In an effort to pull both my house and me out of our Christmas hangover, we spent most of Sunday attempting to get organized. We went through all the junk that, over the holidays, accumulated on the counters and then got shoved into drawers in a hurry before company showed up. We sorted through the never-ending piles of paper that seem to come from every corner of our lives. While it always feels refreshing to de-clutter, organizing and purging does have its downsides. During this process, I always seem to come across little reminders – difficult reminders – of my accident, of life before, or of what has changed. This round of organization wasn’t any different, however along with the reminders, I found there was also a spotlight on how far I have come. It is the second time lately my attention has been drawn to this and it has resulted in a lot of mixed emotions. But after the process was over I was left with a smile on face because of the very last item that I found.
It is incredibly easy to get caught up in the present space of our bodies and our minds. I find myself getting lost in my current state, my current struggle, more often than I care to admit. But recently, I have been forced to remember where this journey all started and all of the struggles that have come and gone. As I sorted through stacks of paper, I came across all of my discharge information and the notes from my therapists at the rehabilitation centre. If you’ve ever watched a home video of yourself and felt like you could step right back into that moment then you might be able to understand what it felt like for me to read over these pages. There it was, in black-and-white, all of the things I was up against.
As I sat in our little home office/kids’ art room, I was reminded of the weeks I spent away from home. I was reminded of the time I spent learning to roll over, sit up, move in and out of my wheelchair, use the bathroom independently, and the list goes on. The first time I successfully put my own pants on while in my wheelchair took me 25 minutes. By the time they were up I was sweaty, frustrated and angry at the entire world. Before my accident I could have three kids and myself dressed, teeth brushed, and out the door in those same 25 minutes. Clearly my life changed. Learning to insert my own catheter resulted in tears more times than not because, honestly, the urethra is really small. Seriously, I would have a mirror and sometimes an extra light and still miss it. Every obstacle seemed like a mountain – one, after another, after another.
These were sobering reminders for me. Because as hard as it still is to give myself extra time to get dressed in the morning or when I easily feel frustrated that it takes me a few more minutes in the bathroom than most, it has gotten so much easier than it was in the beginning. Now it takes maybe two or three minutes to get myself dressed. I lost the mirror and flashlight for catheters a long time ago. And those are just two examples of many achievements. Sure the tasks are still difficult and frustrating but they have become so much easier. It’s important for me to remember that I made that happen. I didn’t sit back in frustration and refuse to try again. I sucked it up and tackled those mountains – one, after another, after another. But there was another moment recently that made me pause and feel thankful for progress. But this was progress that wasn’t really about me. It was about my daughter.
One of the most difficult aspects of my injury was my daughter’s reaction to it. She was only 18 months old and a complete mama’s girl when I got hurt. And when she came to see me in the hospital it was as if she didn’t even know me. And that’s how it went for quite a while. She would come to visit us and be over-the-moon excited to see her daddy and then treat me like a stranger. My girl didn’t want me. I broke down about it more times than I care to count, but I knew I couldn’t force myself on her.
There was one time my sister brought her in and Ian went out to get lunch. She screamed at the door to my room after he left. When I tried to comfort her, she looked terrified. I wanted to scream and cry with her but, instead, I convinced her to climb on a chair and play a game with me. My sister commented after how amazed she was that I could keep myself together and work with my daughter the way she needed me to. That was probably the most important thing my sister said to me through the entire journey. Having someone recognize how hard I was working to give my daughter the space she needed even while it was breaking my heart. I lost my daughter with my accident. She was right in front of me and yet I had lost her. Not knowing how long it would take to get her back was excruciating.
Fast forward to now and she is your typical three-year-old. She is feisty and strong and we are constantly in a battle of wills. There are days where, like most moms, I feel like I don’t know how to get her to listen or change her attitude. But she is her mama’s girl again and I had a really great reminder of that recently. When I dropped her off at her Grammy’s house the other day there was a service man working on the furnace. As soon as my mother-in-law unbuckled her from her car seat she made a beeline for me. She snuggled up on my lap and didn’t want to leave until the repairman was gone. In that moment, I didn’t think anything of it. I comforted her and convinced her she was safe to go with Grammy. It wasn’t until Sunday that I took the time to really reflect on how far we have come. That moment in the car was a moment that parents the world over are familiar with; but there was a time where I could offer no comfort to my daughter. That time has thankfully passed and remembering where we started is a good way to be grateful for where we are now.
After all of this reflection, I was feeling somewhat exhausted. I decided to go through one last drawer and call it a day. I pulled out the cup on our desk that holds all of our pens and pencils and emptied it. At the very bottom, covered in pen marks was a little popsicle stick craft. It doesn’t look like much but it has some history. On the day of my accident, my kids were home sick. In an effort to keep them occupied, I search Pinterest for craft ideas. I came across one that looked simple enough: a superhero. So we made some superheroes and then a few hours later they lay forgotten on the counter while our lives turned upside-down.
I didn’t return home for many weeks but others came and went. They were collecting things for us or packing up what was necessary to start renovations. Eventually I returned home with a team of helpers to get everything packed up for the rest of the reno. Through all of this, these popsicle stick superheroes avoided a garbage can. When we moved home for good we found all of these little crafts. The boys and I started making up stories about how the superheroes we created that day helped save me. It seemed to bring the three of us a strange feeling of peace.
As crafts tend to do, they disappeared. But every so often, one pops up in a strange place. One popped up on Sunday after all of these memories and emotions had already surfaced; it was, again, strangely comforting. Through all of this heartache, change and turmoil, something has guided my perseverance and my attitude. I know it isn’t the superheroes made of popsicle sticks but they have become the representation of the people who have helped me and the strength I seem to find when I am unsure there is any left. There is a force that has taken me from the beginning to now. From complete dependency to a more independent life. From a lost connection with my daughter to a rediscovered relationship. From the seemingly impossible to the tangible and realized. I’ve come a long way and I think I needed the reminder. I also think I’m going to tuck this superhero away somewhere I can find it.