|January 2, 2008|
Like any couple we spent our celebratory evening talking about the last five years, reminiscing about memories and celebrating our accomplishments. Mostly we thought about our wedding day, which was somewhat unique.
Our engagement started off normally. John proposed to me in the fall of 2006 and we planned to get married in June of 2008. After 10 months of engagement, however, my mom fell seriously ill. I was home in Ontario for the summer when she arrived home one August afternoon, after visiting my brother in Toronto, complaining of stomach pains. Over the course of about an hour the cramps moved from moderately uncomfortable to severely painful. In Ontario we have a nurses hotline so while my mom lay on her bed clutching her stomach, I got on the phone with them. Before I could even talk to a nurse, however, my dad decided they should see a doctor.
They went to a walk-in clinic and were immediately told to get to an emergency room. My mom was admitted and after a serious of tests she was finally diagnosed. It seemed 16 years prior- when my mom had a cesarean section to birth my sister- the surgeon had nicked her intestines and scar tissue had been building up ever since. Now her intestines were blocked off completely.
By the time she got her diagnosis, I was only one day away from my scheduled departure to Michigan for my final semester of college. I asked my dad, "Should I stay home?" "No," he said, "the doctors think she'll be fine."
So John drove up to help me pack my things and get me back to college. That night while we slept in Ontario one last time, my mom had surgery to removed the scar tissue. I will never forget waking up the next morning and asking my dad how it went.
"Well, the surgery went well, but there were some complications when mom was waking up."
"Is she okay?"
"Yes she's fine. She aspirated a bit so she has to be on oxygen for a day or two until her lungs can recover. Don't worry though- you should still go back to Michigan."
John and I made the six hour journey back to college with plans to return the following weekend and see my mom. I remember feeling nervous about leaving my dad and sister alone and leaving my mom behind in the hospital. Little did I know then that I would be living with those nerves- and worse- for the next 3 months as our lives tumbled and fell into a nightmare.
The "day or two" that my mom was supposed to be on supplemental oxygen turned into a week. The oxygen mask turned into a tube in her throat. The tube turned into a tracheotomy. She started off under mild sedation. Than heavy sedatives. Than she was put into a coma.
ARDS. That's what she had. A four lettered acronym that was destroying her life. Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. Basically, her lungs were failing.
I don't remember very much from September and October of that year. I don't remember what I learned in class or what I did outside of class. What I do remember is the sound of my dorm phone ringing in the middle of the night. My dad's broken voice on the other side.
Once: Mom's being transferred to a bigger hospital.
Twice: The doctors don't think she's going to make it through the night.
Three times John and I got in the car and drove to Ontario, not knowing if my mom would be alive when we got there. She always was, but barely. Her body was so swollen I could hardly recognize her. My sister pinned pictures of my healthy mom on her ICU room bulletin board just so the nurses could see who Mom really was. She was Margaret. Happy, outgoing, smiley Margaret. Always busy, always searching for a good deal- be it on yogurt or a new chair at a yard sale- always ready for a long conversation on the phone, Margaret. Wife to Irving. Mother to Jillian, Wesley, and Jenna. Daughter, aunt, sister, cousin, loyal friend.
|My aunt, Mom, and Dad the summer before Mom's illness. |
(And my 16-year-old sister photobombing in the background.)
To her doctors, she was very, very sick. She was a person whose lungs "looked like leather." At one point she was "the sickest person in all of Canada."
She was dying.
And in the middle of all this, John and I had a decision to make.
Between college classes, work shifts, and trips to my mom's Ontario ICU room, John and I had met with an immigration lawyer. Being Canadian, I knew I was eligible for US residency through marriage but I had no idea about the process involved. As it turned out, our lawyer told us we had two options:
1) Get married in the US and stay put together until my green card came through.
2) Get married in Canada and live in our respective countries until my green card came through. John would be able to visit me, but I would not be able to visit him.
8-10 months either way. We hoped for six.
As my mom lay potentially on her deathbed in Ontario, the idea of being stuck States-side was unimaginable to both of us, so we made the only choice we really had: we would get married in Canada and start our marriage living apart.
Then another issue: I was done school in December, so I would not be able to live in Michigan after that. Suddenly our planned June wedding no longer made any sense. In order to get my green card as fast as possible, we needed to get married soon. "Like, this weekend," our lawyer said.
We opted for January, praying my mom would be somewhat recovered by then.
Miraculously- a story which deserves an entire post in itself- my mom began to recover. Very, very slowly her blood oxygen saturation numbers improved. The sepsis she developed while comatose began to resolve. She was slowly weaned off sedation and brought back to the land of the living.
