Had everything gone according to our plans, we would have been strolling the white sugar sand beaches of the Florida Gulf Coast now. Instead, we’re buried in almost a foot of snow with temperatures in the teens, a rare occurrence in our hometown in southern Oregon.
But here we are. At just one month after Eric’s unexpected surgery, we’re emerging, somewhat battered and fragile, into the light. Neither of us is sleeping through the night. He awakens often, his entire being thrown off by the invasive and life saving surgery he endured. I awaken often, a habit of hypervigilance instilled during the 10 days of his hospital stay when I checked on him every hour or two, making sure that he was still present and accounted for. It was an otherworldly experience for both of us, a journey to a foreign land that we never expected to visit.
We’re relieved for our return to a somewhat normal life. And yet, we’re still far from normal. We go for our daily walks, slower than our usual pace, and only on level ground. Three weeks ago, when I accompanied Eric on his first halting walk through the hospital corridor, I could barely reconcile the man hunched over a walker; shuffling along at a snail’s pace, with the man I know who hikes 10 miles or bikes 30 miles with no discernible effort.
But today, I recognize him. We walk at a reasonably brisk pace around the lake, through the snow, for 40 minutes. It is nothing short of a miracle what the body can endure and recover from.
As much as we love our hometown, we would never have planned to spend the winter in our trailer here. There are many things that are challenging about wintering in an RV. It’s a total pain in the butt to be filling the propane tanks every week—they’re heavy and awkward. And we can’t hook up to water because the hoses will freeze, so we have to keep filling the fresh water tank and using the water pump. Most of the tasks of daily living are falling to me right now.
In our normal life, pre-apocalypse, Eric did the outside stuff on the trailer, and I took care of the inside stuff. In our usual sharing of duties, I plan the meals and shopping lists, he does most of the errands, and we share cooking and clean up. I plan our travels; he drives. But right now, while he’s healing, I’ve been doing most everything.
I want to do this; I want to care for him. And there are times that it feels hard. It’s hard for him, too. I know that it won’t be forever, that he will get better, and that we’ll return to our normal active lives. But I’ve arrived at one of those life-changing moments, the realization that there will come a time—hopefully many years down the road—when something will happen and it won’t get better. Maybe it will be him; maybe it will be me. It’s sobering to think about, either way.
It’s like that for my mom and dad now. My mom is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and where they once shared equally and happily in the tasks of life, my dad, at age 88, has taken over responsibility for every aspect of their lives. He does it with remarkable grace and acceptance. I’m watching him and learning. It’s not a bad thing, this awareness. It brings life even more sharply into focus, and helps me keep my priorities straight.
There are many gifts now, even in the challenging moments. Last night after a marathon grocery shopping expedition, followed by hauling in the groceries and five gallons of water (through the deep snow, mind you), reorganizing the refrigerator, and putting away the groceries, I took out the compost. As I slogged through the snow in the dark to the compost bin, the sparkling diamonds in the pure white snow illuminated by my headlamp mesmerized me. That made me happy. When I can see and appreciate the diamonds in the snow on the way to the compost bin, I don’t miss the white sugar sand beaches of the Gulf Coast at all.