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The High Cost of Waiting

I have spent far too much time in the last ten years waiting.

Waiting for test results, for surgeons to emerge from the operating room with news, for radiologists to read a scan, for a COVID report. During each of these times of waiting, my mind has played out all the potential scenarios. If the cancer is back… If the lab result is abnormal… If the surgery didn’t go well… If she has COVID…

No deep breaths are taken in the waiting. Hours or days are passed in a zombie-like manner. Technically, tasks are completed, meals are cooked and eaten, meetings are attended. But through it all, I’m only partially there. My mind and heart are living in the “what ifs,” struggling to prioritize tasks, meals, and meetings when this news would make all of those obsolete.

Sleep is not deep nor restorative in the waiting. My swirling mind does not allow me to rest.

A buzzing energy runs through me as I wait. I’m on high alert. Questioning everything. Was that a symptom? Does that cough sound concerning? Is the result I’m dreading playing out right in front of me? Is the answer right here in my living room?

Mentions of the future, events even a week from now, can’t fully be processed. By then we could be neck deep in bad news, on a path so divergent from that event it may as well be on a different planet.

During the waiting there are prayers from all around. Offers of meals. Virtual hugs. People checking in. Texts of support. Hearts and praying hands emojis.

And then the news comes. When the news is hard, I shift into overdrive, enacting the plan my anxious brain has been preparing for all throughout the wait. The community rallies, next steps are planned, the path has been determined.

But an interesting thing happens when the news is good. First comes the wave of PTL (Praise the Lord) texts and clapping emojis. Then, I can almost palpably feel the village of supporters take a deep collective breath…right before they move on. Yes! The news is good! Cancel the lasagnas! Cross the Breiningers off the list of people to worry about. On with our day! This makes perfect sense from the lens that a disaster has been averted. Deep breaths are needed and deserved and justified and there are likely others who now need those prayers and lasagnas.

And.

The waiting, the worrying, and the planning caused damage. Days full of anxiety and devoid of sleep and deep breaths take a toll. Even as I feel the immense relief of the news I had hoped for, my body and mind do not snap immediately back into pre-waiting mode. Instead, a hangover ensues as my body works to detox from all that I have just endured.

Many of us are waiting these days. Waiting for election results, COVID tests, decisions about schools opening or closing, cancer scans. I pray for each of you who are waiting that you get the results you are hoping for. And, even if you do, I want you to know that I honor the waiting you endured. I know that good news in the end does not erase the hardship of the waiting. Be gentle with yourself in the days to come, knowing that even if you got the news you wanted, your body and brain and heart have just been living as if you might not and they will need some time to recover.

Supporters: feel free to send that PTL text when your person shares good news. And. Consider including with it an acknowledgement that the waiting for the news must have been hard and that you’d love to bring them a lasagna as they recover from what they have just endured.

Good news is needed and longed for and wonderful to be celebrated. Let us continue to do so, while honoring the cost with which it came.

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One Response

  1. Oh, Allison, I worry so much for you! How long can your body keep functioning with all the stress hormones coursing through your veins, forcing you to stay alert, go into overdrive at a second’s notice, all while sleep-deprived and possibly malnourished from lack of time/access to healthy food or the inability to digest it fully. And if something happens to you? I know you’re not allowed to visit that thought. I can only hope the tools of prayer, meditation, yoga and the like will ease you through the agony of waiting. And hug emojis🫂

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