The thing about grief . . . Part 6
I hate chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes. I mean hate, hate, HATE, them. The reason for my extreme distaste is that meal was served to me over and over and over in the ICU following the bus crash. In the hospital’s defense, it wasn’t their fault. It was purely my own. In the aftermath of our darkest hour as we were dealing with one son’s death and the other son fighting to hang on, I didn’t even notice the menu that came each and every day for me to fill out. So for 8 days, every lunch and supper meal was chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes with chicken gravy. Yuck!
I really couldn’t even think about eating. (Again it wasn’t the chicken nuggets fault.) I just was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t even remember how to chew food. Southern to the core, I eventually called my dad at the hotel and asked if he could pick me up a jug of sweet tea. And so, it was that I existed mostly on ice and sweet tea for probably 8 days.
I remember was everyone hovering around asking me to eat, all knowing that I really needed to do so, but also realizing that under the circumstances I was doing okay. Oh, I got offers to leave the hospital or even to go down to the cafeteria, but everything I held precious was in that children’s wing in the ICU (including my sweet little girls). And I WASN’T leaving – even if it meant I was sentenced to a life of chicken nuggets and mashed potatoes.
The game changer came on a Saturday afternoon a few days following Sawyer’s discharge from ICU to the rehabilitation children’s wing. On that Saturday, friends who are teachers at our school came down for the day. While they were visiting with Sawyer, they asked him if there was anything they could get him. His response floored us all because he too hadn’t eaten much since Tuesday either. “Mr. and Mrs. (Teacher), do you really mean anything? If so, I would really love a foot-long chili dog from Sonic.” Without batting an eyelash, those sweet people drove across town to get my boy his request.
Their willingness (along with all the other sweet and kind things people did for us) helped me to be okay with finally saying yes to get out of the hospital for a few hours that same evening. My parents agreed to stay if we (Daniel and I) would go out to eat with my siblings and their significant others. We drove around from restaurant to restaurant seeing long lines. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t bear to watch people be happy and enjoy themselves. Finally after driving around for an hour, we ended up at Sonic (despite the frigid temperatures). We ordered, we listened to Christian radio, but mostly we sat in a vehicle with windows frosting over while we waited for the food to arrive. When it did, I really was ravenous, but I took one bite and broke down.
I cried over and over for a boy who would never eat cheeseburgers and drink limeade again. He wouldn’t enjoy those moments with his family, but more importantly we would NEVER enjoy them with him. I felt guilty for being there without him. I felt like I was cheating him. All I got down was that first bite.
When we returned home the first day, there packaged in the sweetest man I have ever met was a home-cooked meal. He came, donning his apron under his coat, with his bundle of delicious food. He didn’t want to stay because he knew the funeral director was coming any moment. Yet what he brought was so much more than a meal, he helped bring us HOME to where the memories we held most dear lived – not mention many of the people who loved us as well. His tenderly prepared meal gave us HOPE.
It was at that moment that I realized that even though I wouldn’t be sharing any more meals with Reed – I would be sharing meals for the rest of my life with people who carried him in their hearts. While I ate here on earth, Reed was probably enjoying the best cheeseburgers (ketchup only) that Heaven had to offer. With that thought in mind, how sweet was that first bite.