19: A Child’s Gratitude

19: A Child’s Gratitude

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

A Child’s Gratitude

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.

~Author Unknown

For four days, I walked around in complete shock. My life had changed in an instant and now I spent most of my hours in a hospital room, worrying about my husband. Little did I know, I would find the gift of gratitude in an unexpected place.

Earlier that day, my husband had pulled out his own respirator. His nurses and other medical personnel in the ICU rushed to his bed, tying restraints on his wrists and stopping him from doing any further damage.

When I came back from lunch and heard what happened, I laughed. The nurse stared at me. “Robbie, he could’ve really hurt himself.”

I laughed more. To me it was the first sign that my husband’s spirit was in that body. A body that had flown off a motorcycle, over a guardrail and landed on hard cold ground. A body that had suffered a traumatic brain injury. Four days seemed like four years to me as I watched him, praying that he would come back to me.

Now he was, at least a little. It was just like John to take out his own respirator if he didn’t want it.

When I told the case worker that afternoon, she giggled with me. “Well, we like it when patients partner in their own care.”

John was still highly sedated and restrained. The few times he woke up it was only for a second. He’d open his eyes and look around, wild-eyed like a crazy person and raise his wrists, obviously trying to get away. Then he’d go back to sleep.

“Mom, when can I see Dad?” My nine-year-old was staying with my brother while John lay in the ICU. I didn’t want Noah to see his father with the respirator covering half his face, looking like a strange version of Darth Vader.

But now no respirator covered his face. He still had plenty of tubes and wires and a neck brace, but I decided that my son could handle it. That night, Noah would see John for the first time since the accident.

When some friends brought Noah to the hospital, I pulled him aside and we sat in the waiting room.

“Noah, Dad has lots of tubes and wires in him. He looks swollen, too.”

“Okay Mom.”

“He will probably sleep the entire time you’re there, okay?”

“Okay.”

“If he does wake up, it’ll just be for a second and he might seem weird.”

“Okay.”

I breathed deeply and silently prayed. No matter what words I used, seeing his daddy like this was going to shock my boy. I had explained to Noah that John’s brain was hurt and we would just have to wait for it to heal. John’s accident happened a few days after Noah received a Nintendo DS for Christmas. All Noah could talk about was his new video game system. I was thankful for the distraction. In fact, Noah only asked one question about John.

“How long until he’s better, Mom?”

“I don’t know, Noah.”

It killed me that I couldn’t give a definitive answer to our son. He has a black and white, right and wrong personality. The nebulous nature of a brain injury was difficult to explain.

As we entered John’s ICU room, he lay peacefully asleep. My son’s face grimaced, but only for a second. He stood still at the foot of his dad’s hospital bed.

“Do you want to say hello, Noah? Go up by his head and speak to him.”

Noah went around the bed and stood beside John’s face.

“Hi Daddy.”

John’s eyes immediately opened. His crazed look scoured the room, landing on Noah.

“Help!” He cried out in a husky voice, his throat still aflame from pulling out the respirator. “Help!”

Then my husband held up his wrists, tied in restraints, and pulled at them. Again he cried to his son, “Help!”

“John, you’re okay, sweetie.” I tried to mollify my husband and son at the same time. “Noah, his brain isn’t working, you know that, right?”

My son had stepped back when John spoke to him, obviously startled.

John fell back asleep, his body limp once more.

Noah’s face began to twist in emotion.

“Noah, do you want to leave now?”

“Yes!” He said and walked to the door.

As we walked down the hall, I tried to give my son perspective.

“It’s really good that he opened his eyes when you spoke. He knows your voice, sweetie.”

I glanced at my son. Tears were running down his cheeks.

“Noah?”

He stopped and faced a wall, breathing hard.

“Noah, I’m so sorry. You are very brave, you know that?”

A sob escaped him.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“No!”

I waited for a moment.

“Honey, I need to know what you’re feeling. So I am going to guess what your emotion is and I want you to nod yes or no. Are you scared?”

Noah shook his head no, face still to the wall.

“Are you sad?”

Again, he shook his head no.

I thought about making him giggle. Maybe if I joked with him....

“Noah, what are you, happy?”

My boy nodded yes.

It took me back. A realization hit hard. “Noah, did you think Dad might die?”

He shook his head yes.

“Those are happy tears?”

My son turned his face and looked at me. “Yes,” he whimpered.

As I wrapped my arms around my still sobbing boy, I thanked God for the pure heart of a child and I felt shame for not seeing the depth in my son. In the one place I never thought to look, I found real perspective. Within my nine-year-old boy, I saw what was truly important. Fear and pain had caused me to focus on the immediate questions. Would John be the same man I married? Would he be able to work again? Would I have to support my family?

In that hallway outside of the ICU, my son’s tears didn’t reflect panic about our future income or terror over the outcome of John’s brain injury. His tears told a simple story of gratitude. His daddy wasn’t going to die.

Noah watched as John experienced what many called a miraculous healing. Two months later, my husband returned to work, his brain healed. Our son walked with us through a very tough time, and it was he who taught us to choose gratitude.

~Robbie Iobst

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