She jumps up onto the examining table. Her tiny arms and skinny long legs she hasn’t quite grown into are dangling through the paper gown that is four sizes too big for her. My son crawls onto my lap. I hold onto him, loving having him there. He seldom cuddles like this, but I know at this moment, he is trying to be brave, yet wants his mother to hug him and assure him that all is okay. Neither of them want to be here. Wellness checks are never fun for children, especially when shots may be included.
Both my children are being goofy to offset their nervousness. The doctor walks in with a smile, and they sit up a little straighter. My children have seen this doctor every year for the last six years. I am incredibly grateful that they seldom see her for anything other than their yearly wellness checks. They are seldom sick. I wonder if the doctor remembers us. I can see her checking her memory bank and trying to recall details about each child. There isn’t much to recall. A dog bite and a bicycle accident four or five years ago for my daughter, and thankfully my son hasn’t required stitches or had a concussion lately either.
I am struck by how big my children suddenly seem. They are no longer toddlers or small children. They can answer the doctor’s questions, so I stay quiet for the most part, simply watching them. I jump in to help them here or there but for the most part, the conversation is now between doctor and child. They blush when the doctor asks about their oral hygiene. I think I may have blushed as well.
They are growing right on target, and their eyes are perfect. I glance at the baby scale. I remember when they were babies, feeling overwhelmed trying to gather up 3 children to bring into the doctor, to get weighed and measured. The diaper bags, the toys and snacks to keep them occupied as we waited. Dreading the immunizations, yet feeling super proud, because my children barely fuss at the needle intrusion.
Where did the time go?
How did I enter into a new stage of life and I didn’t even realize it? Isn’t there supposed to be some sort of monumental moment that stops us? We should be given some sort of notice, shouldn’t we? My children are now 16, 11 and 9. I no longer have to haul around that bag full of items I may need at a moments’ notice. That phase is over.
Why didn’t anyone warn me that these life stages would go by and I wouldn’t realize it when they were happening? I am struck by the differences in life stages and how we transition into each and this makes me recall the day before.
The day before, Matthew and I had walked into the local non-profit hospice center. We had a meeting that would be held there. I really hadn’t thought much of it, until we parked. Suddenly we are outside this beautiful building, with flowers of various colors, and a brick wall with names engraved on glass…”In Loving Memory”
It is not easy to walk into a place like that. Regardless of how beautiful it is, the warm and inviting colors and engaging staff members who try their best to make you feel welcome, there is still the knowledge that this is a place where people come to die. These people are at the end of their life stage. I wonder if anyone told them this was coming before they got there?
I assume more people know as they get to a certain age it is coming. But what about those who are too young? What age is too young? Matthew is only 44 years old. He shouldn’t be at that stage yet. Maybe that’s why ALS is so unfair. It seems to happen to anyone, and there is no warning. There is no one to explain that they no longer get to experience all those life stages. They have been cut off, and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
We were given a tour, including how each room is designed with the family in mind. I see some gentlemen at the end of the hallway. Are they visiting a grandparent? Or is it a parent? God forbid it may be a child. They walk by, giving us a slight nod. I am sure they are just as curious of us as we are of them. I look over at Matthew, trying to gauge his reaction to this place. As usual, he shows nothing but polite curiosity.
I can’t help but wonder if everyone who walks into a Hospice facility feels it. Does the energy stay here, or is this all in my imagination? It is a quiet sadness that is permeating and ever present. We eventually end our tour and head to a quiet room to talk about future foundation goals and work. Thankfully, she directs us to the kids’ room. I’m not sure, but I think Matthew is just as thankful as I am at being in a room that is less about death. The board games, crayons and movies are cheerful. I sigh. This I can handle.
Our meeting is over and I load Matthew into the van. We both sit there quietly for just a second. Each lost in our own thoughts. I turn the key and back up, driving away. I look over at him and ask what he is thinking.
“I’m not supposed to be there yet.”
I give a half laugh. I agree.
It is not a new thought. I know the statistics are not in our favor and the chances of us being there sooner rather than later are higher than I want to admit to. We both agree that the place is a well-thought out, beautiful facility. It is filled with caring, gentle people who understand that that transition is just as important when a person leaves this earth as when they arrived.
So this brings me back to watching my children talk to the doctor about the safety of car seats and seatbelts. My daughter grimaces but puts on a brave face when the doctor tells her she is due for two more shots. She is at a new life stage. One of emerging independence, along with her siblings.
I am sad at how quick time continues to fly by for me. One minute, I am just like my daughter, trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up (Something I am still trying to figure out.) The next, I am a new mother, with babies and feeling pressure to be everything to everyone and to do this well. They seemed to always be in diapers, or crying or needing me for something. Now, they are less likely to be crying, but they need me less and less. I will soon be seeing my children leave home and begin their lives.
I am more aware of the gift of life than ever before. For that, I can be thankful. This experience with Matthew has taught me to be more mindful, to try to be more present. I don’t know at what age my stage of life will come to an end. The older I get, the more I hope that stage is still years away. I have so many more things I want to experience in this lifetime.
I wonder if Matthew feels cheated or robbed of these experiences? I do know that he seems content on most days and thankful for his memories as well as what he still gets. This lifetime isn’t over yet, and he continues to show me that he is living, regardless of what obstacles have been placed in front of him. He shows a grace and dignity at his journey that few his age would.
This is a reminder to me of how fragile life is. There are no guarantees, there are no assurances that we will all be given the chance to enter each life stage to its fullest. However, for those who’s lives have ended short, regardless of why, we should honor them by living each day to its fullest. Who knows when someone will be coming to visit us as we transition into our final stage.