September 16, 2017: Slow Climb

The story of September 16, 2017 is one of a breathtakingly fast upswing, as promised.

At 6:46 a.m., my phone buzzed with a text message from Matt: can u talk?

Matt hadn’t texted, emailed, or used his phone at all during his hospital stay. Even in the moments when he’d been conscious, he simply couldn’t use the device. When that text message arrived, I knew the day would be nothing like the day before. That text wasn’t simply a text. It was a confirmation that Matt was back. He wanted to talk, he could talk, and he was mentally present enough to send a text.

I read the text and knew the nightmare of the last few days was over.

Around 8 a.m., a friend texted to see how I was doing. I wrote back: I’m good. I think it’ll be a better day. We bottomed out before. Now I’m just nervous that I’m letting the kids go out into the woods.

The question becomes—why was I letting the kids go out into the woods?

The last few posts have been long, shattering the 500 word limit I’d tentatively placed on myself when I started this blog. And yet, I’ve barely introduced the topic of the annual father-child camping trip.

Every year, a few dads in town gather up their children, their tents and sleeping bags, and their s’mores supplies, and trek out into the woods for a day full of hiking and a night full of sleeping under the stars. The kids—G, H, and all the others who go—love this camping trip.

The planning for the trip started months earlier. In between appointments and MRIs and phone calls, Matt and I texted nonstop about supplies and camping equipment. We discussed timing and G’s and H’s excitement—they talked about this trip endlessly. But, as Matt’s cognitive state started to decline, the idea of sending him out into the woods with the kids became nerve-wracking. When his vision failed him, the idea seemed impossible. I recruited my brother-in-law (the family’s camping expert) to help out. Initially I’d worried Matt would be resistant to the idea—unhappy with the suggestion that he couldn’t care for his kids on his own—but he welcomed the help. And I was relieved. The kids could still go and I didn’t have to worry for Matt.

Then, the hemorrhage and the hospital stay. Matt couldn’t go. The kids couldn’t go.

Not lucky medically but always lucky to be surrounded by family and friends. Two friends offered to take G and H camping with their kids. It’s not easy to take kids camping. I imagine it’s particularly difficult to take kids who aren’t related to you camping. But these friends offered and I couldn’t bring myself to disappoint G and H. I packed them up, made them promise to behave, and sent them off into the woods with their friends.

Once the kids left, I went to the hospital to stay with Matt. He was—better. Not completely himself. Still impulsive—stubbornly so—but that blank, mean look in his eyes was gone. He smiled when I walked in and remembered that the kids were supposed to go camping. When I told him they’d gone with friends, he was disappointed he couldn’t take them, but glad they’d gone.

Around noon, the doctors started talking discharge again. This time, I didn’t balk, didn’t rush around to find a nursing service to help. Matt’s safety was still a concern—the physical therapists had examined him and his balance wasn’t great—but his mood and temperament had returned to a more normal range. He wasn’t angry and irrational. We were on an upswing—maybe not the top of the upswing—but on the way there and that was all that mattered.

We’d survived a razor edged rock bottom. We could survive a slow climb back to the top.

Yesterday in Post Hope, the kids left for the same camping trip with my brother-in-law. I packed them up, they made the same promises to behave, and I sent them off to the woods to be with their friends. A range of emotions crashed through me as I watched them drive off. Excited. They love this trip. Nervous. I’m worried for them, obviously. Will they behave? Will they make safe choices? I’m worried for my brother-in-law, who I hope won’t come back traumatized after sleeping in a tent with two kids out in the wild. But mostly, I’m in awe of G’s and H’s resilience. For two years in a row, G and H have chosen to try, rather than quit; they’ve chosen to go, rather than hide.

In this Post Hope year, when it’s so much easier to hide, they chose to not.

4 thoughts on “September 16, 2017: Slow Climb

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