The last week of that school year, I was standing in the grocery check-out, making my final purchase of health room supplies when I received a call from my younger sister. Our almost ninety-year-old mother was in the Emergency Room of our hometown hospital, being admitted for an acute illness. We’d never seen Mama so sick. Over the next weeks, she gradually pulled through after that initial hospitalization followed by a transfer to the medical center at UNC hospital.
By that point in mid-June, I was always exhausted from the school year and ready for our two-month summer break. Instead of finally being at home, I was sitting by my mother’s bed at UNC, watching her sleep. I’d stay all day then leave the hospital exhausted, saying to myself, “How can watching someone sleep be so tiring?”
I felt restless with having to be in the confinement of the hospital room when I was ready to be free for the summer, outside enjoying the June weather since I didn’t have to be in the tiny windowless box that was my school office.
In the midst of my frustration, it was as if the still small voice of God said, “Just be here right now. You don’t need to be anywhere else.” There is nothing more important than sitting by your mother’s bed, being that familiar face when she wakes from her confused sleep.
In prior situations when I was forced to be in a place I wanted to flee, I would use my familiar coping skill of daydreaming—zoning out. I would go some other place in my head if I couldn’t in my body. But somehow, this time I felt like I needed to be ‘here’ with not just my body, but also my mind. Be totally present.
I found myself praying through my struggle with how to do that. When my mind would start to slip away, I’d catch myself and bring my attention back into the room. I’d be more observant of how Mama slept– did she favor sleeping on one side more than the other? She often talked in her sleep and I tried to imagine who she was talking to in those medicated dreams, listening for her tone of voice, the mood she seemed to be in when she awoke.
Fortunately, Mama recovered from that long summer of illness. I’ve often thought about God’s instruction to just be present—to bring my whole self to the person in front of me—no matter the situation. It has occurred to me that sometimes, I want to escape because I feel responsible, especially as a nurse, for fixing the problem—whether it’s a physical illness or emotional upset.
And what if I can’t. What if no matter what I do, the problem remains.
I come back to Mama’s hospital room. My purpose being there wasn’t to fix the problem but to be with her through it; for her to know that she wasn’t alone. I wasn’t going anywhere, in my body or my mind. We were in it together.
Recently, I have felt that same tension of wanting to be with people who are dear, through their emotional pain, but also wanting to escape to a brighter place. I hear God’s voice to “Be Present Now” and know that it’s not up to me to fix things. What is up to me is to offer all of myself, at that moment, only choosing to be totally with them so they will realize they are not alone, that they have a familiar face to wake up to.
What about you?
Are there ways that you try to escape from being totally present with another person, especially in difficult situations?
How can you bring your total self to be present with that person?