system – it was easy to pull off. But, the medical staff and Curt would remind me of the reality of my situation from time to time to keep my feet on the ground. I could not deny the reality that my heart had been weakened and damaged. I didn’t know what that would mean, but I knew that things were going to be different.
I was taking a large potassium pill and a water pill due to some extra fluid that was still in my lungs. Early on, I would simply take whatever pill the nurse was offering me. I was trusting that all of the bases were being covered. I had a bit of a fever, too, and the Tylenol seemed to take care of that. That was my only option for fever or pain.
Curt was interested in talking about when Jenny would be flying to Montreal. I was more concerned with protecting her during her busy season at school and not wanting to make plans until we knew my status and how long I might be staying in the hospital. There was a thought floating around that I might have to stay in Montreal for two weeks before flying home. Making international travel plans required a bit more planning than we had data for at that point.
At some point Thursday evening, I talked to our oldest son Jameson. He was totally shocked, as was his wife Bethany who was listening in the background when Jenny had called Jameson. Bethany said that she knew they couldn’t be talking about me and must be talking about someone else who had heart problems. It was good to talk with them. It was Friday when I talked with Justin, our middle son, who had been called by Jenny the night before during rehearsals of a new show that was about to open. Justin said that he had been too emotionally spent from his day and my news to call on Thursday. I know the feeling. Jed would call later in the weekend and in his unique style started off by saying something to the effect of, “So, you had a little surprise up there in Montreal.”
As messages began to come back from friends and family, it is restorative and nourishing one’s soul to hear folks say that they are glad and thankful that you are alive. And for them to be thanking God that you are alive.
For a couple of years, I have been using a birthday greeting that I learned from Henri Nouwen. It is in his “daybook” called “Bread for the Journey” on the reading for February 13. Here it is:
Celebrating Being Alive
Birthdays are so important. On our birthdays we celebrate being alive. On our birthdays people can say to us, “Thank you for being!” Birthday presents are signs of our families’ and friends’ joy that we are part of their lives. Little children often look forward to their birthdays for months. Their birthdays are their big days, when they are the center of attention and all their friends come to celebrate.
We should never forget our birthdays or the birthdays of those who are close to us. Birthdays keep us childlike. They remind us that what is important is not what we do or accomplish, not what we have or who we know, but that we are, here and now. On birthdays let us be grateful for the gift of life.’
It is a powerful and profound message that truly says what we feel, but are often afraid to say. Coming near to death gives us an invitation to express how we really feel about someone. A birthday can do that as well.
Curt, also, shared with me that night some of his and Nathan’s conversation from Wednesday evening while I was in surgery. They discussed ways that this heart attack might change my life and how things would be different. They observed that I was a good man and that I really “got” the mission and vision of L’Arche. Good words to hear.
I slept well that night.”