By Kimberly McElreath

That Wednesday started with a pink pig pancake pajama party.  In Kindergarten, getting a new weekly letter means a lot.  It’s another step toward being a member in the secret society known as…readers.  With big, innocent eyes, the little ones come to school every day and just wait to be given the next piece of the puzzle.

I never realized how comforting it can be to live in a world of innocence.  As an adult, finally having the security of being taken care of, and not having to worry about feeling safe and secure, opened up the world of innocence that I longed to visit.  The few months since my wedding allowed me to wallow in self-indulgence and just be content.  I felt settled.  The constant chaos of my life was gone, and the society shaped stigma of normal seemed to have come at last.

The phone call only lasted a few minutes, and the next half hour was a blur of collecting my belongings, making arrangements for my students, and getting home to Georgia.  The lack of emotion and automated planning of a flight and packing my clothes made this event feel like any other trip home from Seattle.  I could not allow myself to step outside of the routine and let fear seep in.  I just had to get there.

The flight seemed longer than usual.  As I gazed at the people around me, I could not help but wonder who else just found out that their own new found innocence was only a mirage?  The landing mirrored my bouncing emotions from the past twelve hours.  Collecting my baggage was an annoyance, and having to wait for someone to pick me up was irritating.  However, I realized that this was happening to me, not them.  Everyone orbiting around the situation did not make this happen.  They are being affected.  I cannot place blame and condemnation on someone for being stuck in traffic.  Finally, being in the car and knowing that I was on my way to her settled my nerves.  All I had to do was get there.

I did not expect him to be there when I stepped off the elevator.  He has the same right as I do.  Maybe even more since he is the first born.  He should be there.  If this is true, then, why are my ears flattening and my fur starting to stand on end?  Why am I truing to guard territory that I voluntarily resigned?

A hug seemed to be the right thing to do.  I stepped forward and put my arms around him.  I missed the expected greeting and proverbial questioning about my flight.  The explanation of the stroke changed to hearing one word that had not anticipated.  Terminal.  A word that carries that much weight and meaning should sound so much more sophisticated.  Over the next couple of hours, I found myself using the word as a descriptor of the situation as casually as I would tell someone that the day was chilly.  Terminal.  The finite understanding of that word would not come to me until hours later after the biopsy and the meetings with the doctors who just shook their heads with pity.  Pity for whom?  Pity for me for losing the innocence that I just discovered was so precious to me?  Pity for him who had never taken care of himself much less someone who was now needing more than the curing cup of soup?  Pity for her who remained hopeful that surgery would happen, and she would be fine?

The understanding of the depth of the word came when a nurse touched my arm and preceded to explain to me the different choices I had with choosing an in-home care service.  Hospice was a foreign word to me.  In-home care?  How could I allow someone to come into our world of denial and unacceptance?  We were always taught to cover and shield ourselves from onlookers and meddlers, but it was up to me to betray the pact and sign away the independence and self-righteousness of someone who knew no other way of life.

As I sat in the ICU room that night watching the blinking lights and listening to the octaves of beeping machines, I pulled my pink pajama clad knees up to my chest.  I wrapped my arms tightly around myself and wished that I could have tasted at least one pancake.

About the Author:


Kimberly McElreath, originally from Georgia, is a music educator in the Seattle area of Washington state. She received her Bachelors of Arts degree in Music Education from Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia and her Masters of Education degree in School Administration from Central Washington University in Ellensburg, Washington. When not teaching and directing choirs, Kimberly enjoys spending time with her friends and family.  Being a novice writer, she looks forward to continuing to explore her voice and style.