Author: Melissa Ashton
I opened my eyes to a soft, dim light reaching through the tiny spaces in between the slats on the window coverings. The illuminating sunlight shifted my mind from the blank, dark space that the previous night’s deep sleep had offered. The sleep was a gift, a luxury I hadn’t experienced since our son Travis had been in a car accident a couple of months prior. He was eleven and suffered a traumatic brain injury after leaving baseball practice. He was currently placed in a skilled nursing and rehab facility 45 minutes away, where he had been since he had woken from a coma. As the light became stronger, so did my awareness of reality. Despite the precious sleep, my body was still exhausted. Every cell seemed to ache and carry the heaviness that loomed from Travis’ injuries. My muscles didn’t want to move––they longed to stay under the warmth of the blankets that covered me. My mind and my heart desperately wanted to go back to the dark place where I had forgotten the accident.
I heard the shuffling of little feet outside my door. My six-year-old Cade asked his younger brother Rhett, “Where do you think Mommy will drop us off today?” His words tore at my heart. I could feel the tug of war begin inside my chest. One side pulled for me to spend my day with these two rambunctious, sweet, towheaded boys. I wanted to listen to the sounds of pretend cars and dump trucks, the chatter as they threw a ball back and forth over and over, the splashing sound of water at bath time, the arguing about whose turn it was to say the prayer. I desperately missed all of it.
The other, equal side of the war in my chest was beckoning me to get to the hospital. Travis was not able to speak, and was left with a body that no longer responded to the commands of his brain. I knew he would be lying there alone and would soon begin therapy for the day. The nurses took such good care of him. I knew they each adored him, and would melt if he happened to spontaneously give them one of his one-sided grins. He had been taught a few signs he could make with his one functioning hand to let us know if he was hungry, or in pain, but his communication was limited. I seemed to be the only one that could understand and interpret what he was trying to say. I believe this ability to understand him, like that morning’s sleep, was a gift given to me from heaven. I couldn’t speak for him if I wasn’t there. As wonderful as the nurses were, they were not able to be in the room with him every moment. My heart hurt when I imagined what it was like for an eleven-year-old to be away from his family alone in a hospital bed, not able to get up and use the bathroom, get another blanket if he was cold, or say a word to anyone.
The tug of the rehab center won the battle. I dropped my younger boys off at a neighbor’s home that had volunteered to help us on the babysitting calendar. Different friends and neighbors watched the boys while I was at the hospital with Travis, and my husband was at work. Another calendar was passed around for dinners, which were dropped off in the evening. There was yet another sign-up to do yard work and cleaning at our house. Once a week we came home to a freshly mowed yard and clean home, sparkling, mopped and vacuumed. As much as it pained me to leave my younger boys, I was equally full of gratitude for the army of angels who had come together to help our family. I could hardly take in the love and service that was given freely to my husband, our children, and myself. Their hands seemed to reach out and keep us from drowning, just like the Savior’s did to Peter. I kissed my boys goodbye with a lump in my throat for the kindness that had been offered to me, and for the mourning of the family and life I once knew that was no more.
As I entered the familiar hallways of the hospital and into Travis' room, he was still sleeping. The hospital smell that was always present suddenly made me nauseous. The sterile dark room and with the beeps and the muffled sound of someone moaning from another room seemed to fill the air with weight and close in on top of me. I could hardly breathe. I wasn’t sure I could go on another day, but I knew for Travis’ sake we both had to.
As the tears began to spill over, I got on my knees on the cold hospital floor and cried out to the heavens. I poured out my heart silently so I wouldn’t wake Travis.
During this prayer I had a thought that seemed obvious to me, and suddenly I knew exactly what we needed. I quietly slipped out the door to get supplies for my plan.
I returned this time to find Travis awake, bathed and prepared for therapy. None of the nurses were around so I got to work. I told Travis, “We are going to have a different kind of therapy today, and we may get in trouble for it.” I could see curiosity written on his face, and one side of his mouth turned up a bit, letting me know he liked the sound of this.
I lit the candles I had bought, slid the table across the room and plugged in the speakers I had just acquired. I turned Travis’ bed that he was lying in around since he could see better out of his left side. I pressed play, and turned up the volume as loud as it would go. George Strait’s voice began to blare from his hospital room. I said, “Travis, today we are going to dance.”
I took his hand and began to twirl and two step and sing along. The side of his mouth that moved was in one of the biggest smiles I had seen on his face since he had been hurt.
One of the not-as-friendly nurses finally barged in on our party, and wanted to know what was going on in here?!
I looked at Travis, his face lit up at the sight of her expression. I heard him laugh a belly laugh that lasted for what seemed like minutes. The sound of his laughter sent a warm wave of joy through my entire body.
We were promptly reminded that we could NOT light candles in the hospital, NOR could we have loud music, and we were NOT allowed to move the furniture around, which provoked even more laughter from Trav.
The rest of the day and in the years that have followed, when I think about this moment a smile always emerges. It has been years since our dance in the hospital together. Travis still is unable to speak, but he can walk. He can eat, dress and bathe himself. He can play one-handed golf. He is a great dancer. He still listens to George Strait.
When life gets heavy and hard, I like to think back on the prayer in the rehabilitation hospital that day that reminded me that there is a time to dance and a time to laugh. Sometimes it’s just what we need.