Looking back, we can sometimes see the edge of the cliff we danced on, trace the lines of the fall that is coming, and perhaps even remember hearing the deep rumble just before the earth began to crumble. One moment we are standing straight, and the next there is a crash of some sort that takes us out.
Not being much of a risk-taker or a person who liked getting close to the cliff’s edge, there did not seem to be much of a chance that I would end up here in the emergency room with paralysis stealing the life I knew. No skydiving or hanggliding, just a routine chiropractic manipulation that brought me here. As they say in the nursery rhyme, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty back together again.”
It was May 21, 2001, and it became my date of injury—a date that has yet to pass without deep reflection. There was so much loss that happened in what seemed like the blink of an eye, yet almost 15 years later, I can actually weep not with sorrow, but with gratitude for all that I have been blessed with since that time.
It has not always been that way, and for a time, even though the outside of me seemed happy, there was a massive storm brewing on the inside. In my journey to get my life back, there was one very important part that I skipped over: grief.
Unshed grief does not go away, no matter how many times you stuff it down or how many times you say, “I am okay.” It sits like a volcano, all quiet and calm, until one day it erupts and takes out everything in its path.
The funny thing is that I thought I was okay. My daughters, who were 20 and 15 when I was injured, had grown and were successfully pursuing their own dreams. My ex-husband, who had been by my side through all of this, was doing fine, and I was working full-time at a job I loved. In reality though, none of us were okay because of my unwillingness to lift the corner up on the grief that was keeping us all stuck. Until I broke, the lie was going to continue.
I didn’t know all this when my dance with grief started, and was really not consciously aware of my own part in the lie. I just knew in 2001 that everyone needed me to get my shit together and come back, so like a dutiful soldier, I put my uniform on, did what was needed, and held on tight with my eyes closed.
My days in rehab had taught me how to compensate for what I had lost, how to use a wheelchair, to deal with bowel and bladder stuff, to get dressed and all that one needs to be independent. But nowhere in there was the big lesson, which was, Where do you put a loss this great, and how do you get over it?
It was the “get over” part where I stumbled, for there was no way to reconnect the two parts of myself. There was a disconnect in my body, and although I knew how to use that paralyzed part of myself, it no longer could carry out the job it once had. I carried the weight of the paralyzed part of me with shame and disgust, keeping it all covered.
Others might have seen the wheelchair I needed, but they were never allowed into my disability. Get too close and offer help and you heard, “I have this,” which was my way of saying, “Back off and take your pity with you!”
About 10 years after my injury, I was plagued by infections and exhaustion that I could not shake. My job became a source of deep disappointment, and the truth started to leak in when I was diagnosed with depression.
“Who sat on my rose colored glasses?” I asked. It was time, so with my family’s support, a wonderful psychologist, friends, and a rusty toy shovel, the digging began. My grief and loss were like that feather pillow that explodes and you have no idea how something so small could contain such a messy explosion.
There was one more who journeyed with me this time, and that was God. A God I had discovered back in 2001 who had earned my trust, and so while I grieved, He carried me to the places and people that could help me.
Almost 15 years later, I still haven’t gotten over my injury. What I have accepted is that I have a purpose and God has a plan, and in that there is grace.