Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion…I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. – Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I learned early on in my life that we all have choices, thousands of them, every day. We can choose to elevate ourselves to a positive place, or we can choose to let ourselves become mired in misery and wallow in the heaviness of the daily grind of life. We can choose to be happy or sad, based on how we choose to react to the situations we are faced with every day. Many might disagree with me, and I would venture a guess that 99% of those people are often miserable. It’s true that it’s not always easy and I’m not always successful, but it is possible. I try to choose positivity whenever and wherever I can, and I think I’m pretty successful. I’m not blind to the dreadful realities that life can sometimes bring, I just choose to find a perspective that allows me to find the brighter side. Unfortunately, it’s been harder and harder to make that choice lately – over the past six months or so – despite having a bigger reason than any I’ve ever had before to be positive and happy.

I’ve been asked often lately how I’m doing, and how we’re dealing with everything, and how can I remain so upbeat when faced with the hardship of having Nyana in the hospital. My stock answer is usually something like “Well, Nyana’s our first child so we don’t know the difference. We don’t know what it’s like to just pop your baby out and take her home in the next day or two. We just do what we have to do. And who could be down when you’re in the presence of that little angel?” And while there is a great deal of truth to that, it’s not the entire truth. As every parent out there knows, you just do what you have to do with barely a second thought. When your little one needs you, you find a way. This is who we are, and this is how we do. The last thing Princess Heffalump needs right now is for us to get down and out. There’s no book to tell us how to do it, and while we have all the support in the world from Nyana’s Army, there’s no right or wrong way and no one leading the way for us. We just do what needs doing, and we do it our way. And that includes keeping the demons at bay while we’re slogging through all this crap.

During the end of August last year, and through September right up until the 20th, Karen was in hospital. Three of them, actually, so I should say “hospitals”. Every night after work I would make my way out to see her, whether it was an hour to Royal Columbian or a ten minute walk to St. Paul’s. We would try to have a nice visit and keep our spirits up, but it was really hard on both of us. We had never spent that long sleeping in seperate beds before (even if we did still see each other every day) and hospital living took its toll on us. It wasn’t long before I was scowling at all the normal people on the street on my way home. Couples holding hands, pregnant ladies walking around on their feet, people in line at the club, people going about their daily business – I despised them all. I was full of resentment and jealousy and it was eating me up. Karen could sense it, too (mostly because I tend to wear my emotions on my sleeve) and we would go back and forth trying to calm and soothe each other, depending on who was having a worse day that day.

Of course, Nyana’s birth wiped away any bitterness at the time and life took a new turn and opened a new chapter in our books. The world brightened again as I had my beautiful wife by my side once more and we could face the future together and united. I firmly believe that there is nothing that we cannot do, no obstacle we cannot overcome, as long as we’re together. We stood side-by-side, facing that long, yellow hallway and helped each other find the bright lights through so much fog and darkness. We’ve leaned on each other and stood strong so that others could lean on us as well. We chose to find a perspective that allowed us to smile and we hoped that we helped others smile as well.

It’s been a few months now – five of them actually, and gaining on six. Five months and counting, full of beeps and alarm bells, steady soft whooshes of canned air, hospital cribs of all sizes, crash carts full of gauze and saline and tape and pads and syringes and tubes. Five months of bus passes and late night skytrain rides, cold walks in the rain across wet parking lots after rushed dinners. Five months of seeing that stroller and that playpen sit collecting dust while the cats wonder why we chose this new furniture that they’re not allowed to sleep on. Five months of carrying dirty laundry home in backpacks, washing it and then bringing fresh reinforcements back in the same backpacks. Five months of answering the questions, “Is she home yet? Why not? Isn’t she big enough yet? How are her lungs doing? When is she coming home?” Five months of seeing other parents out on the street, walking their babies around in strollers and snugglies and bjorns and backpacks. You all know that I could keep going, but I am going to choose to change the topic so that I can continue to smile tonight.

It’s hard not to be bitter. It’s very hard not to allow the demons to creep their way in and pollute our perspective with their shadowy claws. It’s almost impossible to sit here by her bedside as she sleeps, listening to the soft crank of her formula dispenser, and not think, “Why her? Why us? What’s next and when can we get off this horrible rollercoaster? This totally sucks!” It’s hard to sit here and let her sleep knowing that as long as she’s sleeping she’s not being tormented by the huge snorkel gear strapped to her face. I’d much rather scoop her up and play Elevator To The Bright Light the way I know she loves. No one said this would be easy and for many very good reasons, but at the very least can’t we try to put on a smile?

For us, putting on a smile isn’t “faking it”. We try to live our lives with as much joy as possible and embrace the ups and the downs. We look for that brighter perspective and while we have a lot of love to give, sometimes the frustration and confusion (*and lack of quality sleep) can take their toll, and we lose it. Maybe we’ll lose it on a nurse, or a doctor, or some poor unsuspecting idiot out in public, but it does happen. Maybe we’ll lose it on each other or maybe we’ll even lose it on you. On the up side, we can keep it together most of the time – The (easy and breezy) Karen and Donners Show – it’s just when we go past our limit that the fit hits the shan. So we’re like little emotional timebombs – mostly safe, but don’t be too surprised if we blow up unexpectedly.

