If you mentioned the words silver lining to me in conjunction with the loss of our first-born son, Aaron, and our only surviving son, Steven, fighting for his life with a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) my kind response would have been, “Are you absolutely crazy?” When you open your door to police officers with pained faces that spoke before they could audibly voice the words of our sons being in a fatal accident, you can’t fathom being able to breathe again, to experience happiness again, let alone think there could ever be silver linings after such a life-changing event.
The words silver lining did not appear in the unwelcomed TBI manual that was dutifully placed in my unsteady hands. I will never forget the feeling of that manual; it weighed as much as a magazine, yet felt like a cold cinderblock leaving me with an urge to thrust it out the ICU window. I felt like I needed an interpreter as my own traumatized brain attempted to decipher such words as Intracranial Pressure (ICP), Craniotomy, and neurostorming, just to name a few.
You get the picture. These are words no parent should ever hear.
In those early hours after attempting to absorb the shock, my head and heart kept screaming for me to go to Aaron. Even while drowning in his own pain, my husband repeatedly reminded me there was nothing we could do for Aaron. We both knew Aaron would expect us to run to Steven’s rescue, just as he had done numerous times himself. Despite being repeatedly told that Steven wouldn’t make it, we did exactly what Aaron would do. We stood vigil over Steven’s fragile, unrecognizable body. We prayed for his survival, not that he would be whole and perfect because none of us are. We just needed our son to live. Deficits never entered our minds. We just needed him, as much as he needed us. Truth is we needed him more. Which leads us to our first silver lining, Steven survived! Against all odds, he is our silver lining of all silver linings!
During Steven’s many years of rehabilitation, when my physical, emotional and spiritual tanks ran empty, when exhaustion hit so hard that not even a double shot of espresso coupled with dark chocolate could revive me, silver linings showed up in the form of everyday people including:
- doctors who offered hugs versus another dreaded diagnosis;
- therapists who refused to give up;
- nurses who cared for our son while taking extra time to care for his mom and dad;
- family members, friends, community, good Samaritans and total strangers who put their lives on hold to come to our rescue.
All of these compassionate people shared our motto: “Whatever it takes!” These priceless gold nuggets showed up, illuminating the darkest of days, providing welcomed rays of hope.
Carlan and I will never forget the moment when Steven turned the corner. It was none other than the day of Aaron’s Life Celebration. That’s right! We couldn’t believe the timing either, but we indeed had two celebrations on that day! I often think Aaron planned it that way! He always wanted to be in the spotlight, but on this brotherly day, he insisted that the spotlight shine on Steven. Steven shone brightly, holding nothing back to make his big brother proud. He came back to us on Aaron’s day! As brothers, best friends, how fitting that they shared the same day to celebrate two precious lives!
A silver lining that is near and dear to my heart is related to our marriage. According to our wise counselor, the chance for a marriage to survive trauma was not encouraging. There is no documented data, no statistic for marriages that survive double trauma. I thank God, every day that our marriage has withstood the test of all tests. Our vows, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, took on an entirely new and cherished meaning.
I can’t end my blog without thanking Aaron for teaching us about the silver lining of being noticers. Being a person who notices nature and people—especially those that are hurting—was an example, a gift that Aaron passed down to Steven. I often think of how Aaron wanted to rescue everyone. He took time to be present. To listen. To hug, real tight. To smile while offering words of assurance that regardless of present circumstances, everything will be okay if you don’t give up. He believed those words and lived them with his whole heart, and we see Steven doing the same.
At the end of each day, we all have choices. We can be bitter, angry, isolate or get mad at God—all of which I have experienced. These choices left me empty, unfulfilled, and confused. I’m thankful that I didn’t lose myself in empty choices. Instead, while living with a permanently scarred heart from the earthly loss of Aaron, I attempt to focus on basking in the glow of silver linings; to remain thankful for the blessings right in front of me; to be present for those that love and need me.