The holiday season is full of movies in which a Ghost or an Angel shows the main character what life would have been without them or how their lives have affected others. We all look around the holiday table, and no matter how full it may seem, we know there are empty seats.
It was nearly sixteen years ago that I was given the gift of living passed my death. The thought is always there in my mind, but at the holiday season, it nearly overwhelms me. The words that have been imprinted on my mind are: congestive heart failure, respiratory arrest, renal failure, coma, respirator, ICU, 80% mortality rate, strep in my blood system, and they go on. The scenes play over and over: The two women walking me down the ICU hallway talking to each other. One saying, “She arrested.” I asking, “I arrested?” She saying, “Oh, she doesn’t know.” The look on the nurses faces as I passed their station. Me asking them, “What is it?” One saying, “You don’t understand, we don’t see people as sick as you are get up and walk down the hall.”
Many may tell me to forget it, put it behind me. But they don’t understand that the memory of that experience is what gives me the unique perspective of what life would have been like without me and the chance to see how I can affect the lives of others with this extra time.
I see my kids at the the ages of 5 and 10 on that Christmas of 2001, with the pain running down my arms and legs, barely able to move as I watched them open their presents. It was just a short few weeks before that fateful day in January 2002 when I awoke with my body temperature reading 93.4 degrees F as my body fell into septic shock. That December, my body was fighting some type of virus or bacteria that was never diagnosed. Perhaps that is why my body was so susceptible to what followed. I thought that was going to be my last Christmas with my family. Now I see my children’s faces at their current ages of 21 and 26, and I am grateful. I see my husband as I awoke from the coma, his face unshaven and frightened, but smiling and saying, “You woke up! You’re a bull! This is the best birthday present ever!” I see his face now, and am so full of love for him and our life together. I look at my books, and know that not a word would have been written if I hadn’t been given this gift.
In the days of recovery that followed, I asked God to put in front of me what I was meant to do with this extra time. I promised that I would try to see what he placed before me and that I would do what I could to be worthy of this gift. I was named after St. Therese, The Little Flower, and she is known for doing “little things.” I figured, I needed to do the same. There had to be a reason I was being given this gift of more years to watch my children grow and to write my books. I’m still looking for those things, and as long as God puts them before me, I’ve got a reason to still be here.
This holiday season, think of those who are gone. But also appreciate why you are still here, and how much those around you are glad that you are.
Theresa Dodaro is the author of The Tin Box Trilogy. http://www.theresadodaro.com