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Life Lessons at Christmas

Saturday, December 28, 2013

This year, I had high hopes for Christmas. For the first time in years, I had no schoolwork, no work work, and no overwhelming housework to take over my year-end vacation. I was going to focus on me. Hit the gym. Relax. Take baths. Read books. Light candles. But, as always seems to happen when things are going well, plans change.

My parents got sick. Nothing major - just colds. My mom got better. My dad did not. He went to the doctor and got antibiotics but kept getting worse. On the 15th, 9 days after his first cough, my mom convinced him to go to the ER. They didn't let him leave. Why? Pneumonia in both lungs. He couldn't breath and he was failing fast.

The first few days were very scary. I dropped everything and spent each day in the hospital, listening to the doctors and trying to console my mom. My family hasn't had to deal with serious illness before - and we aren't emotional. The stress, the uncertainty, and seeing my mother cry were all new to me and I struggled to be the daughter my mom needed. But I was scared - the doctors thought my dad might not make it. I checked stats for double pneumonia...30-50% mortality rate. I had to come to terms with the fact that I might lose my otherwise extremely healthy father a week before Christmas, while still maintaining hope that things would be ok.

On his 7th day on the ventilator in the ICU, he had yet to respond to any of us. My dad has a strong Catholic upbringing and is very active in the Lions Club. That afternoon, the Lions pastor stopped by for a visit. He didn't stay very long, but asked if I would mind if he held my dad's hand and shared a healing prayer. While I don't share my father's beliefs, I knew he would appreciate that so I of course consented. After the pastor left, I took my dad's hand and told him about the pastor's kind visit. I felt a squeeze on my hand and then my dad opened his eyes. It was the most emotional moment I have ever experienced. I knew then that he would recover.

He healed enough over the next three days to come off the ventilator. He was so weak and exhausted from his ordeal, but still had his sense of humor. We knew he wouldn't be home for Christmas, so we brought Christmas to him. It was the best Christmas I could have ever hoped for.

Yesterday, they released my dad from the hospital and he is now home. He has a walker and oxygen, but that is temporary. He'll regain his strength and get back to his life. I feel like the happiest person on the planet right now, and I'm sure my entire family feels the same.

This Christmas, I learned a lot. I learned to roll with life's punches, and stay hopeful, strong, and optimistic in the face of adversity. I learned to keep a sense of humor even when the situation seems tragic. (Always maintaining proper decorum, of course.) I learned to ask for help when I needed it, and that my friendships are stronger than I had thought. I learned that personal faith is incredibly strong, no matter its form (I believe my dad responded to the pastor's visit because it reflected his own belief). And I learned that happiness isn't defined by the absence of challenges, but rather it is the challenges in life that make you cherish the happy moments.

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