Moment 3: A Failing Heart
It surprises me even now to think about how soon after my own baptism I would be relying on the faith I had so recently discovered. I can only thank Heavenly Father for the knowledge He had lead me to, and the strength He gave me to endure the difficult trials to come.
There were three truths I learned as I took the missionary discussions that made me know, in my heart, that I should join the church. First, that God is our Heavenly Father. Second, that God loves us and so He continues to speak to us through modern and personal revelation. Third, that families are forever. These truths have helped to sustain me through countless trials and fears. The last truth, especially, has been hovering in my mind ever since the end of my sophomore year of college. The year that mortality and the fragility of the human body made its presence known to me in a very personal way.
The sacredness of the family unit is a truth that lingers in my head with every character I create, and with each choice they face. When I sit in front of my computer, or with a journal in hand to write a story, the narrator’s family is always an important part of that fictional world, just as my own family has played a vital role in mine.
Like many others before me, I have learned just how life-changing an early morning phone call can be. At most points in the day, the appearance of a name on the screen of your cell phone is a testimony to your importance to the world, or at least to someone else in it, but at 5 A.M. the two second trill can feel like a death sentence.
The first call of that kind that I experienced happened in May of 2001. I’m not sure who called me that morning, but I do remember that it came quite early. The exact hour eludes me, but I know it was well before the time I had planned on waking up that morning. After a brief complaint about the hour, the message was delivered. My breath slipped away from me. It settled deep in my stomach alongside the information that had been relayed. Dad was in the hospital.
When I put the phone down, I didn’t know what to do. I could already feel the panic rising in my chest, but I didn’t have time for that. Somehow, I don’t completely know how, I was able to force myself to throw on some clothes and grab my purse. Thankfully I had my own car at that point, a gift from my parents for my previous birthday, so I was able to drive myself home. It was the longest forty-five minute car ride I have ever experienced.
Even then, we sat by his side for several fearful hours before we were given more news. The three of us, Mom, Stephanie and I, were huddled in the corner of Dad’s intensive care room when a doctor finally breezed in and confirmed what we already suspected. He had suffered a heart attack, and quite a large one. I believe the word massive was used more than once. Not long after that first announcement the same doctor came back in to inform us that Dad would have to have quintuple bypass surgery. Five arteries were so blocked that vessels from his arms and legs would have to be used to divert the blood along a different path to the heart. By the end of that hospital stay, the first of several, my father looked like a stick figure. He had scar lines up his stomach, both arms and both of his legs.
It’s hard to articulate what such moments feel like. It’s as if your heart stops beating and your lungs stop taking in air. You don’t know what to say, or even what to think and your heart is literally aching with fear. You have to tell yourself what to do with each moment: when to breathe, when to eat, when to sleep. But if you’re anything like me, telling yourself to do something doesn’t always work.
In addition to all of the overwhelming fears, everything else is intensified because there is nothing you can do to fix it. The beeps of the machines pound in your head, the shallow breaths of your loved one flood through your ears, the small errands you are sent on become life sustaining, and at the end of the day, all you can do is collapse on your bed in exhaustion. You want to help in any way you can, but you have to wait patiently on the sidelines and rely on the help of others.
That experience is one of the reasons I write about strong characters. I want them to be stronger than I feel in such moments, to act the way I want to act. These characters still have fears and anxiety, they still feel the panic and the loss, they might even lash out to those who are trying to help them, but they are able to overcome their feelings and work to make things better. When I lived through such challenging situations, I felt as if I wasn’t doing enough. So, I want my characters to do all that they can, or to struggle the way I do when there is nothing to be done.
Thankfully my father survived that heart attack and the major surgery that followed it. My knowledge of the gospel has helped me to endure that and other trials in my life. I truly believe that one’s family is their most important blessing and responsibility. This belief, this knowledge that families are forever, and my desire to share it, leads me to write about characters whose experiences help them to see just how valuable and precious their families are.
Stay turned for Part 5 of "One Writer's Journey."