This week, I wanted to share something that is not so much about homeschooling, or about activities with your kids. Instead, I wanted to share something REAL from my life to encourage you – what I’ve learned about getting through tough times as a family. Something that takes the pressure off and lifts your heart.
It started with this article I read about not trying so darned hard to be super productive in this time. It was a breath of fresh air. A global pandemic is a new experience for all of us, and this brings with it certain features – emotions, thoughts, worries, fears, practical and financial implications, etc.
While I’m no expert in psychology or counseling, I have a story to tell that may help you somehow. Get yourself a cuppa and have a seat. You’re going to need it.
The day everything changed
About two years ago, my life changed dramatically. My husband collapsed. The man who looks like the very picture of health, full of muscle from doing physical steelwork every day, collapsed. At first, I didn’t think much of it. Then, things escalated. He looked pale. He was wearing a jersey, hugging a hot water bottle, covered with a duvet and lying down in front of a heater but he couldn’t get warm. He complained of pain in his abdomen.
At this time, my daughter was 4, about to turn 5 three weeks later. My son was only six months old, still nursing.
I began to think it might be his appendix and began to pack. My parents picked up my daughter for a sleepover. I got Shaun into the car and we drove to the hospital. Once he was taken through to the waiting area, I was obliged to leave since you’re not allowed to hang around with a little baby. It was about 11 pm. Shaun was sitting in a wheelchair, looking so miserable and I had to leave him. I remember looking at him through the glass doors and feeling very uneasy.
On the drive home, I thought to myself, well, if it’s his appendix, this will all be over by the time I see him again tomorrow afternoon. I put the baby to bed and went to sleep, praying and trying to reassure myself.
No simple answer
The next morning, I had to run some errands. When I was finished, I got a phone call from my dad, asking me to come over. He sat me down and said that it was not Shaun’s appendix that was the problem. He has a fistula that is causing heart failure and it’s complicated, and that he would be transferred to Tygerberg Hospital for further testing by the specialists there.
I breathed and nursed my baby.
You see, I had always thought that if anything were to happen to either one of us, it would be me. I have a small frame and it would’ve been more likely to be me. I was woefully unprepared in just about every way.
We’d been going through a tough time in our relationship and financially his business wasn’t doing well enough. All of a sudden, everything had come to a screeching halt.
The tough time gets a name
The vascular head surgeon explained his condition: Shaun has a fistula the size of a tennis ball (which is like a brain aneurysm but not in the brain, it’s in his abdomen) and this thing is surrounded by a spaghetti-load of veins that give it blood supply. It’s impossible to see on every scan possible how many of these veins also supply blood to the lower organs, so operation is out of the question due to the incredibly high risk of bleeding out.
He also has a natural cardiac shunt from left to right, meaning that the blood circulation in his body short circuits on one side. The shunt in combination with the fistula is causing heart failure. All of this is congenital – he was born with it. There are only four other recorded similar cases in the world, all of whom were operated on. Two died and two survived with organ malfunction.
All of this makes it impossible to determine his prognosis, but you’re welcome to take your own guess using common sense. They tried doing a glue embolization procedure where they injected neurosurgical glue into as many of the little veins as possible through little catheters. Thankfully, there were no complications. However, it only helped him feel better for about six weeks, then he deteriorated again.
Now, we finally had an explanation for his extreme fatigue at times, his eerie ability to fall asleep in the middle of chaos around him, the random vomiting and vertigo, etc. The doctors sent him home and told him to take it easy and not overexert himself, there was nothing more they could do for him.
Broken and desperate
In my heart, I was broken about far more than his diagnosis. We were not in a good place and if anything happened right then, I had no idea how I would live with it.
Financially, we were in a precarious position, both having worked on our own businesses but not making enough. There was a gap of three and a half months between his diagnosis and his procedure in September of 2018. I couldn’t rush out to grab a job. My family needed me and I had to wait and see how Shaun’s procedure would turn out and what would happen. I lived between my home and my parents’ home, holding down the fort through a difficult winter and taking care of everyone.
Here’s the good part
In the midst of this chaos where it felt like no one understood what either Shaun or I were going through, and where it felt like I had no idea what plans to make and whether I could do enough to help my family, God helped us.
We prayed a lot. We cried a lot. I had days where I was angry. Days where I was frustrated and just longed to escape the whole situation. My own tank of affection in the midst of a tough time ran dry so quickly, I was ashamed.
I looked at my children, made a list of our needs, prayed to God, and then did the hardest thing ever right then: I asked our support network for help.
God came through. People whom we didn’t know and had never done anything for showed up and blessed us. People donated funds, delivered food, and groceries, and it was amazing.
We continued to be able to pay our rent and bills, miraculously. One month, it was by recycling a huge amount of scrapped batteries and metal. Another month, someone blessed us. Another month, while I was in the middle of a very bad bout of bronchitis, someone I hadn’t seen in years (who has her own family of four living in a single room) filled my kitchen with groceries and left before I could protest. Every single month, it was different. Our mantra became, “Another month, another miracle.”
My daughter was getting a bit depressed at school and feeling excluded from what was happening daily and so my homeschooling journey also started along the way. Regardless of the tough days, she was so much better off for being part of it all and became happier and more resilient.
I learned a lot about humility, receiving, the love and faithfulness of God, the gift of children’s innocence, love and joy. I learned more about trusting when nothing makes any sense than I ever had before.
Nearly two years later
On 25 May this year, it will be two years since Shaun was diagnosed, which will be a miracle. It’s pretty obvious by now that no one had expected he would still be here. He no longer works, of course, but my children have the blessing of a father who is home, present with them as much as he is able and who still “looks” okay.
