I almost died. When I hear those words, they almost always seem like an exaggeration or an expression of a pulsing fear so deep that we don’t know what other words to use. There’s a scene in the movie Clueless where a group of teenagers crowd around a not yet, but soon to be popular girl to hear her account of how she nearly but not really, nearly died. Realizing that her peers think she’s cool because she toed that line between here and that somewhere else and that she likes their attention and being the center of this excitement, she gives them the story they want. A wild and breathless account of how she was this close, this close to falling off a railing in a mall but saved by a handsome boy she’ll crush on.
Being near death and saved is not my story. Or, at least not the story I remember. The story I remember is an IV in my arm. My mom being with me, being so gentle and patient. Somewhere in there a phone call telling me to go to the hospital NOW. Another message telling me that I needed to get to the hospital. Maybe 4, maybe 5 calls before something kicked in and I realized I needed to move, this was serious. Apparently, losing your judgment and reason is a sign of something serious. A moment looking at a magazine and suddenly wondering why I couldn’t make out the words even if I squinted really hard. Waking up, my head still on the pillow when I realize my senses have turned all The Incredibles on me. I hear every individual component of an air purifier running, I hear an airplane engine it’s no longer a “noise” but a thousand little sounds that I can tease apart. Yeah, I have a new superpower! Not so super when I start wearing ear plugs, a hat and sunglasses inside my house to avoid a crippling, falling on the floor crying reaction to any motion or noise or light. Losing all my words. Realizing that even if my mouth could say what I wanted it to that I didn’t know words any more. Tapping my head and assuring my mom, “Don’t worry, I’ve got it all up here.” Righhhht. A memory of dear neighbors swooping in and offering help, bringing groceries and just being present with me. And more friends. And feeling more love. Feeling unworthy of the attention but knowing without this help, I will hurt myself. That I am no longer capable of taking care of me.
So why do I feel like that there’s something so untrue when I write the words, I almost died? I suppose we all have “that story” in our lives – usually from a really close call while we’re driving or a step taken too quickly into the street not seeing a vehicle that nearly careens into us. That split second leaves our heart pounding, our body shaken by the reality that we missed death by a smidgen. “It was so close,” we tell our family, “an inch closer and I don’t know what would have happened.” I think we tell those stories to help process the fear and clear that stress hormone that’s pulsing through us. And we lean in to hear those stories of close calls because we know that life is fragile and it’s a thrill when a close call is just that.
I think the clinical truth is I could have died. A study I read said that somewhere between 20-50% of people who have this form of brain injury do die. Those are scary numbers. But, my brain wasn’t working right. I don’t have the same memories and fears that we think of when we say the words, “I almost died.” What I do know is that it feels untrue to say the words because I did not have an adrenaline-induced, hands trembling, heart beating so hard you feel it in your throat moment. No, my story is that I have fragments and feelings and this wonderment at where the weeks went? And of course, the memories I’m creating from what people tell me they saw and remember. Sometimes, it’s hard to believe what they tell me but I don’t have anything else to go on.
What I know now is that my brain isn’t quite right still. My body not quite right. No timeline, just guesses and assurances that it will be okay in time. But, you’re alive, right? Yes, but not in the way I remember being. And that makes me sob and sob and makes me so gosh darn frustrated.
So why grace? Because I need it in spades. I need to give it to myself – and not just while I’m healing and doing off-the-charts absentminded things, having to sleep for hours on end and trying so hard to just make it through each day – but for grace to become seeped in me to counter my demanding, judging and often unforgiving self. Because as a Lutheran, I’ve been taught that grace is what God gives us as complete and unconditional acceptance and love. Because that’s what I need right now. Grace always.