On the way to the hospital, Ariel thought about her friendship with Kenneth -- and with Sarah. The three of them had been friends for over 25 years -- Ariel had watched their 3 children grow up before her eyes. They had played countless games of Pictionary and Trivial Pursuit, put up many Christmas trees together and downed lots of pizza and Dr. Pepper at the local Pizza Hut. They lived about 5 hours apart, but made it a point to get together a couple of times each year -- usually Christmas and summer. This summer trip wasn't scheduled, though . . . this trip was an emergency. The thought brought tears that stung her eyes. She whispered another prayer -- "Please just let him be okay. Sarah doesn't need another tragedy." The tears and the prayers and the memories ran together in her mind like the colors from M&Ms in your hands until she was tired -- and slept.
Even her dreams were full of thoughts of Kenneth -- and Sarah -- and memories. She remembered fondly her "friend date" with Kenneth to Pizza Hut in Ariel and Sarah's hometown during a visit. It was his attempt to befriend? impress? one-up? the best friend. He had been a little intimidated by their friendship. Ariel didn't know that until much later when he had shared it with her. She smiled now thinking of that memory as she awoke from the dream -- and the virtual visit to Pizza Hut. Her eyes were already tear-stained, puffy and red. She wondered what the visit would hold.
Kenneth's life literally hung in the balance. It had been a challenging summer -- starting with an accident on his bicycle -- originating from a brain event -- an aneurysm. He had spent 9 days in the hospital then -- had recuperated and was regaining strength when he had another brain bleed -- this one more serious. This time it required a 12-hour brain surgery -- that almost ended in disaster. If it were not for a quick-thinking doctor and an even quicker consult with another surgeon, he would have bled out on the table. It required an unplanned bypass procedure with the arteries taking the blood away from his head -- not a typical procedure, but it saved his life! Dr. Joe was everyone's hero, because Kenneth was everyone's friend. He was one of those everyday, All-American guys that everyone loves. He was a friendly and hard-working, semi-church-going, do-the-right-thing, live-your-life-honestly-and-with-integrity kind of person. Couldn't the world use more of them? Dr. Joe had done his part.
But. . . .
Kenneth wasn't awake yet.
Would he wake up?
Would he be okay?
Would he be the same?
Would Sarah be okay?
The thoughts and memories toggled for top billing. Questions stacked up like unpaid bills, and the anxiety grew.
Ariel and her husband Sean had been visiting family in GA when the call came, and they left almost immediately, cutting family vacay short. The drive was long -- made longer by all the uncertainty.
They arrived at the hospital in Virginia unsure of what to expect. They visited with Sarah and when there was an opportunity, they went back to visit with Kenneth. Well, visit is perhaps a strong word. Kenneth lay in a hospital bed with more tubes than Ariel had ever seen -- deathly still, deathly silent, just. . . .deathly. Dread and fear grabbed the steering wheel of her mind and she fought back tears.
"What ifs" and "What abouts" bounced around like watching a tennis match in her mind.
A week . . . Ariel stayed with Sarah for a whole week. Almost every day, they drove an hour to the hospital. Some nights they stayed at the hospital, scrunching up on benches in the waiting room, grabbing what sleep they could.
They talked. . . .they caught up on all the daily stuff in each others' lives, they talked about minutiae and they talked about life -- and death. They talked about what-ifs and what-abouts. They talked about faith and the lack of faith. They talked about waiting for the other shoe to fall and they talked about hoping for the best. They talked about hopes and dreams and fears and all the things you talk about when you're on a hospital bench in a waiting room and someone you love dearly is in one of those rooms with all those tubes and their life in that uncertain vapor-like stage. They cried. They held hands. They took turns going to see Kenneth and praying for a change -- willing his eyes to open, hoping for one of his Han Solo grins.
Day after day they visited, they waited, they talked. Ariel prayed. They drove. They waited, and waited and waited. But there was no change, and there were no promises.
After a week, Ariel needed to get back home. She hated to leave Sarah, but Sarah promised to keep Ariel updated, and so Sean drove up to get her.
On her last visit to Kenneth’s room, she was so hoping that this would be the moment he would open his eyes. She willed him to with everything in her. She cried. She held his hand and prayed. She talked to him and told him how much they all loved him and how much Sarah needed him. She begged him to wake up, but he didn’t.
Ariel left Sarah knowing their lives were possibly changing forever. She thought back to the simplicity of French fries and popsicles when they met in the fourth grade and longed for those times without all the grief and worry of today. No, today, they were not sharing French fries or popsicles, they were sharing tears and fears and love and support and hugs that said, “I wish I could stay.” and hugs that said, “I’m so sorry. I wish things were different” and hugs that said, “I love you and thank you for being here.” and hugs that said, “What am I going to do if he doesn’t wake up?” and hugs that answered, “I don’t know, but I’ll be here to help you through whatever it is.”
Several days later, the call came that Kenneth had awakened. He had a long way to go, and would be different. He was compromised in some ways that only time and rehab would reveal, but he was alive, awake, and aware. She was not going to have to hold her best friend’s hand during her husband’s funeral -- at least not right now. . . .Yes, life had changed -- and it would continue to change. Life -- and friendship -- and marriage are for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health. When the call came, Ariel was thankful for answered prayers and thankful for this precious friendship!