Ten years ago, a major life event turned my world upside down. In its wake, I felt as if I no longer knew who I was.
Our youngest son, Steven, was in an automobile accident that left him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI), so severe in fact that if he survived, he would need every discipline of rehabilitative therapy to learn how to manage basic life skills. First, we waited for Steven to wake up. We waited for first words, which were “I love you!” We waited for the first time he could sit up unassisted. Eventually, we witnessed Steven take first steps. Milestone after milestone, we watched him learn each childhood first all over again, now as at age 22.
In the blink of an eye, my professional title changed from administrative assistant to caregiver. My résumé along with glowing personal and professional references checked off every qualification necessary to shine as an exceptional administrative assistant. But for my new career as a fulltime caregiver, there were no documented qualifications, no résumé, no interview, no requested references. Steven’s healthcare team assured me I had nothing to be afraid of! Really? I knew nothing about TBI, and the more I learned, the more afraid I became. And the more afraid I became, the less qualified I felt. All I knew was that my son would feel the safest with his mom by his side cheering him on as we faced our new normal together.
As Steven recovered, healthcare professionals advised us to take time to focus on emotional healing. Norma, the fixer, thought she could come to the rescue to ensure that we would all heal emotionally. Naively, I thought if everyone else was okay, I would be okay, too. Thankfully, my wise counselor reminded me of the instructions we receive when boarding an airplane … to be of any help to others, we must first help ourselves. So, very reluctantly, I retired my polished fixer hat and focused on my healing journey. I dug deep into my faith. I studied the five stages of grief and added stages of my own that experts left out. I got involved in support groups. I volunteered. I spent time taking care of my perennial garden and let it take care of me. Each played an integral role in my embracing my new identity. Had I kept my fixer hat on — convincing myself and everyone around me that I was fine — I would not be where I am today … a place where I can acknowledge the importance of doing the work necessary to heal from trauma. In my case, double trauma.
Our first-born son, Aaron, was in the accident with Steven. Aaron didn’t survive. That goodbye took with it a huge part of me. We have all heard that grief is the price we pay for love. There is no truer statement.
Ironically, Aaron — who had a passion for rescuing stray animals and humans — left behind a special way of helping us heal from his death … pet therapy! We inherited Aaron’s fur baby, Rusty, a red tick hound. Aaron had smuggled Rusty into our home as a pup, and I do mean smuggled in! At the time, I had no intention of allowing a howling hunting dog into our home. But I am so thankful I gave in. Rusty became a spoiled, domesticated hound, and he helped us heal in ways none of us could have imagined.
Healing from a trauma, or at least learning to live with that trauma, is messy and excruciating business. But finding the bright spots — a Rusty, a garden that needs nurturing, friends to lean on, and friends who can lean on you — do help you start to see yourself emerge into a new and surprisingly welcome version of yourself. I guarantee you will like this version!
I am a big believer in working through what I walk through. If I have learned anything from everything that has come from the day of the crash, it is that we are each responsible for how we respond — and heal from — what happens in our lives. So, I say: please invest in a healthy, happy you. Take a step today to heal your way. I believe in you. You are worth it.