Tender Mercies

In December of 2002, an uninsured driver caused an accident that left my oldest son, Noah, paralyzed. He was 22. In the immediate aftermath, our grief knew no bounds. We searched for answers. But none existed.

Our resolve hardened against the injury’s tyranny by imagining fictitious recoveries. But these pantomimes of wishful thinking made no difference. The chaos in Noah’s damaged spine trumped the ephemeral majesty of hope. Like it or not, we had to trudge the onerous road from Denial to Acceptance.

Surprisingly, Noah’s resurrection lay dormant in the seeds of his resilience. It would not be parental driven. Early on, we could not see that. Nor could we see the tsunami of generosity headed our way.

Our community embraced us with fund raisers and pro bono professional services. Slowly, we crept forward. But it was unexpected gestures of kindness that stitched together our torn hearts. Among the first of these was a visit from our veterinarian, Dr. Kathi.

We are cat people. During our 35 years in the Hood River Valley, eight cats have lived with us, not to mention a few strays and temporary boarders. Zeus, Peanut Butter, Spice, Thunder Cloud, Gwennie, Buckwheat, Curly the Postal Cat, and Spanky have amused us, warming our home with feline whimsy. Dr. K saw to their needs with a gentle, sure touch.

We were friends but didn’t socialize. So, it surprised me when one night, within days of Noah’s injury, car lights penetrated the gloom of our long driveway, delivering Dr. Kathi to our door. I was home alone. My wife and I had chosen a tag-team strategy for our son. One of us would always be with him at the hospital, which was hours away. The other remained home and attempted to carry on a semblance of ordinary life.

At the time, we lived near the end of a road in a remote corner of Hood River’s upper valley. Traffic was a rare event and visitors never arrived unannounced unless they were lost. I flicked on the porch light and watched as Dr. K exited her car with a large evergreen wreath.

As she approached, I stepped outside into the frigid December night. The cold air stung my bleary eyes, distressed as they were from crying. She extended her arms to hand over the wreath. I can’t remember if we hugged or even spoke to one another. I don’t think so. I do recall she didn’t linger. She returned to her car and then disappeared into the darkness as abruptly as she had arrived.

Last Saturday, February 1st, my wife and I attended a memorial Celebration of Life for Dr. K. She was 62, having lived barely a year since being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Though she died young, her purpose filled life as a veterinarian touched thousands. Friends shared numerous poignant stories of her compassionate care for pets and owners alike.

I know now that wreaths symbolize strength. Made from evergreens, they withstand the harshest of winters. Dr. K, in her inimitable role as a healer, reminded us to be strong, to persevere. We did become strong and we did persevere, but in large part it was due to the grace of others who blessed us with tender mercies such as Kathi’s.

Thanks Doc, you led the way.

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12 responses to “Tender Mercies

  1. i knitted Dr. Kathi a luscious brown shawl last summer.
    It had a red thread near the base of it and I named it,
    THE RED-TAILED HAWK PRAYER SHAWL.
    Kathi and I weren’t that close, as I have a simple mind and she usually carried on longer, deeper conversations with Michael.
    But when I sat on her bed and chatted about stuff, she stopped me to say “Thank you, Teri, for my beautiful shawl. I’ve worn it everywhere.”
    She then went on to tell me that two red tailed hawks have been circling her yard, her bedroom window the last two days.
    “Beautiful,” she said.
    Kathi died that night.
    I was in shock—but not surprised.
    She must have winked at the hawks from her bed and said, “Okay, okay, I’m ready.”

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