One of my comforts of this past several months has been my "Plan B" list.
When we found out the sad (and scary) news that my former husband's illness was progressing quickly and that he'd be entering hospice soon, I knew that there would be times this semester when I would suddenly have to leave my home and job to go be with my daughter. So in my usual rather overly-methodical way, I planned for emergencies by making a giant list of names and telephone numbers, sorted into categories.
There are comforting aspects of seeking help, I've always found. One of these is that I realize how very many different ways I am involved in the world. When a make a list of "things I'll need to cover", I discover in a tangible way what a lot of things I do. That's just a little bit of ego pump, really.
Even more comforting is to name out loud the many good friends and colleagues who surround me. And I'm very much aware that asking for help draws this circle tighter, making connections stronger. I found people who offered to step in at a moment's notice to teach my various classes, to take over some ceremonial committee duties, to feed the dog, to watch the boys.
That last bit -- someone to watch the boys -- deserves a bit of extra mention. With my husband away at military training for three months, and with K-daughter off at college, I couldn't just dump my sons on the usual suspects. As I thought about "who could I call if I have to leave suddenly?", I mentally rolled through my circle of parent-friends. I also asked my sons for their ideas, and N-son came up with "Officer S.", a public safety officer on our campus.
So I sent Officer S. a note:
Your name came up in a conversation I had with the boys today . . . I was telling them that I might have to leave town for a few days suddenly, and was there anyone in particular they might want to come and stay at our home with them? Out of the blue, [N-son] mentioned you. Whether or not you would actually be willing and able to volunteer for N/J-duty, I thought you'd be flattered by the thought.
The leave-town-suddenly reason is actually rather sad. Earlier this summer, my former husband was diagnosed with renal cancer. Unfortunately, it's spreading very fast and he entered hospice today. My daughter has been living with her dad since she graduated from college. She has other people helping her and her dad during this awful time (his girlfriend and his sister have been heroes in all this), but it's still very, very hard for her.
I am going to go visit her at some point, but neither of us knows when that will be --- as you can imagine, things are a bit of a whirlwind right now.
BUT it gives us a chance to remember how many good friends we have around us . . . like you.She (Officer S., that is) became a rock that I relied on. In the past, she and I had worked together and respected one another, but now there's this additional connection, and in that way, my world is now a better place, my ties to the community stronger and more diverse.
And this story of gratitude is one I get to repeat over and over: there's the mathematician who offered to cover my Friday afternoon class, but who instead gets to hear the daily updates of family crises (latest one: no news today! woo-hoo!). There's the mathematician who did actually cover a Monday morning class. There's the student who earnestly wrote to me, "It will get better; I promise". There are the people from our church who prayed for us, who listened to me rant and rail, who helped with child care, who broke bread with me. There's the woman in Haiti who is helping us find a new Haitian lawyer in hopes of getting X-son's adoption back on track. There's the running buddies who kept me sane. The vice principal who took N-son under his wing after the bad-hair day.
In spite of all the grief and tribulation and frustrations we've faced these past few months, it's a good and righteous thing to have these living, breathing reminders that there's a bigger world outside my doors. And this world, with the wonderful people who fill it up, is a good direction to turn this face of mine.