I had spent all night standing over Jim’s bed as he lay in the ICU Wailuku Hawaii, hovering between life and death. There was chaos in my brain, chaos on the unit floor as streams of doctors and specialists came in and out of Jim’s room trying desperately to make an accurate diagnosis in order to decide the next steps. My next step was crystal clear to me, but I seemed to be frozen, unable to carry out the logical next step: talk to the kids.
That was pretty much my entire list. Sounds easy right? But how does one do that? It certainly wasn’t in my version of: “What to expect when you’re expecting” book or “How to Listen so kids will talk and Talk so kids will Listen”, or any other parenting book for that matter. Where does one turn to for help when life falls apart? Where is the book titled: “10 easy steps to know what to say to your kids when life goes to hell”
I was at a complete loss, but I knew it had to be done.
I called them one by one. With tears streaming down my face uncontrollably, my hands shaking, and my mind seared by pain. Strangely, I took my strength from Jim. I looked over at him. He was hooked up to every possible piece of machinery and monitors. He was completely motionless except for his chest rising and falling in sync with the ventilator as each breath was delivered to his body. As I continued to scan the rest of his body, I caught his eyes. They were shining with love as always and as beautiful as the day I met him. I looked into his eyes, he looked at me and then…*BLINK*…. a very slow, deliberate blink.
I looked again and once more…*BLINK*. If it’s even possible to blink in slow motion, Jim was doing it. It’s like he was saying to me “ I know it’s hard, but you have to do this, you can do this”.
I don’t remember all of my conversations with our kids that day as only threads remain scattered here and there in my brain. But it is the words I exchanged with our son Joseph that will remain etched in my soul forever. Joseph wanted to leave RMC (Royal Military College) immediately and come to Hawaii. Along with all of us, he was afraid that Jim— his Dad— would die and he would never see him again. I still cannot imagine the pain that this would create in a young adult’s heart. I only knew what it was doing to mine. I was at loss as to what to say until once again I looked into Jim’s eyes and as if by magic the words were there.
Me: “If your dad could speak, he would say two things.”
Me: “The first is how much he loves you and how incredibly proud he is of all of you”
Me: “The second is that if you were to ask him what you could do for him right now, he would say: “Excel”
Me: “Stay at RMC and excel so you can live a full life and make this world a better place”
After that final blink of Jim’s eyes, there was a long pause in my conversation with Joseph. This request, this living will so to speak was so overwhelming in its emotional significance that it required, no, demanded processing time.
“Only you can decide whether this is the right thing for you to do. If it’s not, say so and we will work on you coming over”
It wasn’t long before Joseph spoke again.
“Ok mom, ok”
Joseph not only kept his promise to his dad but surpassed all expectations by coming in as the top student in his program of Aeronautical Engineering at Royal Military College.
It was six weeks before he saw his father again at Vancouver General Hospital.
If you enjoyed this story, you might want to read Going to Hawaii which tells Dan's story of travelling to Hawaii to help Isabelle and Jim while he was in ICU there.