As a writer, I have always been told to avoid cliches. I still remember how, in one of the first stories I ever had published for a newspaper, I used "like hitting your head against a brick wall'' in the lede. I knew it was a cliche, and I knew I should have come up with something better, but it was all I could think of on deadline.
Sure enough, my editor told me that while it worked, it was indeed a cliche, which I should try to avoid.
Of course, the problem is that cliches don't become cliches unless they actual say something so universally understood that other people begin to use it frequently, simply because it describes what they are feeling/thinking so perfectly.
Like "hitting your head against a brick wall."
Sunday morning MG woke up, and I could tell she was feeling a bit overwhelmed with everything.
She'd actually had a very good day Saturday - after a lousy, lousy Friday. But on Saturday, she ate the best she had since before the accident. She sat up on the side of the bed without any help, and moved from bed to wheelchair on the sliding board without any significant help. I took her outside for a stroll down to the mailbox, then out to the new garden in the backyard where I took this picture.
Yes, she's making great progress.
Unfortunately, sometimes great progress is also a depressing reminder of how far she still has to go.
Sunday morning,realizing she was overwhelmed, I decided to lay down beside her on the hospital bed. We actually fit rather comfortably, probably because she weighs next to nothing now even though I still weigh more than enough.
It was nice to be close, and I told her she had to realize how far she'd come - three weeks ago she was just coming out of a coma; two weeks ago she was just coming home from the hospital; one week ago she couldn't sit up and had virtually no range of motion in either leg.
"Can I be really honest?" she said.
Of course, I answered.
"Everyone tells me how far I've come, but I get tired of hearing that. I'm in the moment, right now, and sometimes it just feels so awful."
I told her she was right, that unfortunately when we - family and friends, the people who care about her - talk to her, all we can think to say is "You're doing so well! You've come so far! You look so much better! You're making so much progress!"
We say it because it's true, of course. But I think we also say it because we don't know what else to say.
MG knows that, of course. And this isn't to say quit telling MG how far she's come or how much she's improved or how good she looks. She needs to hear it. She needs cheerleaders in her life. And I can guarantee you she needs to hear someone new saying those things, because the truth is I can say them every day but, after two weeks at home, they are starting to sound like cliches when I say them.
But it's also MG being honest. Sometimes every step forward is just a reminder of how many more steps we have to take. And it gets overwhelming.
We talked about SaraBeth's graduation from college next spring, and MG said her goal was to be able to walk with SaraBeth at her graduation.
MG loves the beach, and as we lay side-by-side Sunday morning I told her next summer we'd be lying on the beach (a huge sacrifice for me, by the way, because people that know me know I hate being on the beach). She said, "I hope I can walk on the sand."
I am absolutely, 100 percent confident that MG will be able to do both - walk with SB at her graduation (although not up on the platform to help SB accept her diploma, as much as MG might deserve to make that walk with SB) and walk down the beach through the soft white sand to a towel where she can - as we say around our house because of something one of the kids used to say - "take a sun tan."
But I also knew that MG didn't want to hear me saying, "Oh, you're going to be fine! Don't talk like that. You'll be up and walking before you know it."
MG was caught in the moment of where she is. She told me she woke up and felt great for a minute, almost forgetting that anything was wrong, and then the pain started.
As I wrote before, MG's recovery has been amazing. Every milestone set out before her has been moved up -from not being able to put weight on her right leg in seven to ten weeks to now being told she can begin to put weight on that leg in two weeks.
And that kind of news gets us both excited. But then the reality sets in. It is, after all, two weeks away. And until then, there is pain - nerve endings continue to wake up, stretched ligaments and muscles pull back into place, incisions heal, ribs heal, lungs heal. There are areas of her skin that have no feeling. There are areas that have too much feeling. There are the problems that come from of a lack of muscle control.
A great day moving around means a horrible next day because every movement disturbs her ribs. And anyone that has ever broken or separated or even bruised a rib knows how painful every movement can be. Is there any movement that doesn't somehow require the ribs to move, too?
I can't tell her not to get caught up in the moment, to focus on how far she's come or how close she is to the next milestone. On this day, she's firmly in the moment, and she needs to be able to express that.
I'm glad. One thing I'm acutely aware of is that when people ask me, "How is she doing?" I feel compelled to give the best news possible, to say "She's doing great" and "She's making great progress." And it's true ... but sometimes I feel like saying, "How do you think she is? Everything on her left side, from the shoulder down to the top of her thigh, was crushed by a Chevy Tahoe driven by a guy who was nearly drunk out of his mind, who never even hit the brakes! How is she supposed to be?"
(Can you tell that sometimes I get angry, too?)
But then, as MG and I always do, we laugh.
She said - in all seriousness - "what about going through the airport? Will I have a card or something saying that I have all this metal in my hip? What do I do about that?"
I said, "I'm not nearly as worried about getting through the airport as I am about taking you to the junkyard where they have those cranes with the big magnets on the end. What am I going to do if suddenly you're pulled up 50 feet over a junkyard, dangling by your hip from one of those things?"
She laughed. And suddenly she was no longer thinking about the problems, because she was caught up in the absurdity I was describing with such apparent concern.
I think that's another reason why I married her: she genuinely thinks I'm funny.
As I said, this isn't to stop people from saying the truth to MG: that she has made tremendous progress, that she is lucky to be alive, that she looks great.
It's just to remind ourselves that sometimes the best thing we can say is nothing. Sometimes all we can do is sit beside her, and hurt with her, cry with her, rage with her.
Because eventually, we will get to laugh with her again.
Usually sooner than we think.