My Two Life-Sustaining Questions

My Two Life-Sustaining Questions

All parents are faced with the same common questions while raising their children. We were no different. Will we be good parents? Will our boys be healthy? How will they do in school? What professions will they choose? Will they meet their soulmate and make us grandparents? These are normal, casual, and expected questions until your worst nightmare becomes a reality. For us, the nightmare was a fatal car accident that took our firstborn son and left our only surviving son with a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a life without his brother, his best friend.

When we answered a knock on our door in the early hours of the morning expecting to see our sons, we were instead looking into the bleak faces of police officers as questions immediately started formulating. Because of the protective layer of shock that consumed my body, I couldn’t audibly ask the searing questions that I so desperately needed to be answered: What caused the accident? Did my boys suffer? How long did they wait for help?  The agonizing questions kept swirling in my head, spinning like a washing machine stuck on the spin cycle.

The once casual questions of early parenthood turned into heart-wrenching screams, assaulting my heart like a machine gun stuck in automatic mode. Unfortunately, some of my questions were answered without being voiced: Aaron wouldn’t get to experience the magical moment of saying, “I do!” He was robbed of the joys of fatherhood. No more hunting trips with his buddies. No more quality time with his brother. Family beach vacations for the four of us are now memories of the past.

In the blink of an eye for our sons, and with an unwelcomed knock on our door for my husband and me, our family changed in a way that we could not even begin to comprehend. While we didn’t physically change addresses, it felt as if we had morphed into a new life full of unknowns. The chapter of our life as an intact family of four was removed from our parental handbook; in return, hospital staff offered a manual about TBI, and the funeral home handed us a brochure addressing grieving the loss of a child. These resources were meant to be a comfort, but all I wanted to do was find a shredder and do to those resources exactly what the accident did to me, tear them into a million pieces, with no chance of being put back together in the same way again.

The merry-go-round of questions left me feeling queasy from the never-ending thoughts of what’s next. The questions changed with each season of recovery coupled with each season of grief; Will Steven survive, what will recovery look like? How will I plan a life celebration for Aaron? How do I go about securing resources for Steven’s rehabilitation and recovery? How does a family recover from such a catastrophic loss? When will we grieve? Will our marriage survive the greatest test of our 32 years together? Will our family, friends, and community continue to be there for us?

As we watched our surviving son fight his way back to us, the recovery road wasn’t easy. There were insurance battles. There were tears when therapists gave up too easily. And then there was our favorite: reminding healthcare providers that Steven could answer their questions himself, and on top of that, they didn’t have to yell—his TBI didn’t cause deafness. If I sound a bit sarcastic, it’s because TBI has forced us to encounter the worst of the worst coupled with the best of the best. There are defeats that lead to tears and celebrations that are never taken for granted.

TBI alone causes a unique kind of grief, but when it collides with devastation from the death of your other child, it causes guilt for smiling. Laughter is followed by tears, not the kind of welcomed tears from a belly laugh, but tears from the remnants of a broken heart and ultimately experiencing a sense of sadness every single day, even when feeling happiness. It’s a complex journey.

 I remember in the early days following the accident. Amid the chaos, and despite the unknowns, my husband and I joined hands and hearts asking God to give us the physical and emotional strength to make whatever sacrifices necessary to ensure that we were by Steven’s side providing security and support, all while doing everything humanly possible to keep Aaron’s memory alive.

As we approach five years since the knock on our door, we are thankful that Steven doesn’t let his TBI define him. We proudly watch as he sets, pursues, and achieves goals. TBI is an invisible disease; it can be very lonely if people are unwilling to get out of their comfort zone, become educated, and just show up. We are thankful for those that see beyond Steven’s TBI and have the privilege of being exposed to his positive outlook on life. He possesses a never-give-up attitude and an infectious smile that reminds me of his brother.

Each day my heart experiences a tidal way of emotions that threatens to sweep me off my feet. By the grace of God, I stay grounded, always asking myself two life-sustaining questions:

What would Aaron want me to do?

What does Steven need?

 I choose to believe that Steven needs and deserves the same mom he and his brother have always known, a mom who offers unconditional love, puts family first, forgives freely and never gives up. I know this is what Aaron would want.

Life goes on with traumatic brain injuries, with the loss of loved ones, with broken hearts, and unanswered questions. I am committed to remaining by Steven’s side as he continues healing both physically and emotionally, and I will speak Aaron’s name daily to keep his memory alive. I will continue to travel this path that was paved for me with grace and faith, trusting in strength that comes from God who so graciously restores my depleted strength daily.

Posted on BrainLine March 22, 2017.

Comments (6)

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To Alex's mother,
Thank you for posting. We would be happy to put you in contact with Norma. Could you please send your contact information to

Thank you!

I am more amazed at Steven's progress every time I see him. God Bless You and Your Family.
Norma, I am sorry for your losses. My middle son, Alex, suffered a severe TBI September 5, 2011. He was in osteopathic school in West Virginia and was t-boned while driving. He is now 32 years old and lonely, frustrated and depressed. He believes he will never marry, have children or a career as his older brother and many of his friends have. Is there any chance your son would be willing to communicate with him? He is quite high functioning despite the severity of his accident but can only see the glass as half empty. Thank you for any encouragement.
I'm so sorry for your losses. Our daughter suffered a TBI in 2011. While she has recovered physically and no one would never know she had an accident. Her mental health is not so good. She stays depressed and like the other mothers son, she doesn't believe she will find a husband and live a normal life. From day one it has been a new journey daily. I pray you can eventually heal enough that you can be the best you for your son. Take care . Erin

My son Kip suffered a TBI on April 7, 2017. It is now May 6th and he is still in a coma, I believe he is responding to me but the doctors don't believe me. I am at the hospital almost 24/7 and every doctor says something different. I am so confused about the outcome and what to expect. I really need someone to talk to that has been through what I am going through. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Please help me find someone I could maybe share a talk and a coffee. Thanks and blessings are being sent to all going through this painful and confusing accident. Billie. Email me at

Norma. My story is a lot like yours except it was my baby son Nick he was thirty two had a great job getting ready to be married. He was on his Harley heading to Tenn. with some friends about two miles from home he hit a deer head on. No helmet. Here in KY you don't have to wear one. Sept 23rd 2012 my life as I knew it ended. They air lifted Nic to a hospital in Huntington, West Va. I was like in a twilight zone screaming for God to please don't take my baby. The surgeon told me Nic had brain damage and he has to cut his scull out put it in his belly. All I could hear was my crying and praying to God. I asked surgeon if he believed in God. He said yes. After Nic came out of surgery doc didn't give me any hope said if he makes though the night he won't be walking, talking, barely living. I said no I don't accept that God is going to restore Nic. Well after five years of hospitals and rehabs he is doing sooooooo good. Not talking yet but with his pointing and trying to talk he gets what he asked for. Its been so hard at times I would go out of sight of Nic and scream to God saying you gave him back to me help me to help him. And God has. Sometimes I just need someone to talk ....thank you Vickie