Just Breathe

When I was in junior high, an epidemic of whooping cough came around my school. Lest you think I’m ancient, it did make a recurrence in the early 70’s, despite vaccinations. But at the time, not many people in our small town really realized what it was. And I caught it.

Now without getting too technical, whooping cough starts off like a flu — high fever, cough, aches — and then it settles into what they call the ’90 day cough’. I could go days with no symptoms, but suddenly this uncontrollable cough would come upon me. It would begin with a tickle in my throat. Then I would cough until everything came up from my stomach, my lungs felt like they turned inside out, and a thick phlegm would settle in my throat. I would desperately and loudly gasp for breath until the phlegm subsided, hence the ‘whoop’ in whooping cough.

The problem was, my parents didn’t realize how sick I was; they were out of town due to another illness in the family. I was home with my older brother, who eventually took me to a doctor at my parents’ instruction. Of course, when the doctor asked me to cough, all I could muster was a weak ‘u-huh’, and he diagnosed it as bronchitis and sent me home with antibiotics. I had a ‘real’ attack on the way home from his office.

Finally, my parents got home and were somewhat puzzled and troubled by my coughing episodes, but not really sure what to do for me. Until one day, when my older sister was visiting. She was 13 years older, and had experienced whooping cough herself as a child. The first time I had a coughing attack while she was there, she knew just what do to.

As I stood by the trash can, having brought up the aforementioned nasties, I started to panic — gasping for breath. When my sister heard the first ‘whoop’, she came to me, wrapped her arms around me, stroked my head and started whispering in my ear. “It’s okay. You’re gonna get through it. It’s okay. Just relax. I’ve got you. Just breathe.” She held me until the phlegm cleared, my whooping stopped, and I was able to breathe normally. (I can’t tell this story to this day without tears coming to my eyes.) She knew what I was experiencing and understood the comfort I needed, because she had been there once herself.

A few years ago, we went through some difficult times with our daughter, who was then a teenager. She was making some choices and life-decisions that were the exact opposite of the values that her father and I lived by and had taught her — or at least we thought we had. Tensions came to a head when she turned 18, graduated, and decided to move out of the house, into a situation that we did not approve. The night she announced her plans, I felt as if the world was literally melting around me, almost like a psychedelic experience (not that I ever had one). I could barely breathe.

And once again, my sisters, this time from my church family, knew what I was experiencing. The grief, the shame (my husband is a minister), the guilt, the sadness, the fear — all threatened to choke the very life out of me. But my sisters came, wrapped their arms around me, shared their stories, and whispered in my ear. “It’s okay. You’re gonna make it. She’ll be okay. She’ll find her way back. I’m here. God is with you. Just breathe.”

They understood the comfort I needed, because they had been there themselves. Their encouragement and prayer support gave me the strength to show my daughter grace and love in those days of transition, but at the same time, to stand by some tough decisions and boundaries. I was able to keep the lines of communication and love open without giving support or approval to her new living arrangements.

In God’s perfect timing, the night she was moving out, my husband and I had been scheduled, weeks before, to spend the evening at the home of good friends who were also in the ministry. Our purpose was to rehearse music together, but as it happened, these dear folks had also experienced difficult days with adult children. So we left the house before our daughter finished packing up that night, with parting words of love. And instead of having to watch her drive away and go back to her empty room, we found ourselves once more in a place of comfort and understanding.

It was a place where God could wrap His arms around me once again and whisper in my ear. “It’s okay. I’m here. You’re gonna make it. She’s in My hands. I’ve got you. Just breathe.”

Copyright 2010 Mary E. Egidio  Permission is given to distribute this post, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.  (you can share this with your friends, but tell them who wrote it, where you found it, and don’t try to sell it!)


2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Carol Hennen on June 7, 2010 at 1:06 am

    The description of your physical situation in the whooping cough setting painted a vivid picture literally and then emotionally of the fear and then the comfort.
    The story was extremely compelling such that I couldn’t stop reading it; ((BTW I never knew that you had Pertussis!!!)
    Because I’m a “words person” and you asked for a critique 2 things got my attention: 1. Last paragraph ‘experience’ needs a D on the end. 2. Possible rephrasing to ‘into a situation of which we did not approve.’ (Just seemed like there needed to be an “of” there.
    I am so happy to see you FINALLY doing this. You are very gifted writter!!!
    Love ya,


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