Our journey, one chosen for us, not by us has been described as complex, unthinkable, unimaginable. It’s those descriptions and so many more.
What started out as brothers spending a Sunday together, ended in tragedy when Aaron’s truck unexplainably hit a tree. The same fatal impact causing Aaron’s death and Steven’s Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), caused irreversible heart damage to their parents. The kind of damage that is incurable. We are told time will help, but more than five years have passed, the pain doesn’t subside, we just learn to live with and tolerate it.
Throughout my life, I have held many titles, but none as prestigious as wife to my husband Carlan and mom to our two sons. I never imagined I’d add the titles of survivor and caregiver to my portfolio on the same day. All at once, I was a survivor for surviving the death of my first-born son, Aaron, and a caregiver for my son, Steven, who sustained a TBI. Being thrust into the foreign world of caregiving, coupled with grieving the earthly separation from Aaron, left my body physically depleted and consumed with shock, a kind of shock that numbed me. The numbness allowed me to function but prevented me from clearly seeing the ocean of faces affected by Steven’s TBI and Aaron’s death. As the shock began to fade, it felt like a curtain lifted, and I was cast in a play with all the characters, one by one revealing how they were affected. Amidst their grief, they wondered if I would ever laugh again, have date nights or travel. They wondered how this trauma would affect my marriage and my friendships. Their fears, mingled with those of our own, weighed on our minds. After all, how can you think about experiencing happiness when your world has been turned upside down by a diagnosis, with an integral part of your family suddenly gone?
The face of grief that makes my heart skip a beat daily is that of Steven. As if life with a TBI isn’t challenging enough, despite his pain, he bravely faces each day without his brother, his best friend. As Mom, I want to fix it, but I can’t. I can only remind him that Aaron would expect us to make the most of each day, even when we don’t think we can.
I hope my words convey the message that while it took time to regain our equilibrium, we sincerely acknowledge your loss and pain. There are no adequate words to express our gratitude for the role you played in making a difference in Steven’s recovery while putting your pain on hold to provide strength to me and my family in our time of desperate need.
Some examples of the Many Faces of TBI and Grief:
- Good Samaritans that found our sons and stayed until help arrived.
- Fire and rescue team ensuring our sons made it safely off the mountain.
- The trauma team that embraced the magnitude of our loss, refusing to give up on saving Steven’s life.
- Family and friends that kept vigil by our side at the hospital as Steven fought for his life, and stood by us as we celebrated Aaron’s life. You stayed, seamlessly switching gears working behind the scenes, taking care of everything that we could not.
- Aaron and Steven’s friends that showed up at the hospital and funeral, not knowing what to say. They did the most important thing; they showed up.
- Expected Moms in the visitation line with tears streaming down their faces, those tears an acknowledgment of my pain.
- Co-workers from employers past and present, eagerly showing their support.
- Our community on standby to come to our rescue, and without fail they did.
- Healthcare providers. Many have stayed the course, proudly witnessing Steven’s miraculous recovery.
- Charity foundations that said, “Yes,” we will help.
- Our TBI Community—near and far—offering support and resources.
- Steven’s Trauma team that encouraged us to reach out to other family members facing loss.
We’ve experienced the double-sided emotions of birthdays, holidays and anniversaries, a time when happiness collides with grief as we simultaneously celebrate Steven’s recovery and Aaron’s death.
A dear friend recently shared her thoughts on two very impactful words: acknowledge and accept. These words deeply struck a chord in my heart. I can acknowledge and accept Steven’s TBI, after all, he’s here! While I acknowledge Aaron’s death, my heart will not and cannot accept losing a son at the tender age of 26, with his life ahead of him. No parent should have to live with this unnatural pain.
I believe that God brings those that we need into our lives at just the right moment, for such crucial times as then and now. Some of the faces affected by our journey showed up on day one, others, year one, and now almost five years later, are still showing up, right on time. It takes a village. We’re forever thankful that you are an integral part of ours.