The anger rolls off him like heat waves on a stretch of blistering hot dessert highway; you can see it, feel it. As the squeaky wheel on his IV cart announces our presence in the fifth floor hallway at IU North Hospital, Anthony turns his head slightly to answer my question about his walking goal for the day. Without making eye contact he tersely snaps back; “No. She said I only had to do four laps. I don’t want to talk, Mom.” He trundles on, anger waves undulating off stooped shoulders that now bear the weight of a chronic disease life sentence. I follow behind as the IV cart slowly moves ahead of his cautious steps. I bite my tongue.
My daily “go to” prayer begins – “Lord, help me to remember it is not me he is mad at, but the Crohn’s. Please help him to start seeing and appreciating all the good things that have happened to him and for him even in the midst of all this craziness. Help me to teach him to count his blessings.”
I pray this prayer I don’t know how many times a day. I pray it when he has bitten my head off for the 100th time that day or whatever day we happen to find ourselves in, or when he has been terse with a health care worker and when he just cannot seem to imagine that there are those worse off than he is. I pray this prayer when I am so bone tired and scared I want to scream. I pray it when I am about to smack him upside his head because he cannot, will not, find one iota of positiveness and blessing in his situation when I can clearly see dozens and dozens of blessings that cover us daily. Why can’t he see those blessings, too? Will he ever?
A scene from an old Bill Cosby show plays in my head as we round the corner of the hall: the scene where Cliff Huxtable (Cosby) is mad at his son, Theo (Malcomb Jamal Warner), for something and Cliff says; “Don’t forget. I brought you into this world and I can take you out!” A smile crosses my lips as I remember that show; I know the feeling Cosby’s character is conveying – parental frustration that only comes because we are farther down the road of life than our children are and we are trying to save them from the pitfalls we know are in their path.
I have come to learn that this type of anger is not personal and that Anthony is in survival brain mode right now. He has been handed a sentence that no one wants and he is only twenty-five. He is royally pissed. He wants to be home doing normal things like riding in his new Jeep, having fun with his girlfriend, going to work, hanging with the guys and playing Halo. That’s all. He wants his life back – but he can’t for now and it is this that makes him angry at the world, God, and everyone else he comes in contact with. He has pulled himself inward and set a thorny hedge of anger around him that only the lovingly brave dare tackle. So, countless times a day, his doctors, nurses and I throw ourselves at that hedge, getting scratched, scuffed and scoffed at in the process because we know there is a new normal for him and we are all committed, thorns and all, to helping him see it. We are undaunted.
The hardest part of this journey for me so far has been learning that every tool, save one, in my parental tool box doesn’t work when your child is in this situation; the only one that works is love and even that has to be modified somewhat – sort of like buying the “contractor grade” of tool at Lowe’s instead of the homeowner version. Love has to be amped up to what I have come to call, Teflon Love. Teflon Love can take anything you sling at it yet remains unscathed. Teflon Love can stare down demonic forces and not be fazed. Teflon Love can hold a pile of outrageous medical bills and know that somehow they will be taken care of. Teflon Love can gaze upon the seemingly ever diminishing body of its beloved child and see through to robust health. Teflon Love can take the F word and icy hostile stares of anger because it knows love is the safe place for those feelings (which are normal under such conditions) to find sanctuary and eventual healing. Teflon Love is warm and mercurial; it repels all negativity by adapting to each moment like a warm blanket wrapped protectively around trembling shoulders. It generously gives what is required; it asks nothing in return. It flows soothingly across wounded hearts, souls and bodies that eventually rise to give testimony to the healing power of Teflon Love.