I recently re-read the Lord of the Rings books, and there’s a part in the Fellowship of the Ring that stuck out to me as being something I could identify with.
Frodo has just arrived in Rivendell after being stabbed by and then pursued by the Nazgul. He wakes up with Gandalf sitting next to him, and he tries to recall everything that has happened to him since leaving the Shire, but there are holes in his memory, so he asks Gandalf to tell him what has happened.
‘I wish you would tell me what happened!’
‘All in good time! You are not supposed to talk or worry about anything today, by Elrond’s orders.’
‘But talking would stop me thinking and wondering, which are quite as tiring,’ said Frodo. ‘I am wide awake now, and I remember so many things that want explaining.’
That’s how I feel about this whole experience. I wish someone would just walk me through the gory details and tell me what happened, but everyone keeps telling me that I shouldn’t worry about it and that it’s better I don’t remember. But I feel like Frodo does, that thinking and wondering are tiring in and of themselves, and that there are lots of things that I’d like to have explained to me.
People are getting to the point where they’ll talk a little more openly with me about what happened. I think that up until now, the people who were there with me throughout the experience – Brett, my mom, our sisters, Brett’s mom, my dad, my friend Becca – haven’t wanted to talk about it much because the reality of what could have happened was so scary. Now that things are better and I seem to be ok, though, they seem more willing to open up, and I’m glad of that.
All of these people who are close to me – plus many who aren’t close – have been deeply impacted by what happened to me. And I, on the other hand, feel a huge sense of detachment from what happened because I don’t remember and because I seem to be fine now. It all just seems like a very surreal blip on the radar.
It’s hard for me to have the amazing sense of joy and thankfulness that all of those people have, simply because I have a hard time grasping how frightening the whole experience was.
I’m at a point now where I’m ready – at least I think I am – to start facing the fact that I came very close to dying or at least having some permanent damage.
We’ve been watching Six Feet Under again, and an episode we watched the other night underscored what I’ve been feeling.
In the episode, the main character (Nate) comes very close to dying because of a medical condition he has. He has this…I don’t know, I guess it could be called a vision, or maybe a dream, of all of the different ways things could have ended up. One scenario shows his funeral, with his family and friends all sitting at his funeral looking shell-shocked and grief stricken. Another scenario shows him with permanent brain damage, living at a near vegetable level, having to be cared for all the time by family. Another scenario shows him being completely recovered, and spending time with his wife and baby.
Throughout the episode, as he lives his life out according to the third scenario he saw – complete recovery – he has flashes of the other scenarios, just brief visions of what might have been.
That is so how I feel. Every now and then, out of the blue, I’ll have a flash of what might have been, and it’s like the feeling you get when you think you’re going to get in a car accident, or when you’re on a roller coaster and you crest the top of the big hill and start to fall – that sort of stomach-turning adrenaline rush, that taste of fear that never quite comes to fruition.
I had an experience like that while we were watching that episode of Six Feet Under. Brett’s sister Rachel was holding Elanor and playing with her, and they were both just laughing and enjoying each other. Elanor, though, would get tired every few minutes and reach over to me and say, “Mamamamamamamama” and whine until I took her.
And I had a flash: if I had died, other people would have replaced me in Elanor’s life. I would not be the one she reached out to when she was tired, the one who provides comfort to her, who gives her love, who teaches her things…it would have been other people – Rachel, our parents, our other siblings. And as much as I love and trust all of those people and want them to comfort her and love her and teach her things, I want to be Elanor’s primary person, along with Brett.
I was, well, it seems weird to say this, but in that moment, watching Elanor and Rachel play, I was at once jealous for the role Rachel and everyone else would have played in Elanor’s life had I died, and at the same time, so very, deeply grateful that I hadn’t died and that I was there to reach over and take Elanor when she got fussy, to hold her while she put herself to sleep.
I mentioned to Brett as we were going to sleep that night how the episode of Six Feet Under had affected me, and he said he thought the same thing I did. It’s scary to see all of the possible scenarios explicitly spelled out. My scenarios are pretty much the same as Nate’s were: death, permanent damage, and being a healthy medical miracle.
I don’t have a pat, neat ending for this post. It’s nothing that can be neatly resolved, and it is clearly a really ragged and raw topic for me. Like all of life, it’s messy, and you know what? I think I can be ok with that for now.