Every time I go to to a funeral I think that it would be so nice if the people in the casket (or urn) would have been able to hear all of the wonderful things people were saying about them. Instead, unfortunately, it's not until someone we love is gone that we really understand what they meant to us, how they touched our lives and how much they will be missed. We don't want to consider that our dear relatives or friends will ever leave us forever. We can't bear to think about it and so we don't. We love them and we work with them and play with them and appreciate them but we don't often just sit down and say...."Hey....this is why I love you and this is why you are a wonderful person and I would miss you if you weren't a part of my life".
The second day that Brennis was in the hospital I got an email from a musician friend of ours from Ireland where she was visiting. Her husband had had a heart attack and open heart surgery ten years before and, like us, they had no insurance. "People are going to want to do a fundraiser for you", she said. "They did it for us. Just let them do it. You'll need it."
I wasn't even thinking about money at that point. I could have cared less about how much it was going to cost. When I entertained the thought of people doing a fundraiser for us I was immediately defensive. "We got ourselves into this mess," I thought "We can get ourselves out of it".
As the days passed and my mind occasionally started adding up the days in the hospital, the numerous drugs, the surgeons, the nurses the cardiologist, the meals....I kept thinking about what my friend had said. She was pretty smart. She was always right. I began to think that I should just listen to her.
Actually I knew that there was a fundraiser in the works as soon as we got the word from the doctors that Brennis had had a heart attack. The three artists working the gallery for us the morning we were in the ER were already secretly planning the event. Eventually I told them that they could do what they wanted. I knew we were going to need help and I was actually very grateful that they wanted to help. I was in no position to agrue. I did, however, feel like a bit of a failure.
When we find ourselves in a position where we need other people we feel helpless. We may not actually be helpless but it's how we feel. In addition to that it was very easy for Brennis and I to feel some guilt for the position we were in. We had priced health insurance five years before but the premiums would have been astronomical since at the time we smoked and were both considerably overweight. Had we just quit smoking alone we would have had a much better time getting insurance (and the money saved would have helped pay for it). To say we felt foolish in our current position was an understatement....but it was where we were at this moment and we now needed help. I couldn't turn back the clock and make better decisions. It is an experience that has taught me to be less judgemental of other people who have made questionable decisions in their lives. All we can do is to start right now where we are and make the most of the choices before us. The past is gone and it simply doesn't matter.
So we moved forward or, more accurately, a group of very kind, generous, loving people moved forward. Brennis and I had no idea what was going on. We didn't want to know. My friend's words just kept playing over and over again in my brain: "Let them do it."
The scope of the event became clear to me as soon as I got back to work. There were butons made with Brennis' picture on them that were being sold for five dollars in the gallery. "Five dollars?", I thought....."People are crazy!" I was glad that they were. I had only begun to get the bills in the mail.
On top of that, people were buying tickets for $20.00 each to attend a silent auction and concert at our Cultural Center in late August. I was dumbfounded. The more I heard about what was happening the more I was touched. This was becoming something larger that I could have ever imagined. I was overwhelmed with gratitude.
In addition to all of that we were getting checks and gift cards from people visitng not to mention the food people brought to the house for weeks after Brennis got home. To try to list all of the kindnesses and generosities shown to Brennis and me during this time would take days. There was a Facebook page called "The Brennis Bunch" that people used to keep track of Brennis' progress in the hospital which was now being used to gather auction items, food and volunteers for the big event.
Brennis and I have hosted our share of fundraisers at the gallery but nothing like this. We tried not to think about it and just went on with our lives. Brennis went back to work by the beginning of August and our lives were starting to get back to normal. Every day, however, we were getting bills in the mail: bills from the emergency room doctors, bills from the radiologist, bills from the blood testing facility, bills, bills, bills. I put them in the cupboard and started a spreadsheet. I began to become even more thankful that this event was coming up. There is no way we could have even started to tackle this wall of bills without help.
Then it was that night. Brennis and I worked at the gallery that day. He was back to work full time by now, the end of August. I was on my second day off the nicotene patch so I was already feeling a bit....shall we say....overwhelmed. We closed the gallery early so we could be at the event when it started. People had paid $20.00 afterall....we really should be there on time.
The minute we walked into the Cultural Center we were surrounded by love. Literally. For the entirety of the evening Brennis and I were face to face with nearly every person in town we had ever had a significant relationship with and they told us how much they loved us, how much we meant to them and how grateful they were that Brennis was going to be alright. There wasn't a moment that we weren't face to face with the most wonderful, giving, caring, generous people you would ever know. It was like something out of a movie but it was actually happening.
People really adore Brennis and they were able to tell him that. It was beyond amazing. For once somebody got to hear from his friends and family how much he is loved and appreciated while he can still experience it.
Saying "Thank you," for something like this (and for the thousands of small kindnesses Brennis and I received throughout those three months) is not easy. Those two words are powerful but they hardly match the gifts we were given. We wrote cards, called people, told them how grateful we were but it just never seemed like enough. How do you convey your gratitude to literally hundreds of people for all of the extraordinary things they had done for you?
Brennis and I knew from the very beginning that we would get through this ordeal. We knew that no matter what happened we would weather this storm as we had weathered many, many smaller ones throughout the years. What we didn't know was that we would have so many people surrounding us at every step on our journey. They were as much a part of our experience as we were. They were now as much a part of us as they possibly could be.
Saying "Thank you" is enough....but it's not the end. These people were kind to us because they were thanking us for something we had done for them. We thank them in return by trying to be the kind of people they imagine us to be. We thank them by taking care of ourselves and respecting the gift of good health we have been given. We thank them by being conscious of their needs when the tables are turned and they are the ones who need help.
Thank you is not the end it is the beginning: The beginning of a cycle of kindness that hopefully will continue throughout our lives. Being thankful is a state of being and we need to be mindful of it.
So to all of those people reading this now who were here for us when we needed you so badly last year....Thank you! There is nothing more to say. I am grateful and I hope you know that. I may say it again some day too....I probably will. You have become a part of my life in ways you can never imagine and now I am a part of yours. For that too....I am thankful.
Needing help from someone is not the same as being helpless. It is simply an opportunity for us to share our gifts with other people. Needing others is an opportunity to be connected to each other. If we didn't need other people we could all just as well live alone and never reach beyond ourselves. I am thankful that I needed those people last year because now they are a part of me. Now as I move on through my life I feel them close to me, guiding me. They have enriched my life in ways none of us could have ever imagined. Never does a day go by that I am not mindful of their gifts. I received them freely and now I give freely in return.