Last week I received a call from someone wanting to buy a Fighter Tee™ for a 12-year-old girl, Molly, who had been in Children’s Hospital for 14 days with discharge weeks away. In order to get the shirt to her quickly, I offered to deliver it myself. But how I thought that would look and what actually happened were very different. I expected to drive to the hospital, call her mom, Michelle, to come down, and she would meet me at my car to receive the shirt. I thought surely they don’t want some stranger coming up to Molly’s room. I didn’t know what the situation was or how Molly or anyone else was feeling. But to my surprise, when I texted Michelle, she responded enthusiastically giving me the room number and expressing they were so excited to meet me. Panic immediately shot through my body. I don’t like hospitals. Who does, right?! But I really don’t like hospitals. I don’t like what you can see, what you can hear. When Jonathan was sick, I strangely loved the hospital because it was a safe place. A place where I could rely on others for help. Now? Now they represent something very different. Something very painful and there’s a natural instinct to stay away from the source of such trauma. I know what you’re probably thinking…how does she have a company with a shirt that replaces the hospital gown but she doesn’t want to go into hospitals? Valid question, my friend. The answer is that I’m doing it afraid, very afraid. I knew I was supposed to go up to that room to see Molly and Michelle. And I knew I was going to have to put my head down, say a prayer, and walk through that revolving door.
I stood outside of her door, took a deep breath and knocked lightly. I began to open the door and as the room came into focus, I felt what I can only describe as an out of body experience. The room was dark, Molly asleep in the bed, Michelle sitting in the window in complete silence. Read that sentence again. This wasn’t MD Anderson, Jonathan was not laying in the bed, it wasn’t 2011, 12, or 13, but that woman sitting in the window was very much me. I had to snap out of it quick as Michelle jumped up to greet me. The thing about triggers is that sometimes you can predict them and have control over them, but the ones you can’t, they really get you. I prepared myself to see patients that would break my heart. I prepared myself to smell the hospital (if you know, you know). I prepared myself for the sounds of beeping machines. I did not know to prepare myself for Michelle sitting in the dark, quiet room, alone, staring out of a window.
You see, days, nights, months, I sat looking out of a window in the dark, alone, in silence dreaming of the day life would be normal again. It’s been 6.5 years since I was a window sitter, but when that door opened, it was as if no time had passed at all. There I was scared, alone, and so desperate for someone to walk through the door and say it was all a big joke. A horrible joke, for sure, but I would have laughed all the way back to normal life. When you’re going through it, it’s almost impossible to even know what you’re feeling. You’re trying to keep it together and be strong for your loved one. You can’t complain about the food, the boredom or the sleeping arrangements because you’re not the one who is sick. You can’t say what you need because the only need you can actually focus on is the need to get out of this hell you now live in. You don’t have time to break down or process what’s happening. You’re running on all cylinders and no cylinders all at the same time. But in that hospital room, you have a window. A window to the world outside that feels so very distant and detached from the world you’re living in, but a window to the world you so desperately want to be a part of again.
It was very clear that this visit was not just for Molly.This visit was for the two women sitting in the window as well.I hugged Michelle like I had known her for years, because in some strange way, I had.
I didn’t know Michelle, personally, but I knew that woman sitting in the window.
I knew this mom was keeping it together as best she could for the sweet, little girl sleeping in the bed. She was positive and upbeat for her daughter on the outside, but as she cried on my shoulder, I knew a simple breath could make her crumble behind that wall she had to operate behind on the inside. She needed to be seen even just for a moment, not as the strong mom but as the window sitter holding it all together. She needed to hear that she was going to make it through even though it didn’t feel like it.
If we really knew everyone's story, I bet you know more window sitters than you think. This week’s episode of Keep Going Podcast is with Ann Ollendike who runs Basket of Hope. For 25 years, Ann has been a window sitter for her daughter Juliana. Out of Ann’s pain, she now delivers hope to children like Molly all the time though BOH. She opens thousands of hospital doors every year encouraging patients and families to keep going through giving a simple basket of hope. You can listen to her 2-part story on all podcast platforms. I'm so grateful to people like Ann who have shown me what it looks like to turn pain into blessings.
Because you can't see the beauty while your life is in ruins. You have to let the dust settle and watch the beauty rise up from the ashes.
I know my mission for the Fighter Tees™, but I am constantly learning what this greater mission of FIYA will look like. Since our recent relaunch, I have already been blown away seeing what God has in store for this amazing company that I get to be a part of. It also has shown me that I’m not done healing in certain areas, but I think that’s ok. Healing is a process. I saw myself on that window seat and remembered those feelings so vividly, but I saw myself from the door. I am no longer in that window. Like Ann, I’m now the one who gets to open the door and bring hope to the window sitters.
If you are sitting in a window today, you may feel alone, but please know you are seen, you are loved, and you have purpose and meaning. What you are doing right now means more to that loved one next to you than they’ll ever be able to express. You may never hear those words but trust me. I know you are exhausted and scared. I’m so sorry. Be kind to yourself. Cry. Laugh. Breathe. Eat. Sit in your car and scream. Eat the ice cream in the cafeteria. Tell people what you need and be a good receiver. Rest. Pray. Have faith. You will not sit in that window forever no matter what the outcome of your situation is, you will not stay there. Take each day one at a time. Can you make it through today? Don’t think about tomorrow…just keep going today. I promise one day you will stand at the door looking in and remember this traumatic time that you thought you would never make it out of, and you will stand there victorious. The sun is going to shine again even though you can’t see it through the clouds right now.
Sweet, 12-year-old Molly is fighting with everything in her to get better, and it’s working in almost miracle fashion. She gets to go home today after 21 days. But as Michelle posted last night, this event has been life changing and not just for Molly. I pray that one day when Michelle finds herself at a hospital room door and sees a window sitter that she will let them know they’re not alone. And that one day they, too, will be standing at the door looking in.
“There are times that we are faced with such enormous challenges that trying to understand it’s purpose is overwhelming. But if we take it apart and try to interpret it in compartments, like individual puzzle pieces, it will create a big picture. Every challenge is different as every purpose is unique. Some challenges change the whole course of one’s life and other challenges teach us something about ourselves....” – Michelle Bergeron
Thank you, Molly and Michelle, for teaching me that healing happens over time, when you least expect it…sometimes we just need to walk through the door.
To purchase a FIYA Fighter Tee: click here
To help deliver hope to children in hospitals through Basket of Hope: click here
To listen to Ann's story and more on Keep Going podcast: