When my son was in the hospital, my husband and I found every restaurant we liked within walking distance. We ate takeout food out of bags and drank sodas from the hospital refrigerator across the hall. I downed horrible cups of coffee from the hot drink machine and bought lattes from the hospital café.
Practical reasons kept us from going out to eat with our son at home. Restaurants, noisy and crowded, aggravated his seizures. Since he couldn’t swallow food, it seemed unfair to drag him to a place that smelled like the thing he couldn’t have.
But when we were in the hospital, we ate takeout and flipped TV channels as IV’s pumped fluid into my son’s arm.
“What do you want to eat?” Sam asked.
“That Thai Soup,” I’d say. “Extra spicy.”
This was a sorry excuse for a weekend night—a bag of restaurant takeout in a hospital room.
Months after we lost our son, my husband and I started going out again.
“What do you want to eat?” He asked, just like he did when we were in the hospital.
“I don’t know,” I’d say, trying to remember what I liked.
It had been too long.
We used to go out.
But like so many things we sacrificed for our son, our dates were one of them.
We began to go out regularly again, visiting restaurants all over the city.
The hole-in-the-wall Thai place with the spicy coconut milk chicken panang.
The Mexican joint with the chorizo tacos and Spanish commercials blaring from the TV on the wall.
The neighborhood soup and sandwich cafe that left our clothes smelling like a grill.
In conversations over crab rangoon and Vietnamese beef Pho, we discovered that even though we cared for our son well through his life, we had neglected our own relationship.
Time spent in hospitals and in doctor’s offices did not leave us time to love each other well. His disease consumed our days. His survival became our united goal.
While our life was on hold, friends and family’s lives continued without us. They threw parties, hosted baby showers, and gathered for BBQ’s while we sat in a hospital room eating lukewarm noodles from a plastic container.
This was a necessary survival technique in crisis, paring life down to just us, but one that left our relationships staggering. Friendships suffered, our phone stopped ringing, playdate invitations disappeared.
And while some relationships managed to make it through only slightly scarred, others did not.
Marriages are often strained by this cumulative neglect too. Some couples make it through, while others are too far gone to pick up the pieces and rebuild what might have been. Like a heap of rubble after an earthquake, it seems easier to start over than salvage the mess.
But we were the lucky ones. When we came through the nightmare, we found we were not alone. We rolled to the middle of the bed and held each other at night again.
Together we could survive this.
We carried the pain as one. We let grief unite us.
Over bowls of spiced tikka masala and steaming red pepper and gruyere soup, we finally talked about all the things we could not say before.
And when we finally acknowledged the neglect that happened over years of hospital visits, we knew what we needed to do.
Go back to the beginning.
Rebuild the connection.
Find in the rubble of our lives something beautiful again.
It begins with a bag of takeout food and a rediscovery of all the reasons why we fell in love in the first place.
About My Word for the Year:
My word of the year for 2016 is LOVE, inspired by this marriage book, which helped me learn to love my husband better and understand the attachments that shape our family bonds and the ways we love each other.
In 2013, I chose HOPE because my son had died. Though it was a devastating loss, I wanted to hang on to hope when everything else in my life was falling apart.
In 2014, I chose GRACE. I wanted to become more aware of how living out Christ’s grace in my life meant extending grace to others, while fostering a deeper understanding of Christ’s grace in my own life.
In 2015, my theme was JOY. I learned how to make time and space for joy in my life, instead of falling into negative patterns of thinking that zap joy.
In 2016, I’m exploring what it means to love my family and friends in deeper and more meaningful ways.