No one wants to get a phone call from the hospital emergency department at 2am, but only superheroes are immune to tragedy.
We were informed that my father was being rushed into life-saving surgery for a ruptured aneurism. Clichés abound about life changing in a split second - and now I've lived it, I know what they mean.
To say I was trapped in a brain fog is an extreme understatement. I stared at my clothes, forgetting how to get dressed. I drove in silence on the deserted roads, the only sound the voice in my head repeating, "He'll be okay, he'll be okay".
Anxiously waiting with my mother and sisters, the hours in that ICU waiting room were torturous. I didn't know whether to cry or vomit. My poor brother, who lives interstate, was waiting for the phone to ring with news.
Dr Google was not our friend, so we did our best to shut out the realities of survival rates and predicted outcomes. Four hours and a lifetime later, a surgeon surfaced to deliver the news: my dad had survived. I blocked out the rest; the doom and gloom of potential complications, the long road to recovery, and the miracle that was his survival for an undiagnosed condition most don't live to tell.
Then we embarked upon the arduous task of calling family and friends. I moved between robot-mode to crying wreck, repeating the condition, the process and the current status.
The offers of help came thick and fast. Overwhelmingly there was the statement "Let me know if you need anything." Although appreciative of the sentiments, I was operating in a bubble; a glass bubble with tiny hairline fractures that if shattered may well ooze raw emotion everywhere. Delegation of what I needed was completely out of my cerebral sphere – I didn't know what came after socks, let alone how the kindness of friends could materialise into something that would assist in this stressful time.
Then stepped in a band of local mums, a group of angels who arranged a daily roster of food. Each evening as I returned from the hospital, there was a bundle at my front door, as though Little Red Riding Hood had visited. Dinner, muffins and snacks for kids' lunches. Flowers, chocolates, and cards, all expressing their concern. I had no appetite but also no energy to prepare food for my family, so these small tokens of care made a massive difference in that first week. My husband is usually the cooking guru, but he also appreciated the space not to have to think about meals.
It wasn't just these women who rose to the occasion. Teachers, daycare staff, neighbours, colleagues, sporting communities, hospital staff and, of course, long-time friends and extended family all supported us in a myriad of ways.
My fragile state meant I was ready to burst into tears at any benevolent soul who cocked their head to the side and asked, "how's your dad?" Thankfully none of these people demanded information or answers, and nobody pressured me to call back, reply to messages or stop and chat. They all recognised I was functioning at base level, and a wave and a smile from afar, a rub on the back or a quick text were enough to pass on the notion they had us in their thoughts.
Too many times I've been on the other side of crises – watching a friend or family member in pain, ill health or despair. It is difficult to know how to help, whether to back off and respect their space, or to take initiative and do what you think will assist. Naturally, everyone is different, and although my ability to focus, to be social and to put one foot in front of the other was compromised during the past month, it was the texts, emails, calls, cards and food that were the hugs buoying me through.
I am so thankful to still have my dad with us. Many do not get the same warning, the gift of a second chance.
What this experience has taught me is how unbelievably supportive communities can be in times of hardship. It's certainly not a new concept – look back to any major disaster and there will be a multitude of stories conveying the compassion of people.
I know in future when someone I care for, or even someone I barely know, is experiencing a difficult time, I will not overthink it. I'll follow my heart and offer a simple gesture, in the form of a message, a card, flowers, or a home cooked meal waiting on their doorstep at the end of a long day.
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted" – Aesop.
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