By the time we make it to my sister’s home, it’s dark outside. My house is just a short drive away, and I practically tear up when I think of my bed so close. Amanda shuffles straight to her bed, a Tempur-Pedic to which she has an excessive attachment. When our parents walk in the front door with an overnight bag and an air mattress, I nearly collapse with gratitude.
I lead my mom to the kitchen to explain the countertop array of drugs, ice packs, and Ensure shakes. She sets an alarm on her phone for dosages every three hours, with extra alarms set on the hour from nine to midnight. For the next few weeks, Mom and I alternate 24-hour shifts.
June becomes July in a slow-motion blur.
My mom is a hugger. I’m less of a hugger, but I have adapted to hugging. Mom’s hugs are pleasant but often end with an aggressive, “I love you” squeeze. While I’m sure her dogs enjoy this grand finale squeeze, for me it can cause neck pain. I brace myself for the WWE vise-grip move. It isn’t mean-spirited; it’s just the opposite. But it hurts.
Love can be clumsy.
The next few weeks are both loving and clumsy, with two complete amateurs caring for a highly sensitive patient. Recovery turns out to be a crazy roller coaster ride of good and bad days, an accidental overdose and a super-fun trip to the ER.
Despite the highs and lows, I’m aware that with post-surgery caregiving, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. The expected outcome is good: this does not end in hospice. Even so, the challenge is striking a balance – between what I want and what my sister needs, between honoring my promise to be there after surgery and spending time with Phil and Caroline. Not finding a balance can make love clumsy.
As I drive Amanda to weekly follow-up appointments, I quickly notice that doctors’ waiting rooms have one thing in common: all HGTV, all the time. By the last appointment, I am so utterly fed up with all the house flipping and majestic expanses of shiplap. I’ve come to loathe the couples with their real estate wish lists and high-stakes decisions.
“I want a white kitchen.”
“We need a yard that’s big — but not too big.”
“Sure, the bathroom is nice, but we need a bathtub we can both fit in.”
I talk back at these dingdongs who insist on a two-person bathtub, while people in the waiting room must think I’ve lost my mind.
Which I have.
I really maybe probably have.
Anyway, the blur of summer only appears to be in slo-mo. I sit on Amanda’s deck on a mild, sunny evening and notice the dull roar of cicadas in the trees. I wonder why they’re singing so early. Whenever I hear the first buzz of cicadas, I remember our sweet childhood neighbor Mrs. Wheeler saying the sound means that seven weeks of summer remain. Only seven more weeks. I’m caught between wanting to pause summer and wishing time would fly so my sister could eat solids and feel human again. Time pays no mind to my wishes.
These weeks of crushing up pills and finding the best Ensure flavor and trying to make Amanda laugh despite her numb face call for a certain kind of practice. It’s the practice of putting love into action, sometimes clumsily.
Even love takes practice; even with practice, it can come off clumsy. But clumsy love is no lesser love.