91: Five Open Hearts

91: Five Open Hearts

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

Five Open Hearts

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.

~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

May 22nd, 2009 is a day I won’t soon forget. “Leigh Anne … telephone, it’s your dad,” my husband called to me at the kitchen table. I jumped up from an “exciting” game of Go Fish with my two young daughters.

“Hi Dad, what’s up?” I asked happily, little knowing how, with his answer, my life would change. How my family’s life would change. How everything would change.

“Your mom is in the hospital,” my dad replied, his voice sounding distant and confused. “They are doing some tests on her heart.”

Her heart?

“We aren’t sure what is happening yet, but she had chest pains when we were hiking yesterday.”

Chest pains? My mind raced. How long had she been having chest pains?

My dad continued to talk. I cannot recall what he said. He was trying to appear calm and in control, but deep down I knew he was shaken. Numerous thoughts and questions immediately flooded my mind. What was happening to my mom? What would the tests show? What if the unthinkable occurred?

I felt numb. Absolute disbelief; like one of those moments you read about where time stops, you completely disconnect. Almost an out-of-body experience. You hear something but can’t absorb it. My dad had already told my younger sister and was about to call my twin sister, but I somehow I heard myself agreeing to do that.

To say we have a close family is an understatement. We always had dinner together as kids and still do when we get together for holidays or just regular weekend visits. We sang Gordon Lightfoot songs together on our weekend drives north to the cottage, and as teenagers we would even hang out with my parents on Friday nights playing board games or cards. Now that my sisters and I have our own families—lives away from Mom and Dad, we are still very connected and close. Not too many Fridays go by without our famous spaghetti and Caesar salad dinners, with whoever can make it. My parents are the center of those nights, high school sweethearts, still in love after all these years.

Mom has always been very healthy. She loves to walk the dog daily with my dad. They eat healthy food and she doesn’t indulge too much in her sweet tooth. A dedicated personal counselor, she has listened, supported and guided others with their inner struggles for years. Such a big heart, one that we never thought would need any help with anything.

It never entered any of our minds that she would be having open-heart surgery.

The operation was a terrifying experience for us all. Five and a half hours of waiting. Intense waiting and praying and hoping … then more waiting. We sat there in the Cardiac Family Waiting Area as the seconds ticked slowly by. Three other families waited for their loved ones too. Connected by similar experiences, we didn’t feel like strangers. I felt their worry and their hope. I waited with my family beside me. We were all there. My sisters, my dad and I, together, all supporting each other. We hugged each other and we prayed. The power of our desire for my mom’s wellness was enormous. We were counting our blessings for the times we had already had. I thought about her love for my kids and her commitment to caring for my elder daughter when I was doing my internship. Her mentoring me through my private practice and encouraging me in all the times I needed her. The sound of her laugh.

After hours of waiting, her surgeon walked into the waiting area.

All the waiting and emotion crystallized into that moment. I was holding my breath—we all were. As we gripped each other’s hands we heard the doctor say, “The surgery is over. She came through well, she’s still in intensive care, but you are able to see her in several hours.” Huge relief washed over us all. My dad reached out and shook the doctor’s hand vigorously and held his grip a long, long time, his eyes welling. My sisters and I could not stop smiling and clinging to each other—we were like one person, sharing the same, surreal experience.

It wasn’t long before my dad was on the phone to tell all of their friends and family that Wendy was “doing well.”

My mom is still recovering from her surgery, but her heart was opened in more ways than one. All five of us opened our hearts that day and forever. My younger sister describes it as, “feeling layers of love I never knew I was capable of.” My twin sister said that she hadn’t ever truly appreciated the closeness of our family before this happened. My dad doesn’t say much about it but he is softer, gentler and has a tenderness I hadn’t seen or felt before. My mom has been given a second chance. Her gratitude is immeasurable.

As for me, the magnitude of what happened that day has changed me. I am more accepting, more appreciative of little things. I have stopped “doing” so much and have started listening to my children and husband more. I am now choosing to experience love and appreciation for people and things moment by moment.

On May 22nd, although my mother was the patient, her surgery opened five hearts, forever.

~Leigh Anne Saxe

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