We met the way a lot of people meet in hospitals: One of us was lost.
In this case, it was not me but, rather, the forty-something man who was lost at an intersection of three different hallways at Medical City in Plano, Texas. I found him just standing there, looking, first, down one hallway, then another, then, well you get the picture.
Now, Medical City Plano does many things right. Most notably, offer both quality care and compassionate staff. But its hallway system sucks. If one were to pull up from the ground level, rip the roofs off and look down on the entire complex, you’d see a maze much like the one that trapped Jack Nicholson in “The Shining”, except at Medical City, you’d see scores of staff in scrubs scurrying around. And you’d see a lot of family members lost.
Lost in the halls. Lost in their thoughts. And praying they won’t be lost in their hearts.
“Do you need some help?” I asked.
“I don’t know how to get to my car,” the man said. “I parked at the ER, because that’s where they brought my dad, but now I’ve been up with him in ICU and I don’t know how to get from here to wherever my car is and I want to try to join my wife for the end of my son’s soccer game.”
“You’re in luck,” I said, “My mom recently checked in for surgery,which is next to the ER. Now’s she up in ICU. I know how to get to all the parking lots!”
I led the man through the maze until he could see the exit that would let him escape for a few hours and be a cheering father for an hour or so, rather than an anxious son.
We saw each other a few times over the next three days, but neither of us spoke. We were too in our heads to be distracted by common pleasantries like “Hello” or “Have a good night.”
But on the fourth day, as I headed to the elevator in search of a strong cup of coffee, I rounded the corner to find the man pacing in the vestibule with his arms tight against his chest.
“I don’t know what to do,” he said to no one in particular or at least no one I could see, “I don’t know what to do.”
As I got closer, he looked up and through me.
“My mother just died,” he said, eyes wide and empty. “The nurse is telling me that I can’t take my father out of here to go see her. My parents were married for forty-eight years. Every man deserves to tell his wife goodbye before they bury her. I don’t know what to do and there’s no one left who can tell me.”
I reached over and gave the man a hug, saying nothing so as not to intrude on his grief. I could feel his tear wet my shirt. Maybe he could feel mine do the same to his.
As I held him, I didn’t think “Now, now, you’re not alone. You have a wife and I’m sure you have friends, maybe even some brothers and sisters. They can help you.”
Instead, all I could do was wonder: Do we sons ever stop wanting our mothers?
I mean, I know every son stops saying he needs his mother. But, secretly, do any of us ever stop wanting our moms to kiss a pain away or muss our hair and tell us how proud we make them?
When our whole world is falling apart and we’re trying, trying, trying to hold it all together, do we ever stop hoping our mothers will walk through the door and tell us everything is going to be ok?
Even when that moment comes and we know things will never be fully ok again. Because our mothers are gone.
When that happens I wonder: Do we ever again figure out what to do?