When I woke up in the hospital on December 14, 2012, I knew things were different. I knew that my life had changed.
It’s a funny thing about near-death life-changing moments. To most people hearing it, the story is like turning on or off a switch. The belief is that, in times like this, the desire to begin making sweeping changes happens immediately. You close your eyes as one person and wake up as another.
That’s partially what happened to me. I came out of this with an instantaneous sense of dissociative peace, almost like being allowed back into a game after being eliminated. Returning to the real world after a quintuple bypass was a new start. I knew the things I cherished most and what meant the most to me.
My kids were a huge part of my recovery. The first major thing I remember doing upon my return home was laying on the couch with my then four-year-old daughter and watching Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer on television. It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life and it was even more rewarding to know that she didn’t even realize how close I had come to no longer being there. The universe had given me a chance to be a dad again.
My son had his own role in all of this and his was perhaps the most drastic. At the time of my sudden surgery, Lucas’s delays had become more pronounced and harder to ignore. Almost two, he had not yet said his first word and I worried about him every moment of every day.
Waking up, though, I didn’t worry about him. I just wanted to see him. The things he did and the behaviors that used to cause me anxiety were no longer signs to worry about. They were pieces of him. They were his personality and I missed them so much. From that day on, I saw him differently. I went from autism awareness to acceptance to appreciation overnight.
I had an overflowing list of unspecified plans that morning. One of the nurses asked what I wanted to do now that I was given a new lease on life. I gave it no thought. I didn’t try to be clever or witty. I looked her in the eye and simply responded, “Everything.”
On top of the positives I was focusing on, there were negatives that needed expunging. Some people needed to go right there and then, so they did. Others took a few months or even years. I began listening to my instincts, although the timeline on that was varied depending on who it was that my mind was telling me needed to go.
This process is actually still going on now. I can feel it and Easter is a big part of that. It’s become the benchmark for me in terms of examining where my life is now versus a year ago. Next year, it will be the same.
Last Easter was hard and I can see it when looking back on my writing at the time. It was the first major holiday since my moving out of the family home and subsequent divorce. The entire issue, as of last April, was still a massive mess in my mind.
The kids caused me panic. I didn’t want Lucas to regress in his life skills and I didn’t want my daughter to hate me. There were former family-friends reaching out to yell at me for things that weren’t true and, even had they been, were none of their business. Having not spoken to my own family for nearly ten years, I had to process losing another one as the entire crew of in-laws were no longer in my world. In the span of a few months, I had watched nearly everything that I had built my entire adult life around drift away. It was a lot. Even the right decisions can feel wrong in the moments after you make them.
My saving grace was that I knew completely that I was making the correct move. Everyone who knew me knew how overdue the changes were. I needed to be happy. I wanted to be happy. Deep down, I knew I’d be happy, if only I could let go of the guilt, shame, and fear that comes from leaping out of a soaring plane that you imagined you’d be in until you died.
That was then. Today, it’s a new year. It’s a new Easter and we had an amazing day. I didn’t think about my past lives. I focused on my current life. I focused on my future.
A year removed from that panic, my kids are doing great. My children have always been great, if I’m being honest. They’ve got true grit and the way everything was handled in front of them made the transition easier. I’m proud of them both for how they have adjusted.
Losing family and friends is fine too. You realize, as they go, that many were neither. I have friends of my own and wouldn’t trade any of them for the world. I have family too in the sense of what family truly means. Blood may give you life but blood doesn’t give you family. There are people today who want to be here and want to know us. That’s what family really is. My kids deserve that. I deserve that.
This is the part where we circle back to the surgery. Ten years ago, my life almost ended. Because of that, I am keenly aware that, at any point, it could happen to me. Death isn’t a storyline arc for other people. It’s an inevitability for us all. One day, every single person reading this will pass away. That’s one of the few truths we can all agree on.
Knowing that makes me want to live the best life I can. I don’t want to feel isolation, guilt, or fear. I want to feel alive. Yes, Nurse, I still want to do everything.
The reason it took so long to make these changes is that, subconsciously, I had been taking inventory of those around me. I wanted to see who wanted to be in my life and who made me feel like a better person. If people really valued me and the time they spent with me, I wanted them around.
I wanted to be happy and, if there were people who made me happy, I wanted those people there. If they didn’t want to be there, they could go and live their own best lives. I no longer had any time to waste. Those people may not have had the all-important near-death moment to remind them, but they don’t have time to waste either. None of us do. The clock ticks and the bell tolls for us all.
Thinking this way requires no apologies. No one should sleepwalk their way through life. You don’t get an award for it. No one respects you for it. It just wastes the few precious days that you were given. The worst part is that you never know how many of those days you have left until they’re done.
Go live them. I am.