I have only had two personal experiences with ambulances in my life, but every time I hear their piercing sirens or see their flashing lights I say a prayer for the people inside and the families that are about to have their lives turned upside down and possibly broken into pieces. Today on my way to pick up my daughter from dance class, I passed an ambulance, lights off, silently stopped in a driveway, two EMTs rolling their passenger from the open rear doors on a stretcher towards the waiting home. Picture the typical emergency response scenario and play it in reverse.
Some people explain the process of grief like rolling waves in an ocean. The waves crash in around you, forcing you under the current, and then slowly relenting until the next set hits. The tides of grief ebb and flow. It almost sounds peaceful, unless you are drowning in the rising flow of your own grief. My grief comes unlike a rolling wave but a piercing stab straight to the heart. It strikes unexpectedly, suddenly, and painfully. I don’t feel like I am drowning but that my heart is being ripped out of my chest. As my grief manifests itself as physical pain, I am usually aware and can pinpoint the cause or trigger: lyrics to a song, a memory, certain foods, places…the usual suspects.
My first ride in an ambulance was February 13, 2004. It was not a solo venture. I had my then ten month old son, Dylan, cradled in my arms as we were transferred from our local hospital to a specialized children’s hospital in the area. A bed (crib) was waiting for my petite passenger. I recall waving and smiling to my husband as we left on our “adventure”. Little did I know that this ambulance excursion was leading my son down the path of cancer diagnosis, a long and winding road through uncharted territory. My life would soon be upside down but not broken.
The second ambulance experience occurred on January 1, 2010. New Year’s Eve in the desert became the New Year nightmare. I awoke abruptly around 2am to an earthquake or what seemed to be an earthquake in my foggy, just finished my first REM cycle, sleepiness. My bed was shaking. No, my husband was shaking. My husband in full grand mal seizure was the earthquake. I frantically ran to wake his sister and my brother in law. “Call 911!” I did. I got help and then my body shut down. Symptoms of shock include cold sweaty skin, dizziness, confusion and nausea. I could hear them calling his name, I could hear the paramedics questioning, I could hear his parents arrive, I could hear ringing, and then I could hear nothing. The ambulance carrying my husband pulled away, and I had gone into shock. I didn’t know that this earthquake was about to shatter my life, create a jagged fissure through my family, but my body knew. That moment was the beginning of the breaking.
Similarly, my body responded in physical fashion today, triggering grief, watching this man being rolled to the safety of his home on an ambulance gurney. He was going home. Truly going home. My heart tore and memories flooded in: sickness, hospice, death, and shattered brokenness. I prayed for strength and peace for that man and his awaiting family.
Ambulances are the triage of sickness: assessing pain, dressing wounds, and transporting brokenness. Yet, sometimes they have the privilege of simply delivering peace. The peace of going home. I have never been afraid of my grief, even when it comes like a knife to the heart. The pain is truth. The hurt means that your life is real and that your heart has a great capacity to feel love. We are our own ambulance drivers in life. We can transport our hurt and brokenness from place to place and relationship to relationship, or we can choose to quiet our sirens, put the typical emergency response scenario in reverse, and deliver peace. Bring peace into our own lives and convey peace to others.
Sheila Walsh writes that “Peace is not the absence of trouble; it is the presence of Christ.” We may differ in our spiritual beliefs, yet the main point stays the same. No matter how hard we try or hope or pray, we cannot rid our lives of trouble or grief. The ambulances will always be full of passengers, and we can drive through life in a continuous state of emergency. However, we do have the free choice of bringing a spiritual presence into our lives, pulling the ambulance over, opening the doors of our hearts, and surrendering to peace.