It was mid October 1975, my son Rob had been in the burn unit of St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco for about 6 weeks, having been burned over 73% of his body in a house fire in September. He is doing remarkably well at this stage of his healing. Some patients, with less injury had already died within that 6 weeks.
On this particular night, I was allowed to touch him in places I hadn’t up until then. For the most part, I was touching the places on him, however small, which had not been burned, the right side of his face, his right arm and shoulder. As the surgeries accelerated, more and more skin was taken from the unburned areas to graft to the severely injured parts of his body, so there were less and less available places for me to access. Touch can be so incredibly healing, for all of us, no matter the situation.
Rob had experienced a surgery on his chest only a day before and as usual he was experiencing pain and an itching that is indicative of healing, which is always a good thing. This sensation was also something that really aggravated the burn patients. Rob was no exception.
On this particular night, I’d gone out for a couple of hours, to get a break and have dinner. When I returned to the burn unit, I came into Rob’s room. It was dimly lit, he was awake and watching Star Trek. He was a great fan and remained so for many years, attending Trekkie conventions in Oakland from time to time as he grew up.
He was on his back and a material of some kind had been put on his chest, which covered the normal dressings placed on a surgical area. This allowed him to be touched and it did not subject him to discomfort or infection.
The nurse was standing over him and summoned to me, letting me take her place. She said I could touch his chest ever so lightly, as it was relieving the itching. I gowned and gloved myself and began to stroke his sweet body and felt so happy to be able to comfort him in this way. He was busy watching TV, I didn’t want to disturb or distract him, I began to silently weep with joy, hoping he wasn’t going to notice. After all I didn’t want to take away from what was really important to him at that moment, watching his show.
In the midst of all this, a commercial came on about some cat food. Rob has a wonderful, quirky sense of humor and he began to laugh, ever so softly. As his body moved, I was startled, thinking something was wrong, maybe I had touched him in a vulnerable place.
Soon, I realized he was actually laughing out loud, one of those laughs where your body gives way to the joy that has been stimulated by something pleasurable. As this laughter became audible in the room, the nurses heard it and came to the door. The nurses loved Rob, he had captured their hearts.
As they came into the room, there was on every face, a smile and wet eyes. There wasn’t a lot of laughter in this place. I remember Rob brought and continued to bring it into this space, of such pain, during his stay there.
I will never forget the feeling of exuberant joy, relief, tears, release and the realization that, up until that moment, I had truly thought I would never hear that sound emerge from him, his infectious laughter. In this moment, right here and now, as I read these words, the memory of this resonates in me as if it were happening now. I am truly grateful for the healing that has taken place in my life so I may remember with gratitude what happened on that magical night.
I don’t know if this is true for others, it was certainly my experience, that there is no time or space or inclination to think about the past or future, when one is captured by trauma. I was completely consumed by what was going on in each second of this process. In the moments inside my own soul when I was alone, the night Rob was burned haunted me to the point of exhaustion, annihilation and thoughts of escape through suicide. When I was with Rob, my attention was fully given to the moment, fully absorbed and it kept me alive. I didn’t really learn about being in the moment until much later and yet God graced me in this experience when I needed it most.
There will be many stories about Rob, about me, about us and this journey we are traveling. My gratitude is boundless. My cup runneth over.
I invite you to consider that there is purpose in everything, no matter the evidence. I also invite you to entertain the possibility that healing is available in every moment. Are you willing to say yes to it, welcome and receive it, and let it have its way with you? Oh yes, one more invitation. Before you move on the the following quotes, I invite you to stop, breath and come to the present, the now. Isn’t it grand?
“What a load is dropped from the shoulders of personal responsibility, when we realize that the Eternal Mind holds nothing against anyone!” Ernest Holmes
“Letting go of our suffering is the hardest work we will ever do. It is also the most fruitful. To heal means to meet ourselves in a new way – in the newness of each moment where all is possible, and nothing is limited to the old.” Stephen Levine