83: We Are Survivors

83: We Are Survivors

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Positive

We Are Survivors

Man performs and engenders so much more than he can or should have to bear. That’s how he finds that he can bear anything.

~William Faulkner

Picking up my eight-year-old son, Wes, from his counselor’s office was something I never looked forward to doing. He often emerged silent, eyes downcast, with a “non-expression” expression. It was excruciating for me to watch my young son struggle with emotional pain — pain that no child should ever have to endure.

Wes was only four when our lives were turned upside down. I contracted a deadly bacterial infection, commonly known as “the flesh-eating bacteria.” My battles with this disease, some physical some emotional, were hard fought, and I emerged victorious . . . I emerged with my life. But my victory came at a very high cost. This insidious disease claimed three of my limbs, and the left side of my chest.

The infection hit hard and fast. On February 13th, my life, as I had known it, ended. It began the same way as any other day. I felt fine that morning, but by evening I was not fine. And in the very earliest hours of the following morning, I was in the emergency room of a local hospital, fighting for my life.

Wes was in bed and fast asleep when I was rushed to the hospital. He could have never imagined that his mom wouldn’t be home when he awoke the following morning. In all of his four years of life, Wes and I hadn’t missed one morning together.

One hundred and sixty-one mornings passed before I once again walked across the threshold of my front door — a lifetime for my little boy. Walking on prosthetic legs and spending some portion of my time in a wheelchair, my presence in our home was dramatically altered. My losses were difficult and challenging, but my son’s losses were profound.

It took months before Wes could sleep through the night. Often times I was awakened in the middle of the night by small ice-cold hands caressing my face. Wes, standing at my side of the bed, would look into my eyes, making absolutely sure I was awake. He very rarely uttered a sound. The only thing he needed to know was that my eyes would open, and that I was still present in his world. Once he was assured I was okay, he’d pad off to bed.

As heart-wrenching as these nightly visitations were, I believe they were necessary to my precious child’s healing. Eventually, he began to trust that I would live through the night, assured that I would be where I was supposed to be in the morning. He began to sleep through the night once again.

Now, four years later, Wes was dealing with another blow. His dad, my husband Michael, was diagnosed with stage IV adrenal cortical carcinoma — a cancer of the adrenal gland — a cancer that carries a death sentence. Michael and I agreed that grief counseling was something Wes needed in his life.

After one of his counseling sessions, Wes slid into the back seat of my car. I quickly glanced in the rear view mirror to get a peek of his face. There were times after a session when he was approachable, and times when he was not. I took a deep breath and took a chance.

“Wes,” I began.

He looked up at me. “Yeah?”

“When we get home, I need you to go over to Johnny’s house and get Colin.”

Wes’s little brother, Colin, was playing at a neighborhood friend’s house while we were at Wes’s appointment.

“Why do I have to do everything?” he grumbled.

Oh great, I thought. Here we go!

I took another deep breath, gathered my thoughts and began speaking.

“I know that Dad and I expect a lot from you sometimes. And I know you think it’s unfair. But Dad is sick and in bed, and I can’t get up the steps at Johnny’s house to ring the doorbell.”

I went on to tell him that families were like a team. “When one of the team members can’t do something, the other members will come to their aid and help out. That’s what families do, Wes; they help each other out.”

My words were met with silence, and then he started to speak.

“I’m so angry that those doctors cut off your legs!”

I had never heard my son speak this way before, and I was hoping he would continue talking. I needed to know how he was feeling as I was desperate to help him.

“I know, honey. It must have been very scary for you,” I said, encouraging him to continue.

“I was sick too, when you were in the hospital.”

“You were?”

“Yeah,” he said in a small tremulous voice. “My head hurt, and my stomach hurt, and my heart hurt.”

I fought back the tears, knowing from past experience that an emotional response from me would be the deal breaker for further communication. One shed tear and the door to any and every conversation would not just close; it would slam shut. I swallowed hard, shaking off the emotion, and began to speak.

“But look at us now, Wes! We’re here, and we are strong. As a matter of fact, you are the strongest and most courageous kid I know!”

I glanced again in the rear view mirror, needing to see if he could hear my words — if they had landed where I had intended . . . directly on his heart.

I noticed a small transformation taking place. Wes was sitting up straighter, and a smile was beginning at the corners of his mouth.

“Yeah, I am strong, aren’t I, Mom?!”

“You sure are, Wes. You are what I call a ‘survivor.’ You keep on going even when things seem scary and hard.”

“That’s what we are, Mom . . . survivors.”

I nodded my head, again choking back my tears, unable at this moment to shrug off the emotion — unable, at this moment, to speak.

I pulled into the driveway. Wes unbuckled his seatbelt, jumped out of the car, and began loping across two lawns on his way to retrieve his brother. I sat there for a moment with my solitary hand still on the steering wheel. I could not believe what had just occurred — what I had just witnessed. I was in awe of the healing that had taken place in the small confines of the back seat of my car.

Both of my sons emerged from Johnny’s front door, in a dead heat, racing for our house. Two little beaming faces lifted my spirits and melted my heart.

I shook my head, got out of the car smiling, and walked to my front door.

~Cindy Charlton

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