(ed. note – having written the bulk of this email bedside in Nyana’s room, I signed off and went to catch the bus. On my way out, I lost it on a group of late-40’s smokers. Two girls and a guy – they were right outside the hospital doors – in front of a big “don’t smoke here” sign – it turned into a big all-out shouting match (3 on 1, and they started swearing first!). So I lost it on them. I’m still a little charged up about it as the adrenalin did not mix too well with the large latte I had just finished, and it’s midnight as I write this sentence. Workpeeps, I apologize in advance for my lack of sleep tonight. *see above)

Having said that, I must say this: we are forever grateful for all of the support that you all have shown us. You truly have no idea. However you think you may help out, you could probably quadruple that and still be shy by a fair margin. Having you behind us in such a supportive way allows us to be honest with ourselves and honest with you. You allow us to be sad and angry, to be confused and irritable, and to be irrational and unpredictable. You allow us to have the confidence to make good choices and feel strong as Nyana’s Mum and Dad. We can get lost from ourselves for awhile and you allow us the freedom to find ourselves and get back on track, until we can all really get back on track. We know you all care deeply for our little girl, and we are flattered beyond belief.

Tonight I left her just as I found her – barely holding on to sleep as she works on her soother (which is being held in place with either her blue elephant or her Sophie – which has to be held down with a saline bag because it’s too light). The bipap is doing it’s job, and her breathing seems to be reacting well to it, in that she appears to be labouring much less as she breathes. She hates the mask, but what can you do? I keep telling her that it’s function over fashion for now. Today was a bit better for her than yesterday, so hopefully she’ll have an even better tomorrow.

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About Donners

Thirtysomething father to The Royal Princess of The Sunshine Brigade, a 27 week preemie who survived 222 days in the NICU. The Queen and I are still crazy in love, and life in Vancouver's West End is getting back to a whole new normal that we've always been waiting for but never knew we would get quite like this.
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16 Responses to Don’t Worry, Be Happy

  1. Stacey Feehan says:

    You guys are amazing. Still thinking and praying here. From another eternal optimist…

  2. twiggy says:

    and we’re here to “listen” and read. Sending a prayer that your little one continues to get better. ((I’m glad you let those inconsiderate people have a piece of your mind!!))

  3. Holly says:

    I think you are all handling this amazingly well. You *will* prevail. Continued love and prayers for Nyana and both you and Karen.

  4. Cyn Tyler says:

    Much love and many prayers for your beautiful family. Being an “always look for the bright side” kind of person doesn’t mean the dark doesn’t knock you down once in awhile. It’s all about always getting back up again and not letting the dark take over. The two of you set that example for Nyana every single day. She is blessed to have you for her mum and dad.

  5. Jennifer says:

    It is true that it is better to try and focus more on the positive then on the negative in order to live a happier life. I admit I am not always good at doing that and tend to dwell on the negative. Reading your blog though makes me want to try harder to focus on the positive. Thanks, Don.

  6. Tasha says:

    Sage advice…no matter what is going on in our lives, we could all stand to be more positive.

    p.s. – LOVE Kurt Vonnegut! 🙂

  7. Juju says:

    You are doing good, kids. Keep on keeping on.

  8. Lynn Duncan says:

    This may sound silly and I know you already work out so maybe that helps, but perhaps a punching bag.. where you can imagine various people or situations.. perhaps
    a smoker face? And then let go on that once in awhile.

    My doctor’s staff have a little one of those blowup punching bags that keeps standing up again when you knock them down and they often have the name of an insurance company (this name can vary) on it and I think in the case of their small office, they kick it around .. I noticed it and they all grinned and said yes it does feel good.

    And of course going off on those smokers, well.. you did THAT for a whole lot of us, so , see, besides all the wonderfulness of loving Nyana, we get that too.

  9. Jackie (jmm) says:

    Hugs and prayers for a most amazing family.

  10. Here’s hoping for a lifetime of better tomorrows 🙂

  11. Duncan & Dorothy Gillies says:

    Hi Don, Karen & Nyana – I so admire both of you for your candid reflections on how your lives have been affected by the challenges you are facing. Everything will work out, I am sure of it. Keep strong and know that your family and friends are with you at every turn.
    Sincerely – Dorothy & Duncan (following your experiences from Florida)

  12. Biscottiii says:

    Hugs to Donners & Karen & most especially to Nyana.

  13. Jenn says:

    You guys are an inspiration for us all. Keep on doing what you do!

  14. Janice Taylor says:

    Both of you are amazing parents. A NICU stay this long is too long, period. We are thinking our best thoughts for you and Nyana every day. I only hope that I can be just as good a parent as you are right now. And yes, smokers suck.

  15. Lane says:

    I love reading your blog everyday:) hopefully we can meet in June, Im friends with Karen
    Love and light your way and to your special bairn<3

  16. Kim says:

    So many thoughts in my head right now and so much I want to say, but typing while crying, well it is just not my thing…. so all I will say for now, is Don, you make me soooo proud to be your cousin

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