100: Solidarity

100: Solidarity

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles and More

Solidarity

Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.

~Anthony J. D’Angelo

I had already dubbed it the “Worst Week Ever,” and it was only Tuesday. My almost two-year-old had a nasty case of croup. He sounded more like a barking puppy than a toddler; a doctor’s appointment was necessary. I called out of work (again) and mentally prepared myself for a solo trip to the pediatrician and the subsequent tantrums in the waiting room.

As we were en route, speeding down a busy highway to make our appointment on time — or at least get there a respectable five minutes late — I heard a faint gurgling sound coming from the back seat. My son was still rear facing in his car seat, so I called out his name. He didn’t answer. I called his name again, and all I heard was a distinct choking noise.

I screeched over onto the shoulder of the road, got out and ran to his side of the car. In the short seconds it took me to reach him, I prayed. Little did I know how much harder I would have to pray by the end of that week.

Thankfully, my son was not choking. But he was vomiting. Everywhere.

He was covered in large chunks of curdled milk, Puffs, and barely digested chicken nuggets. The smell was enough to make me dry heave. There was vomit in his hair, vomit caked in the straps and buckle of his car seat, vomit on his stuffed Elmo, and vomit on the dry cleaning I had picked up a few days earlier but had never bothered to bring in the house. It was a disaster.

Carefully, I took him out of his seat and stripped off his clothes on the side of the road. That’s when she appeared. Seemingly out of nowhere, a concerned woman wearing nurse’s scrubs was standing beside me, asking if my son was okay. I looked behind me and noticed that she had pulled her SUV right up behind my car.

“He’s okay. The poor thing has croup, and we are actually on our way to see his doctor. I just need to get him cleaned up. Oh, God. And his car seat. I need to clean that, too.” I was babbling.

“Been there,” she said with a smile. “Do you have an extra set of clothes for him?”

I nodded.

“Why don’t you take him to my car and get him changed? I’ll take care of the car seat for you.”

Tears welled in my eyes. In that moment, I was so overwhelmed with motherhood. A sick baby. A pile of work that I continued to neglect at my corporate job because of said sick baby. A back seat covered in vomit. And here was this woman, this complete stranger, taking away some of that burden.

I protested half-heartedly, “You really don’t have to do that. His car seat is disgusting.”

“Oh, it’s nothing. I have little ones. And I’m an ER nurse. I’m practically immune to puke.”

“You’re a mom?” I asked.

“Sure am,” she said. “Us moms gotta stick together.”

* * *

Five days later I was strolling through Trader Joe’s, blissfully alone. My husband had offered to take my son for the morning and give me a break — if one considers a kid-free grocery shopping trip a break. I do; I might as well have been in the Bahamas.

I purposely left my phone in the car so I could float through the aisles and not be distracted by social media posts from lucky people who were actually in the Bahamas.

I had only been gone about forty-five minutes, but when I got back to my car, I had seven missed calls from my husband, a dozen more missed calls from my mom and an ominous text from my dad: Emergency. Call when you can.

Something was very, very wrong.

I called my husband, and I knew by the tone of his voice that something tragic had happened. He didn’t want to be the one to tell me. He pleaded with me to call my mom. After he reassured me repeatedly that our son was okay, he delivered the most horrifying and unexpected news I have ever received — my sister’s husband, my beloved brother-in-law, had dropped dead of a heart attack. He was thirty-nine.

I had just seen him two days earlier when I stopped by their house for a visit. He was having a dance party with his kids in the living room. My sister and I had stood in the kitchen, sipping our iced coffees and gossiping. I was there to help her pack for a long-awaited trip. Eventually, we joined in the dance party.

And now he was dead? Nope. Not logical. No way. Too unbelievable. No. No. No.

I called my mom next, and she gave me the facts as she knew them: My five-year-old niece and seven-year-old nephew, his children, were the ones who found him. They couldn’t wake him, so they ran and got a neighbor. By the time the ambulance arrived, he was gone. There was nothing anyone could’ve done. My sister was on a girls’ weekend away in Florida for her best friend’s bachelorette party. She couldn’t get a flight home due to bad weather. The situation couldn’t have been worse.

My reaction was guttural — a blur of hysterical screaming.

I must’ve fallen to the ground because I felt someone physically pick me up off the cold pavement.

I heard a voice. “Honey, I think you’re in shock. Hold onto my hand. I’m going to walk you to my car where it’s warm.”

I looked up to see a woman with kind, gray eyes. I will never forget those eyes.

She sat me down in her passenger’s seat. She removed her coat and draped it across my lap.

“I read somewhere that when people go into shock, they get very cold. I’m going to keep you warm. Is there someone I can call for you?”

“Please call my mom. I was just on the phone with her. Wait, where is my phone?”

I realized then that she was holding my phone.

“I saw you drop your phone when you collapsed,” she said.

“I collapsed?” I was so confused. Was this a weird dream?

She found my mother’s number on her own and called her. I could only hear her end of the conversation.

“Yes, hi. I’m with your daughter… She appears to be in shock… Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… That’s just terrible… My condolences to your family… No, I won’t let her drive… I’m going to treat her as if she’s my own daughter… You don’t have to worry about a thing… I’ll stay with her until her ride gets here.”

She hung up.

“I’m so sorry for your loss,” she said. “Your mother is sending your brother to pick you up.”

I nodded. Numb. None of what she was telling me made any sense. I think she could tell that I was delirious with grief, so she started to ask me questions about my life.

I told her about my son. I told her about his croup and how I thought that was the worst thing that could happen to me — a sick toddler. And now I felt so stupid because, in one sickening instant, life was infinitely worse. My sister was a thirty-seven-year-old widow, and my niece and nephew no longer had a father.

She listened and pretended I was making perfect sense. She told me about her own grown children.

She never once let go of my hand.

Again, here I was babbling to a complete stranger who had appeared out of nowhere to rescue me in my time of need.

And again, this stranger was a fellow mother.

* * *

In less than one week, I met two angels. Two real-life angels who are also mothers. Two women who saw something in me that they recognized as fragile, as worrisome, as worthy of their time.

It’s been over a month since the Worst Week Ever. My son is fully recovered. On the other hand, I am still healing, still grieving. I look for my angels everywhere I go — both the ones on this earth, the other mothers, and the ones who left this earth entirely too soon.

~Kaysie Norman

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