Today, it would be an Instagram moment, a crisp square photo with a #nofilter hashtag. A snapshot shared with the world to underscore the emotion of the day.
Instead, it was a private moment in a hospital bathroom more than 15 years ago, a time before smart phones and Twitter and Snapchat and Facebook allowed us to document the mundane and the momentous. Still, I knew the image would remain with me for the rest of my life.
On a small, thin metal shelf above the sink was a prescription label on a little carton, imprinted with words that nearly shouted at me: “Start Date: 8/11/1998…End Date: None.” That was the reality of the situation. This hospital stay was not about recovering, it was about readjusting.
Just a few feet away, in his hospital bed, my 9-year-old son alternately played with Legos, watched TV and slept. He also tolerated the pokes and prods and monitoring and IV drips and injections as hospital staff sought to bring down his blood sugar that had reached a count of 400 mg/dL by the time he was admitted. Just a day earlier, I had taken him to the doctor assuming he had an infection, and left the office having learned he had juvenile diabetes.
On that day, his life had a before and an after.
Today, my husband and are divorcing. Right now, it’s an elongated, overwhelming, emotional phase that feels never-ending. As a matter of fact, it’s sometimes hard to even define its beginnings. I am sure he and I can each determine our personal “snapshot” moment that hailed the end of the marriage. But right down to the label on the bottle of wine we shared, my mind easily recreates the evening he said, “I can’t do this anymore.”
My own life is now marked by before and after.
The gravity of that truth is sometimes crushing. Gone are the vacation plans, the career plans, the remodeling ideas. We won’t be snuggling together with grandchildren or beam at each other hand in hand during our children’s weddings. Nearly all of our friendships and many of our family relationships have been drastically altered. The security of growing old together has been replaced by the uncertainty of starting over. The things hoped for and enjoyed in the time before will not exist in the time after.
All those years ago, son and I spent three days at the hospital, monitoring his blood sugar, meeting with doctors and dietitians and learning how to calibrate insulin dosages based on carbohydrate and activity level. And though he was only 9, he insisted that he would be the one to inject each dose into the soft skin near his belly button, his upper arm or his thigh. In short time, he also learned how to draw two different types of insulin into a thin little syringe according to dosage.
In a similar way, my life has paused a bit while I practice that same kind of intentional readjustment. I have a new home, a new city, a new job and new relationships. I deeply grieve the loss of my marriage. I am experiencing new adventures and reclaiming old activities. I make bold decisions and sometimes miss the mark, and occasionally make no decisions because I am overwhelmed by the risk. My hopes and dreams scamper relentlessly from one idea to the next.
Some days, it seems like a tremendous amount of work and I long for the easy days of “before.”
Back in August of 1998, an amazing nurse, with a kind face and blue eyes and long white hair pulled into a bun, gave us a quiet bit of advice while were waiting for dismissal paperwork. “Look at it this way,” she said. “You are just like a car, only you used to be an automatic and now you have a manual transmission.”
I could use her advice today. Even though I feel irreparably changed by my situation, I need to remember that my substance, my soul, my being, remains. Life is going to take greater effort than it did before, but I am still me. Even after.