When my husband Nate was severely injured (and nearly killed) in the line of duty two years ago, a side of me that I had never known existed came to the surface. I’d always been the smiley, bubbly girl of Nate’s life. But seeing him lying there, helpless, in an ICU hospital bed and hooked up to countless machines did something to me. It brought out this fierce, protective instinct that had – until that moment – remained dormant.
I was his bulldog that week and for many months afterward. When the doctors warned me that visitors put him at a risk for meningitis or other complications, I refused to let anyone come in to see him (no matter how much they pushed or insisted). I kept the reporters from badgering him with questions. And when he started to recover and oftentimes forgot about his limitations, I made sure he wasn’t pushed to do more than he was ready to do… and took care of him on the days that he did try to accomplish a little too much. I canceled plans with friends so that I could be home after my eight-hour work day, realizing that Nate needed companionship after having spent most of the day alone.
I was there to hold him when he cried that one time and asked me why God had spared his life when so many others are taken too soon. I was there when he dedicated his life to helping others, especially children; because he wanted his life – going forward – to be a life of purpose.
For me, it was as though a flip had been switched. I was his protector, and no one could get to him before first going through me. And although Nate and I – in our love for each other – had always been supportive of the other’s physical and emotional needs, his relying on me so much (even for daily feeding, bathing, and dressing) sparked a fire inside me.
Recovery from the tragedy that had burst the safe, little bubble we lived in took time. It took more time than I had imagined. We’d think that we had put it behind us, only to have something (a sight, a sound, a smell) trigger flashbacks that left us reeling with unresolved emotions. But time (coupled with faith… and the love of family and friends) healed those wounds; and we began to look back and see miracles, hope, and reason for celebration.
We saw a reason to smile.
I breathed a sigh of relief when we finally moved forward and placed the nightmare behind us. But then this summer happened. And I realized that maybe I still have one little thing to get over still.
Nicole the bulldog hasn’t yet put down her protective shield.
I struggle to make plans with friends if I know Nate will be home alone, because I realize that he had been home alone for so many days while I still worked full-time. (And I know how – due to the inactivity and boredom – he had struggled with self-worth for some time). I worry that he’ll be lonely or sad. And heaven forbid one of his guy friends take a joke too far, or someone ask him to do something that challenges the physical limitations imposed on him since the assault. The sweet version of Nicole is instantly replaced by mama bear, ready to attack should her charge show any signs of exhaustion, whether it be physical or mental.
Deep down in my heart, however, I know that mama bear can go into hibernation… for good. Nate is now perfectly capable of taking care of himself, whether he’s coming up with plans for his day or determining what his body is able to do. (And now that I’m pregnant, I have to be willing to realize that the roles will reverse, as I will need him to help take care of me some days).
The fact of the matter is that the act of letting go isn’t easy. But it’s also not something that I alone will face. It’s a part of life for anyone who has mentored or cared for someone. Young mothers have to wave ‘goodbye’ to their little ones, as they climb onto a large, yellow schoolbus. Fathers have to leave their teenager at a college, located just a little too far away from home. And the list goes on… When the time is right, we who have been caregivers and teachers must learn to let go of those we have cared for and taught.
And it’s not easy, because the switch that so easily jumpstarted our protective instincts is not so easily turned off.
For me, I’m not yet having to learn how to let go of a child. But I am learning to put down my guard so that my husband can be the strong man of the family again. Because he is capable of being that man. He wants to be that man. And while he appreciates my having his back, I know he’s also ready for me to stand by his side again… instead of my marching a few paces ahead of him in order to block whatever dangers may be coming.
I need to remember that the God I worship is strong enough to move mountains or to part oceans, and He loves Nate even more than I do. So I don’t need to carry Nate’s well-being on my shoulders. I need to learn how to let go… and to let God take care of the rest.
All that to say, when an opportunity came up for me to go away this week, my first reaction was to politely decline. My parents / sister invited me to visit them at the cabin they rented for later in the week. (They invited Nate too, but he isn’t able to make it).
I realized, instantly, that this would be the first time that Nate and I have really been apart since the assault. And that’s when I realized that I haven’t yet put down the protective guard I had put up. Because I was afraid of leaving him.
In the end, I said ‘yes’ to the gracious offer, ignoring the lump in my throat and the guilt in my chest. I know, full well, that I need to take this step in order to fully heal.
Nate really is going to be okay. He’s proven to me that he’s more than okay… that he’s happy, and motivated, and busy with things that he loves to do. (Remember how I mentioned that he dedicated his life to helping others? He has been volunteering so much lately to help people in need. And he’s even going to start teaching children Sunday School at my church, because he wants to be a positive role model for them. The kids already adore him, so I’m not sure who is more excited — him or the little ones that follow him around on a weekly basis). :)
Honestly, maybe it’s a relief for me to have arrived at this point, even if it’s a little tough – at first – to let go. In the end, it’s also very freeing to realize that he doesn’t need me in that way anymore.
Life… It’s all about learning and embracing the journey, isn’t it? :)
Have you yet been faced with the challenge of letting go?