In late October, November and December I felt as though I was seeing my mom come back to life. But rising from the dead was a very painful process. Mom's muscles had deteriorated during her time in the coma. She could barely lift her fingers, let alone stand or walk. She had to learn everything again. How to write, how to feed herself, how to get dressed. She even had to learn how to breathe.
|On her birthday: November 1 2007.|
Finally one day she was lucid enough to ask my dad again, "What happened?" After he explained she mouthed the words, "How long?" How long have I been in the hospital? I knew my dad had been dreading this question. She went into the hospital in mid-August. It was almost November. "Over two months," he replied. Her eyes got big and she simply mouthed the word, "Wow."
As Christmas approached my mom was finally moved back to the hospital where she was originally admitted. Still in ICU, but a lot closer to home. My dad, siblings and I were overjoyed. The worst part for us was over, but for Mom it had just begun. Everyday she was taken off the ventilator for longer and longer periods of time, to teach her lungs how to breathe again. "Wind sprints," the nurses called them. Mom hated them. She said she felt like she was drowning. As she came off the ventilator she was finally able to use her voice. After 4 months in the hospital she spoke to my dad for the very first time. She choose her words carefully, telling him simply, "I love you."
That night my dad wrote to us in an email saying they were the best words he ever heard.
|Back in the hospital close to home, she still needed help turning the magazine pages.|
|Christmas Day, 2007|
So January 2, 2008 John and I got married in a hospital with our immediate families and a handful of friends and relatives by our sides. The nurses and floor patients covered the chairs with bedsheets and tied Christmas ornaments on the backs. My dad's sister and her family came the night before with a truck FULL of poinsettias from their greenhouse to decorate. My cousin loaned me a wedding music CD she had, so I would have something to walk down the aisle to. I wrapped a white ribbon around a fistful of fake flower for a bouquet. One of my dad's co-workers baked us cupcake and put them in a cupcake tree for our "wedding cake." And my mom's best friend cooked up a feast of appetizers for our wedding guests to enjoy on our laps after the ceremony.
That morning I was so nervous and excited I forgot to put on the special jewelry I bought! My dad was driving me to the hospital in our van when I remembered and asked if we should turn around. "No!" I replied, "I just want to get married!"
When we got to the hospital a local reporter was there to do a human-interest clip for the nightly news! (Embedded at the end of this post.) The reporter, her camera man, and all the floor nurses along with the hospital's chief of staff all gathered in the back of the room to watch my walk down the aisle.
My heart raced as I waited to walk down that aisle to the man of my dreams. My mom sat beside me in her wheelchair. I heard the wedding music start and looked at my dad to tell him it was time to wheel her down the aisle to the "mother of the bride" spot. He smiled at me and then at my mom, and reached out his hand to her.
And for the very first time in public in over five months, my mom surprised us all as she stood up to walk. With tears in my eyes I helped her stand while my dad wheeled her empty chair down that make-shift wedding aisle. Then he came back, took her arm, and together- proudly- they walked in.
I watched her from behind and John watched her from the front as he waited for me to come toward him. When I finally did there was not a dry-eye in the room.
Our pastor preached out of Isaiah with a verse from chapter 43, "See I am doing a new thing!" He told us that God was doing a new thing with our lives. That our story might not look like we expect it too, but that our God is one who makes a way in the wilderness and streams the wasteland.
A God who breathes life back into lifeless bodies.
Who gives reason to celebrate in a building filled with sickness and despair.
Who carries a married couple through 15 long months of living apart.
Who turns infertility into adoption.
Who makes a family out of brokenness.
Who restores. Who gives hope. Who grants life.
Who saves sinners.
Who heals the broken.
Who does new things.
Five years later, the wedding text our pastor chose for us is now the text we've passed on to our son. It is Arie's life verse, Isaiah 43:19:
See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
and streams in the wasteland.
As God did a new thing with our wedding, he continues to do new things in our marriage and now with our family through the life our precious child.
Six months later John and I renewed our vows on our original wedding date with all our friends and family and had the big celebration we always dreamed of, but we will both tell you that our hospital wedding has come to be our favorite to remember for so many reasons. I love to tell the story of our wedding and my mom's healing. I pray this story gives hope to your soul if you are in the wilderness or struggling in a wasteland. Have faith. Our God is one who makes a way where there is none and provides streams of life in the wastelands. As he has done a new work in our lives, may he do something new for you.