He has changed profoundly as a person. The challenge that it is for him to survive and get up every day, I cannot imagine. But I am grateful he is still here. He had an encounter with God that has given him the grace to bear the situation without constant anger and frustration. Somehow, he has found divine peace that makes no sense when you consider he basically feels like he is having a daily heart attack.
We are in a wildly different place as a couple and a family – there is more communication, patience, understanding, and forgiveness. We laugh a lot more, even about the things that have changed and become more difficult. We hug more and are grateful for each day, whatever happens.
I have changed and been strengthened to do more than I ever thought possible (whilst still having an occasional, very human, mommy-meltdown!). I started this blog and have met new people. I rebooted my copywriting business and also started an educational toy franchise – all of which I enjoy more than I expected!
No, everything is not easier, but we are better at dealing with it. There are days he spends the whole day resting, days where I wonder whether the next thing will happen right then. But all I can do is enjoy what we have in the moments we’re all okay, and be grateful.
What I’ve learned from the tough times in this story
Of course, what you’re reading here is a vastly shortened version of events. Lots happened in between. There are many incidents of incredible divine provision I could continue to describe here.
But the main points I want to share with you are:
- Yes, what we are all going through is hard. My hard and your hard won’t look the same or feel the same, but that’s okay. The point is no one is free of fighting fear and anxiety right now.
- It’s not normal to be cooped up and wondering what will happen to your family, your friends, your job, your community, town, country and the world as a whole.
- It’s not normal to be faced with a diagnosis that there seems to be no answer for except a miracle.
- It’s not normal to feel like you have to do everything yourself, make a hundred plans, and then change most of them tomorrow when new things happen.
- It IS normal to feel like screaming some days, and other days to just be utterly shocked at drastic change or loss, or even potential loss. It IS normal to have a wide range of emotions.
- But when things like this happen, it’s up to you to decide what you will think about it, what you will do with your (very valid) feelings, and what you will do next. You don’t have to do it all at once.
- You may ride a rollercoaster of crying, laughing, freaking out, stress-eating, obsessive working online or online surfing till the early hours of the morning, sleep crashing and planning. We’re all on this ride. Quit beating yourself up.
- The situation and all of the possibilities around it may be rushing through your mind like a freight train heading off the rails, screeching at you to do something. At the same time, you may feel completely helpless, paralyzed and overwhelmed.
- Yes, things like creating a routine help, coping tips help, you do what you can. But sometimes you’ll feel a need for MORE than that.
When you settle down
Eventually, you’ll adjust. One mom of five once told me one of her mottos: “Adjust or die!” (Hilarious and true, isn’t it?) You’ll make a cup of tea and do the laundry. Feed the children and put them to bed. You’ll clean your kitchen and do the next thing, whatever that may be.
You will also think about what you believe and why. You may rail and rant at God and ask why this is happening, and the next minute plead for an answer, some form of relief, or a miracle. I know I did.
In my heart, I KNOW that God has a plan in all things. I have hope. I have no shame in believing what I believe. I have seen what God has done for us throughout this time, how he has answered our prayers and carried us. I have learned to live day by day and accept that my plans can always change, whether I like it or not. It’s life.
I don’t know how things will look when the lock down is over. I can see that there are certain world events in motion and have a good idea where things are headed. It’s likely to not get easier.
With Shaun’s condition, things are also not likely to get easier, unless God intervenes (and of course we pray and trust for a miracle). If my partner should leave me, I know where he will be for eternity and I thank God that we’ve been restored to each other in the meantime. I also know and believe that resurrection is possible.
Where do you get real peace?
In the midst of the world’s craziness, I’m finding peace to endure this also. Not peace in my coffee cup, or frantic working or cleaning (yup, I try those too, now and then, I’m only human). Not denial-peace. Peace that surpasses understanding.
I get this peace in abundance when I settle down long enough to talk to God about everything on my mind. Peace that prompts me to think about what matters and accept that I’m not in control of everything. It almost feels strange. Some days I lose it a little, then I have to reset.
Other days, God gives it through the innocent laughter and enthusiasm for life my children display when they run around giggling and laughing like there’s nothing wrong with the world.
Peace, prayer, and practice
I don’t have all the answers to the crisis, but I know God does. I have not arrived. I stress-ate a bag of M&M’s just a few days ago! Some days, it’s a moment-by-moment or hour-by-hour prayer chat with God in my thoughts to stay sane.
Whether you are a believer or not, I hope that my story encourages you that you can get through hard times (regardless of your stay-in-bed days). We may well all be facing an unprecedented kind of hard time, but there are still people who will help each other, who will be kind, who will speak the truth, who will lift you up when you need it the most.
If you have found yourself starting to pray short and desperate little prayers under your breath about your job, loss of income, help with the children, with meals, and wondering how you will survive, know that God hears you.
It’s a practice you can continue. Draw closer.
Seek the Lord while He may be found. Pour your heart out to him. Place your family in God’s hands. It’s all you can do (besides continuing with your home tasks like laundry, cooking, and cleaning) and it’s important.
Take care of yourself. Hug your children. Find God in their faces when they tell you how much they love you, even on a bad day when you’ve maybe yelled at them. Find God at your dinner table when you eat together. Find God when you put away your phone at night and talk to Him as you would to a friend (even if you’re mad).
If you’ve read this whole post, I thank you for your time. If you’ve found it helpful and encouraging, let me know, I’d love to hear from you!
If you’re struggling, share your thoughts in the comments below and let’s encourage each other. Social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t connect!