Sunday, February 19, 2012

Spider Cracks

It’s almost midnight and she lies in a hospital bed at the all-too-familiar emergency room.  Tears emerge as the nurse pushes the needle into her arm - in order to find a “good” vain for the IV.  This is the nurse’s second attempt, the first one only producing a puncture that will be sore for days.

I stand hopeless next to the bed, lightheaded with dueling emotions of anger and concern.  I hate being in the hospital, hate seeing her in pain, sick, scared.  The nurse finds the vain she is looking for and finishes up.  She starts to walk out the room as she says, “We just need to do a couple of tests Mr. Croke; this IV should stop the vomiting.” She walks past me; her scent is sweet and uplifting, it doesn’t fit the atmosphere of the room.  “She’s a brave little girl.” the nurse adds as she disappears through the curtain.  I sit on the bed next to my six-year-old daughter.  She looks so much like Lisa right now - something about being in pain that matures ones face by 10 years. 

As I look at my daughter, my mind keeps replacing her with Lisa.  I touch Kelly to comfort her, but rubbing her cheek transports me back to four years ago and I'm in the same ER, looking at all the tubes and machines around my wife.  The smell of disinfectant is still the same, it starts with a pungent odor you can taste in the back of your mouth and soon evolves to a smell that is disturbingly comforting.    

 I shake my head to bring myself back to the present - if anyone were to see me right now, they’d think I had bees in my ears.  I see Kelly trying to rest, but she won’t take her gaze off the needle that stays inserted in her arm. With a quick breath, she sucks in air through her teeth to express discomfort.  My imagination once again replaces Kelly with Lisa and she says, “You would think if they can invent a motorized body board, someone could invent an IV without needles.  You know, create some patch that could administer the fluid.”   I shake my head once again to break my imaginary conversation. I summon all my focus to stay in this world with Kelly.  I was hoping these images of Lisa in the hospital would fade as time went on, but seeing how my mind keeps replacing Kelly with Lisa, I come to a stark realization that my journey will never end, only evolve.

We are a thin plane of glass and the death of a loved one is a rock hitting us square in the middle.  Sure you can patch where the rock made the mark, but that won’t address the hundreds of spider cracks that have formed around the hole, finding its way to every corner of the plane, each crack a different issue.  While Kelly’s ER visit turned out to be nothing more than a spastic stomach flu that anti-nausea medicine fixed, the whole experience had lasting effects that kept me up for more than a few nights.  It looks like I haven’t fully addressed the last few weeks of Lisa in hospice.

So, if you see me walking down the street and I look like I am down.  Chances are something happened that either reminded me of Lisa, or made me go back to a darker time. I hope my above story will explain that if you approach me, and say, “Why don’t you go to a movie, try to take your mind off things.”  I may respond, “Okay, maybe I will,” but my face will show, “Thanks for trying, but there are still a few more spider cracks I need to repair that a movie won’t help fix.”


  1. All of this is so true. I have been there. Went on a date last night, saw that look that told me he was interested, it reminded me of the look on my sweat hearts face on our first date, the difference was this time I could not look back the same, could not hold the hope of maybe this is the one. It hurt me to have to tell this poor man that it was not going to work out and how I wished for him to find someone that could truly make him happy the way that I was. I did and meant it. But today, I too walk around feeling like just doing something to take my mind off it just won't work. I get it!

  2. As I try to move forward processing the death of my wife, I constantly get slammed against the wall.

    Thank you for the imagery of the glass wall with spider cracks. Each crack in the path I follow to understand the pain, another spider crack waits patiently for my journey.

    I only know that I must continue facing each crack in the path.

    1. Spider cracks - that's exactly how it is. Very insightful, Matthew. Thank you.

  3. Having to head back into the hospital can certainly evoke a lot of memories.

    I often wonder how long it will be before I stop reliving Dave's last week that he never came out of the hospital. Watching him take his final breath.

    But I fear that those kinds of experiences never go away and likely hardly even fade over time. It's been 20 months. I don't dwell on those memories, but they have a way of surfacing regularly. I drive by that hospital every day on my way to and from work. Some days it doesn't even register, and other days I'll be sitting in traffic and look out the window at it lost in a daze of some pretty brutal last memories.

    It certainly is a process. Grieving.

    Thanks for the insightful post Matthew.

  4. Brilliant metaphor, Matt.

    I am a long time backer of your work with Reduced Shakespeare, and those shows are one of my spider cracks. I love them dearly, but can never help thinking of how much Tom enjoyed them. Each movie I see, every play I go to, pretty much anything I enjoy still brings a tiny pang of thinking how much he would have loved it. I find that having to go to a hospital for any reason now almost makes me uncomfortable to the point of hyperventilating, yet life keeps demanding these tasks. There is no way to avoid the cracks. I just hope that eventually I won't always feel like I have to tiptoe around them. I am glad to hear that your daughter is better. I hope you will feel a bit better soon...

  5. I have been realizing lately how much I was traumatized during bruce's illness. I too get these flashbacks of what happened in the hospital and then during his time at home on hospice. If I let myself now I can feel how awful it was - and of course I couldn't let myself feel that then because I had to take care of him, our kids, our home and my job. Carrying around those unfelt feelings is its own burden. Thanks for such an evocative post.