One of the greatest examples of this was the near death of my son Lakshmana. He suffered a serious head injury as a result of a bicycle accident without a helmet. He lay in a coma for three weeks and endured two brain surgeries, and we were told there was a very real chance that he could die.
Yet there came a day when he began to rise up from his deep level of coma. He first opened his eyes and seemed to briefly focus. To see his big beautiful blue eyes gazing up at me and looking around the room, however dazed, was pure bliss after days and days of his slumbering state. Hope began to grow in my heart on that day.
Next he began to respond to our queries and suggestions to squeeze our hands in yes or no signals. We tested the answers to be sure they were for real. Nurses didn't quite believe us, as he had only been responding to pain previously. But we knew, there was still a functioning mind in there, struggling to make contact. As we left the hospital that day we were walking on air.
At this point it was at least clear that he would live, and he was transferred out of intensive care to the general ward and we began to discuss rehabilitation placements where once they talked to us about nursing homes. (We includes my friend at that time, Len Burns, and myself. We are unfortunately no longer friends.)
In the new room I was present one night when Lakshmana motioned to write. I got a piece of paper and he wrote the words "apple juice" in rather wild printing with little motor control, yet still readable. I still have that paper. He really wanted apple juice, but he still had a feeding tube in his stomach because his throat was still half paralyzed. I explained carefully that apple juice would choke him right now. He motioned to write again. I got another piece of paper and he wrote: "tomorrow" and looked at me questioningly. As I mentioned he has big blue eyes and he has this expression when he wants something he knows he may not get that I always called his "hound dog eyes" that just break your heart. I couldn't say no so I said we'd just have to ask the doctor.
That night we watched a Star Trek: TNG episode about the Crystalline entity and Lore, and he was obviously following it. I knew my son was still there, struggling to get past the swelling and damage to his brain and regain his former abilities.
In the months that followed he entered rehab and I watched him make steady progress through the pain and limitations. I walked around filled almost to bursting with this incredible piercing joy. I hadn't felt like this since his birth and the birth of his younger sister. "He's alive!" went the refrain in my head. "He's alive! He's alive! I get to keep him! He's alive!"
I never thought during those dark weeks as he lie in coma that I could be so lucky as to get to keep him. My life had not led me to believe such good fortune could be mine. I hardly dared to hope for such an outcome, and my gloomy side tried to prepare me to survive the unsurvivable: the death of a child. I had told my friend Karen that I knew I'd have to find a way to go on for my daughter's sake, but I didn't know how people could survive such a thing.
So here I was, back from the edge of the abyss where so many others have been forced to go. The darkness and danger behind me, I was seeing more of my dear child every day, his wit, his sense of humor, his charm, his extroverted good will towards other patients and nurses. My son was alive, and I felt that the heavens might open and trumpets might burst forth in joyful sound. "He's alive!"
We still had months and years of rehab, and the struggle of traveling to the hospital, of helping him with many basic things when he came home, of an endless seeming round of appointments to keep and therapists visiting. I was trying to get through college still in the midst of all of this, and I was struggling with anemia. Yet people kept remarking at how well I was handling it all. I would look at them like they were crazy. They didn't seem to understand. "But he's alive!" I'd say, expecting those words alone to explain it all. They could see only this great tragedy of lifelong disability. I could only see this living, breathing, thinking child where almost, almost, there was none.
In the seven and a half years that my son has chosen not to speak to me for reasons I don't understand, I still cling to that joy in the midst of pain.
He's alive! He's alive!