by Colleen Hammond
Ian was planning on receiving his First Holy Communion at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. That joyful event was exactly one week away.
We were in Dallas Children’s Hospital that morning having a CT Scan done on our seven-year-old First Communicant’s head. When my untrained eye saw the enormous tumor on the screen, I whistled under my breath. The technician glanced at me with a grim look, then hastily back at his equipment.
I had been informed many times that day that the films would take at least two days to get over to the doctor’s office, but my managerial skills kicked in.
“I want these films taken to my son’s surgeon right now,” I ordered.
“I’ll make sure they get over there STAT,” the tech promised in an understanding tone of voice.
That afternoon, the surgeon’s office called and said that the doctor wanted to see me in his office the following morning.
“The tumor in Ian’s brain has compromised his hearing and is what is causing his nausea and dizziness,” the surgeon informed me the next morning. “We are going to jockey the surgery schedule around and get him in immediately.”
Only one month earlier, Ian had first expressed trouble with his right ear. I found out about his troubles when he came in from doing chores.
“Smell my finger, Mom,” he requested.
I was in the middle of making dinner and replied distractedly, “Um, why honey?”
“It smells funny,” he said, wrinkling his freckled nose.
Since he had just come in from the barn, I assumed the smell on his finger had something to do with the animals.
“Well, where have you had it?” I sighed.
“In my ear,” he answered.
Mother’s intuition told me that this was something serious. I quickly dried my hands on my apron and I rushed across the kitchen.
Looking into his ear and down his ear canal with the naked eye, I could see a growth that looked like very small cauliflowers where his eardrum should have been. I didn’t know at the time that it was the tumor from inside his skull that had found its only outlet — exploding out of his middle ear into his ear canal and crushing everything in its path.
It took a couple weeks of listening to doctors say, “you’re over-reacting, Mrs. Hammond,” until I found a physician who would take my mother’s intuition seriously. During this ‘physician quest’, sympathetic girlfriends offered to take care of our two middle children while I hauled Ian and the baby around the Metroplex to various doctors.
When my girlfriends heard about the surgery that was required in order to remove the tumor, they practically fought over who would take care of the children the day of surgery. They cooked meals, cleaned our home, entertained the children, offered prayers, did holy hours of adoration on Ian’s behalf, called just to chat, and came to the house to be with me in my hours of uncertainty.
In comparison, my husband Dennis’ comrades gave him a clap on the back and said, “If there’s anything I can do, buddy….” Some offered prayers.
Here was the intrinsic difference between men and women.
Although none of his friends offered specific help, Dennis knew they would do whatever was asked of them — if they were asked. His pals seemed to know the unwritten male code: if they weren’t asked, then there wasn’t a need. If one of Dennis’ friends had offered unsolicited help, it would have been interpreted as intrusive and offensive.
My friends, on the other hand, were very intuitive. To show their love and affection for us, they came over and did what they knew needed to be done without waiting to be asked. I felt loved and cherished because of it. My girlfriends would have considered it insensitive to wait for me to request comfort or assistance.
Dennis and I have come to recognize and respect our innate differences. He understands my need to receive his help without my appealling for it, and my compulsion to “talk it out.”
Conversely, I respect his desire for solitude and don’t offer advice unless asked. But handling a crisis like this was something new for us.
While my girlfriends’ much appreciated practical assistance filled certain needs, I required something else from Dennis. He supplied it.
We spent many evenings sitting on the sofa holding each other, crying and praying together silently. We were trying to understand, or at least appreciate, God’s will. This uncertain time waiting for Ian’s surgery was a deep bonding time for us.
I’ve often wondered what the disciples said to Mary after Jesus’ death when they walked her home from Calvary. What could you say?
Sometimes, in our deepest and most intense grief, no words are sufficient. No words are necessary. Sometimes we need someone to just sit and be with us. To accompany us in our grief. And that is what I needed from Dennis — to share our anguish together in silence.
Ian’s surgery took place four days before Christmas Eve. According to the surgery intern, the tumor was the largest of its type they had ever seen. It was successfully removed.
Amazingly (or not so amazingly considering the amount of prayer that was storming heaven) the tumor did not damage the auditory nerve. There is a good chance for Ian to recover partial hearing in his right ear, and it is healing according to plan.
Ian received his First Holy Communion at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve 2001–with a shaved head and a four-inch suture behind his now-deafened right ear. He insisted on not taking his pain medication before Mass. This unnecessary mortification was his own idea on this special occasion, since medication does not break the communion fast.
Leaning on my shoulder after Mass, Ian said, “Didn’t the choir sound great tonight, Mom?”
Tears filled my eyes, and choked off my voice. Dennis knowingly squeezed my hand, and said, “Indeed it did, son.”
Music never sounded so grand as it did that night.
©2001 Colleen M. Hammond
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