I had the most terrifying experience this weekend. The kind of thing that leaves you literally shaking, sick with dread. It has made me think hard about a lot of things, and one thing that keeps popping up in my head is that fear is intricately tied to gratitude. Today is Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Today, I am deeply grateful that my family is safe.
This is what happened…
Saturday morning, at about 3:30am I woke up, one of the kids had opened their bedroom door. I listened for a while, but I didn’t hear anything else. I thought someone had woken up, peeked out their little blond head, realized it was still nighttime, and decided to go back to sleep. I fell asleep again too.
I woke up again, about an hour later, to another noise. This time from the kitchen. My husband was on the road up north, as he is so often once the cooler weather hits, so it was up to me to go check it out. The kids have been known to wake up and play in the middle of the night, their internal clocks confused by the long dark hours of fall and winter. I didn’t think much of it. But I had a splitting headache thanks to a sinus cold, and I figured I’d check it out and grab some ibuprofen while I was at it.
A cold draft hit me when I entered the kitchen. The outside door was wide open. The wind howled outside. My daughter’s cat, Pixie, sat in the doorway staring at me with yellow eyes. We live in an old house, and if you aren’t careful to pull the door tight, it doesn’t always latch properly. Between the cat and the wind, I was pretty sure the kids hadn’t closed the door tightly when they came back in from playing the afternoon before.
I shooed the cat outside again, closed the door, grabbed my ibuprofen and headed back to bed.
Then I remembered…
Suddenly I remembered that I had heard one of the kids open their door an hour ago. Could one of them have opened to door? Unlikely. My kids are pretty sound sleepers. I doubted the wind had woken them, and the cats never meow to come inside. Just in case, I decided to check on them.
I opened the door to my youngest daughter’s room. She’s 5. She was spread-eagled and open mouthed, snoring away. I checked on my 7 year old son. He was buried in a mountain of blankets, just the top of his fuzzy blond hair visible in the yellow glow of the nightlight.
Then I went to check on his twin sister.
There was a big lump in the middle of her bed. She was probably curled up in a ball under there, like she often sleeps. But something about that lumped seemed off. I pulled back the blanket. She wasn’t there.
My heart stopped.
You hear people say this all the time, but I swear in that moment my heart stopped beating. I called out her name. There was no answer. I checked her closet. The living room. The kitchen. The basement. Everywhere. I ran around the house screaming her name at the top of my lungs.
She wasn’t there.
I knew then, with sickening certainty that she had gone outside. No jacket, no shoes. She was sleepwalking. I have caught Katie sleepwalking before, when she was little. At 3 years old, I caught her trying to go outside. She was convinced that her friends were waiting for her out at the gravel pile by our driveway. But that was four years ago. She hasn’t done it since. Why would she start now?
I grabbed a flashlight and put on my boots and ran outside. We live on 10 acres. We are surrounded on all sides by acres and acres of farm land. Our nearest neighbour is more than a km away. I ran around, screaming her name in the dark. The barn cats flowed toward me out of the grasses, running ahead of me in the light from the flashlight.
I followed them in case they knew where she was. The cats always follow Katie. I hoped I could scream loud enough for her to hear me and wake up. But the wind carried my voice away.
I couldn’t find her.
I knew there was too much space for me to cover on my own. Everyone I know lives hours away. If I was right, she’d already been outside for more than an hour. It was barely above freezing.
I called 911. I told them that I couldn’t find my daughter. I was shaking and crying and trying to explain what had happened. That she must be sleepwalking. Making the call suddenly made everything feels so real. Telling someone else was worse than anything.
The operator was calm, sent out a priority dispatch to the RCMP.
Then, while I was still on the phone with the 911 operator, my son comes out of his room. He’s bleary-eyed and stumbling, and he says “Mom? Katie’s asleep in my bed. She snuck in in the middle of the night because she was scared.
I was so embarrassed. I explained what had happened, still crying, but with relief now. She must have been curled up underneath his blanket and I didn’t see her when I checked. I apologized profusely to the operator, who was so kind and good about it. She was just glad everything turned out okay.
I got a phone call from the RCMP shortly afterwards to confirm that Katie was alright. I apologized again, but the officer was also so good about it. He said they had been really worried when the call came in and that they were all relieved that she had been found safe.
Katie was so upset when she realized I had called the police that it took ages to calm her down. She has never snuck into her brothers room at night before, and now she’s probably scarred for life and will never leave her room at night again. I tried to explain that it was okay, but that she can always wake me up if she’s scared in the middle of the night. Then I can help.
I’m still so embarrassed.
But more than anything, I am grateful. I will happily feel humiliated a thousand times over if it means I don’t have to experience the things I feared that night. And I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m glad I called when I did. If she had been outside, and I had waited, she might have died. It doesn’t matter that I was wrong. I have never been more happy to be wrong.
But gratitude is a funny thing. You think you understand gratitude until you know real fear. When the moment is over, gratitude comes crashing over you like a wave and you realize you have never truly been grateful until that moment.
I hope that you never have to experience anything like I did in order to feel thanks for all the wonderful things in your life. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of fitting that Thanksgiving and Halloween happen so close to one another as symbols for these closely linked human experiences (although, Halloween should definitely come first!)
What is the scariest thing that has every happened to you? And what are you most grateful for?