From Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul

Every Morning Is a Gift

I can’t shake the images in my mind of the night before it all started. I can see myself at the dinner table, lifting my glass to toast my daughter and her fiancé.

Family and friends were all around me, smiling faces in the candlelight. My husband, Steve, leaned over and kissed me.

Those joyous hours would be the last before the fear set in. That night, as I lay in bed, my life changed forever.

I’d had discomfort for weeks, but I thought it was a backache. When I awoke in the middle of the night feeling as if someone was standing on my chest, I knew it was my heart. “Get me to the hospital,” I gasped to Steve.

“You’ll be okay,” he said over and over. He’s so scared, I wept. And oh, God, I am too.

At the hospital, I tearfully recalled another hospital long ago, and me—just 10 years old—standing over my father’s hospital bed after his first heart attack.

My mother had died years before while giving birth to my sister, and Daddy was my world. Then, when I was 12, he had another heart attack—at work. I never had the chance to say good-bye, and the grief that set in on me felt endless. Now I was the one in the hospital. Please, I prayed, don’t let me die without saying good-bye to my children.Jeffrey’s only 13... Jason’s 15—he’s becoming such a young man—and Tricia’s getting married!She needs me now.

Steve went to get the kids as I underwent an angiogram to find out where the blockage was. “Three of the four major arteries are blocked,” the doctors said.

“But I’m only 39!” I wept.

My doctor explained that I’d inherited heart disease from my dad. “You need bypass surgery,” he said. “But your heart is so damaged, any procedure may...”

Kill me. I trembled with fear. But it wasn’t fear of dying. More than anything, I couldn’t accept leaving my loved ones to endure the grief I’d known as a child.

“I may not live . . .” I told the kids as their tears and mine fell.

In the days before the surgery, Steve visited as often as he could, trying to smile. But I saw the fear in his eyes.

Steve and I had been married only a year. “We waited for each other. We have a lot left to do,” he whispered. I nodded wistfully.

Tricia talked about the flowers for her wedding. I smiled. Jeffrey and Jason talked about school.

“When you come home...” they’d say. They were all trying to be brave. But we were all so scared.

The morning of my surgery, I watched the sun rise over the lake. There was a sailboat gliding past. I tried to imagine the peaceful feeling of being on it. But as surgery neared, that feeling was replaced by terror. After kissing Steve and the kids and feeling their tear-streaked cheeks, I frantically wanted to live.

God, I prayed before I was anesthetized, if you let me live to see my kids grown, I won’t waste a minute . . .

The next thing I knew, surgery was over, and I was holding Steve’s hand and looking at my children. How gentle his touch, how beautiful their smiles. And now I have all the time in the world to enjoy them, I thought.

But two days later, my doctor explained that my arteries would probably clog up again. And my heart could not withstand another operation.

“The surgery might buy you another six years,” he said. “I’m sorry.” Six years—that’s the blink of an eye! My throat tightened and I couldn’t catch my breath.

Then I remembered: Six years was what I’d prayed for. My youngest child would be 18—grown. I’d have more time with Steve. Yes, God was keeping his end of the bargain. Now, I vowed, I’ll keep mine—and make the most of my time.

So I celebrated life—as I watched my daughter walk down the aisle, as I counseled my boys through girl troubles, as I shared weekends in Steve’s arms, as I baked birthday cakes.

Every single moment, from greeting the mailman to cradling my grandchildren, had a special magic.

Then, as I neared the six-year mark, the pain started. “There’s nothing more we can do,” doctors said. And that familiar fear swept over me. One day, Jeffrey laid his head on my chest and sobbed. Another day, Tricia tearfully said, “Mom, I need you. My kids need their grandma!”

“I’ll be there as long as I can,” I said soothingly to each of them. Why did I think my family would be more ready to say good-bye now? Six years, 10...20! Is it ever enough?

Fight for your life, Bev! I screamed inside. So I started reading books on diet and on positive thinking. I will live! I vowed.

Maybe it was God’s gift. Maybe it was my strength. But now, two years later, I’m doing better than I ever hoped.

I continue to cherish each new morning. And snuggling up with Steve at night, I give thanks for all the simple, wonderful— even frustrating—things that happened that day.

I know the day may come when the sun rises without me. And I weep to think I could miss my granddaughter’s curtsy at the close of her first school play, or her little brother’s first ball game. But God has already given me more than I asked for. And I’ve learned how precious each moment is.

Bev Shortt
As told to Deborah Bebb

Excerpted from Woman’s World Magazine

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