What followed was a frantic attempt to save his life: the screaming siren of the ambulance, immediate brain surgery, a prayer vigil as his wife Mary and their three children Matt, Liz and Katie waited. He survived the night and the subsequent weeks, finally regaining consciousness and, little by little, the ability to recognize loved ones, to speak and to read.
But some aspects of the life of this smart and sophisticated man who once headed the international division of a major food corporation and traveled the world are gone forever. He can no longer drive. He walks with great difficulty. He has major cognitive deficits: he can no longer multi-task nor does he always process what is said to him. He has no reflexes that prompt him to notice or catch something falling from his lap nor does he realize that anything is the matter with him. He can't understand why Mary won't let him drive or buy a bicycle. He scoffs at his physical therapist's alternative suggestion of a three-wheeler. He alternately tells Mary, a gifted psychotherapist who retired from her practice to care for him full-time, how much he loves her and how angry he is with her, saying that he doesn't understand why she won't let him drive.
And their days together flow on, determined by the rhythm of his life: getting up mid-day, fixing his favorite meals, caring for their two devoted little dogs, sitting together in the sun on their ocean-view balcony, performing tasks of daily living once easy, now hard. Neither complains. They're united in love and in faith.
Having just spent several days visiting with Mary, one of my closest friends over the past 40 years, and John, her husband of 26 years, I have come away with a sense of awe of the difficulty and devotion of their shared lives.
And being with them has reminded me both of the blessings of long friendships and of how life can change so profoundly in a minute. A stumble, a missed step, an unstable knee. That's all it takes to change life forever.
And sometimes that life-changing moment can even be an exuberant moment gone wrong or an impulsive, if disastrous, gesture of love.
I just got a call tonight from my cousin Caron Roudebush, who lives in suburban Kansas City. She told me that a grandchild's loving and exuberant leap into her arms has led to a life-limiting back injury and then, additionally, life-changing respiratory distress, requiring oxygen, became part of Caron's daily life. She has suffered greatly and her life has changed from that of an eternally young, gently aging woman who loved to care for her family to a woman who now needs the constant daily care of her husband and family. Her husband Bud, her sweetheart since they were 14 years old and her spouse for nearly 53 years, retired to take care of her and even learned to cook all their favorite foods. "He has saved my life. Everything has changed with this injury," she said without a trace of bitterness. "But I am surrounded with so much love. How can I complain? Besides, I still feel incredibly young inside."
And I wonder: would I be so loving, so accepting, so optimistic, so embracing of life were I the one injured or if I were a full-time caregiver? Watching the love and devotion of Mary and John and Caron and Bud, I'm both incredibly sad that bad things have happened to such good people and deeply moved by their mutual devotion.
It also reminds me that we have no guarantees in life. Each healthy moment, each opportunity to do for others, each day of independence is a blessing. Every day that we can walk or run or breathe easily is to be treasured. And every moment with a loved one is very special.
So let's embrace these moments and these loved ones today, this minute.
In just a moment, so much can change.