“I can’t believe it’s been five years.” I was sitting cross-legged in bed while Ian held the massage gun on a knot in my back. We had been quiet, but my brain was loud. The notion that in a few short days it would be the anniversary of my accident—again—was weighing on me. He took a deep breath in before responding.
Coping & Grief
The dog heard the truck pull into the driveway before I did. She ran to the boys’ room, hopped on the bed and put her paws up on the windowsill. Her tail whipped back and forth as she looked frantically from the kids outside to me, and back again, as if to say Look Mom, our people are home! I yelled through the open window “Hey guys! How was your day?” My son turned to look at me. There was no, Hi Mommy or My day was fine. Instead, he scrunched up his face and said “Why are you wearing makeup?”
I was shocked into momentary silence. Granted, I didn’t wear makeup often anymore, but had I neglected my makeup bag for so long that the sight of me with a bit of eye shadow and blush on my face was startlingly out of the ordinary? I recovered quickly and smiled. Then I lied. “I just wanted to put some makeup on.”
I have lived through seasons of immense grief. Existed within the loneliness that loss, anger and frustration often brings. Haven’t you? I think we’ve all experienced periods in life where we wake up in the morning, heavy with the responsibilities and pain of our current reality. The well-intended offers of sympathy feel hollow. They result in our feigned appreciation as we retreat into our unstable existences and our well-meaning family and friends proceed with their lives as usual. But right now—in the grief, uncertainty and frustration of this Covid-19 pandemic—we are not alone.
I shut the bathroom door behind me. My daugher’s voice was in my head saying “take rainbow breaths Mommy. They help you relax”. I attempted to take her advice—which is really my advice—while fumbling with my toothbrush and the seemingly empty tube of toothpaste. But the truth is, sometimes deep breaths achieve absolutely nothing. Nothing that is except momentarily delaying the inevitable which—in this case—was me, sitting alone in the bathroom, crying as I brushed my teeth.
My kids want to go skiing. And my husband wants to take them. Me? I organized the gift cards for Christmas presents and I keep checking our calendar along with the weather to help find a day where our schedule and the environment align in magical harmony. I want them to experience the freedom and beauty of the mountain. I want them to expand on their athletic abilities. I want them to have the opportunity to stand at the top of a run, look around themselves and feel not only the enormity of the world, but also of the privilege it is to be a part of it. But—if I’m being totally honest with you—there is a part of me that wants them to absolutely hate it because I can’t do it with them. I’m Jealous. There, I said it.
10 weeks to the day after I injured my spinal cord—on my 29th birthday—I left rehab. And what did I want more than anything? A bath. A bubble bath with a book or Netflix was my happy place—my self-care. It was where I retreated to almost every evening in the fall and winter after my husband was home from work and I was no longer solely responsible for the three little people in our home. It gave me space to take a breath, recharge and feel like a person beyond “Mommy”.
Imagine you could re-write your life.
Would you do it?
Would you remove your struggles and omit all of your sadness and pain? Would you remedy every regret—every bad decision? Would you take more chances—different chances—or try harder? Would you sift through your life, altering details and discarding parts of your history onto the cutting room floor until ultimately editing all of the pieces together to create your one perfect story?
It caught my eye out the front window—an ambulance pulling in to the driveway across the street. My brain said trigger warning, but if you’re anything like me and possess an incessant curiosity, trigger warnings only work to peak your interest. So even though my reactions to ambulances haven’t been great—the worst being a full-blown panic attack after seeing one race down the road with its lights flashing and sirens blaring—I couldn’t look away. I thought let’s see what happens this time.
It was three years ago, on March 10, 2016—in this very spot—I became a paraplegic. Today, it looks nothing like it did on the day of my injury; there is zero indication that this was a place of a life-altering accident. The dirt has been replaced with carpet. Drywall and paint covers the exposed cement foundation and the staircase fills in the dark emptiness of a basement-in-the-making. But one thing remains—framed in with wooden trim—and that is the hole I fell through.
From the beginning of this injury, it was never just my journey I had to concentrate on. It was never just my grief, my trauma or my transition to a new life. My accident happened to my entire family. All five of us—myself, my husband and our three children—were there as our life took a sharp turn in an unexpected direction; we were the only ones there. Our daughter—too young to understand what was happening—has no memory of it. Our boys however, can vividly recall their versions of the story and it breaks my heart. No, it was never just my journey I was worried about.