So here’s what happened… I wrote this blog post almost two years ago. I was so excited to graduate, and go to Hawaii with my Dad and my sister, and to have life calm down just a little bit after graduation, where I would slip into the easy, idyllic life that I had been looking forward to since I started my undergrad degree.
…But then life happened. Less than three weeks after we got home from Hawaii, which I was so excited to blog about, but in catching up with work and school, I hadn’t had a chance…
On the morning of Lila’s second birthday, I woke up to a voicemail from my Mom left overnight. That was weird and out of the ordinary. So I cued up the voicemail and listened to my mom, in a serious voice (which has NEVER happened on my voicemail) say, “Hey Sydney, it’s Mom. Um. Dad was in a car accident, and he’s not hurt bad, but he’s awake and talking, and they’re transporting by ambulance right now. I’m waiting for him at Kootenai. So as soon as I know something I will call you back and give you an update.”
The voicemail had a time stamp of 1:33am, so I immediately called her back, as it was now a little after 6:30am. And so began the conversation that changed my life.
She told me my Dad was being prepped for surgery and they wouldn’t know the extent of the damage until they “got in there,” but that x-rays had shown my Dad’s back was broken, and he couldn’t move his legs.
In all the years I spent growing up around my Dad, one thing stood out in our conversations about life and death and the prospect of living assisted: My Dad was of the mind that to be disabled and unable to care for himself was a fate worse than death. I told my Mom as much. “Mom! This is worse than if he would have died!” And she said she would have assumed so as well, but that he was actually in good spirits and feeling very positive. Then she let me talk to him. He sounded groggy and medicated, but calm and peaceful. He said that I didn’t need to worry, called me buddy at least ten times, and said he would work through whatever was in store for him. As my parents had been separated and living in different houses, my biggest worry was what in the world he would do. Back on the phone with my Mom, “But, who is going to take care of him?” Mom, “I will, of course.”
I hung up the phone feeling the heaviest I have ever felt in my life and went downstairs to tell my husband my dad broke his back in a car wreck.
As you can imagine, after this began a whole new series of life for all of our family, I couldn’t just come back to my blog and write a jolly and bouncy story about our trip to Hawaii (and amazing trip at that). I couldn’t even bring myself to talk about the trip, of watching my Dad walk down the beach, literally his favorite thing in the world, or scuba diving, or the doors-off helicopter ride…. while he was lying in the ICU with the prognosis of likely never walking again.
After a few days of getting second-hand information from my Mom and Maddy, my overly-realist, control-freak brain couldn’t take it anymore. While I didn’t feel like they were withholding anything from me, I just couldn’t wrap my head around what was really going on without seeing for myself. I couldn’t focus on anything, and I had read enough about spinal cord injuries in the past week to have a good working knowledge of his chances. So after talking with my husband and professors (here I was, barely two months from graduation, I couldn’t fail now…), and having the amazing support of my boss, Gina, I packed some stuff and drove up to Coeur d’Alene to see everything for myself and to try to give my Mom and sister a break.
The whole ride was a mind trip in addition to the physical trip. I thought so much about all the things he wouldn’t be able to do, and how awful this was for HIM especially, with his outlook on life. I wrestled with whether it really would have been better if he had died, so he didn’t have to suffer the rest of his life, just so, selfishly, the rest of us could have him around for just a little longer.
When I got to the hospital, my mom had run home to shower and Maddy was at work, so Dad’s mom, my Nana, was there snoozing in a chair while my Dad slept in his bed. I walked into the room and was hit by the reality of it all. I looked at my Dad, in the dimly lit room with his brow furrowed in dreams, or pain, and his legs sticking out from under the covers, at an odd angle from the rest of his body. It looked uncomfortable, and then I realized he couldn’t move them anyway, so he probably didn’t know he was uncomfortable. Tears sprang to my eyes as I surveyed the room and then Nana woke up and welcomed me with a hug, telling me he was doing really good today.
If you’ve never had the experience of seeing your parents incapacitated, it is hard to imagine, but there is something severely disconcerting about seeing someone I had always equated with strength and who was so able-bodied, reduced to being trapped in a hospital bed.
I got my stuff arranged and picked out a spot on the couch to hang out. Eventually Dad started coughing (he had been upside-down in the car for some time before a passerby spotted his headlights and came to help him… they had to cut him out of the car, so his lungs had some fluid from being upside-down for so long) and said, “Hey buddy!”
I got to spend a week with him and watch him go through the suckiest parts of learning to be paralyzed, while also healing from a car accident and all of the bumps and bruises that did not help with the pain portion. I got to talk to him about how he felt and he assured me, repeatedly, that he was ok. That now that he WAS paralyzed, that being paralyzed was NOT a fate worse than death. That he would figure it out, and he would be ok. I was skeptical, but watching his determination was nothing short of inspiring. I was the one crying because he couldn’t poop 9 days after the accident and it was time that physiologically, it was a necessity. Me watching him, frustrated and fully helpless, learn how to be paralyzed.
But my Dad is a freaking champ, and with the help of my Mom every freaking day, he DID overcome so much. From that first day in his hospital bed, unable to even sit upright without help, to weeks spent at in-patient rehabilitation at the AMAZING St. Luke’s in Spokane, he learned to crawl, to stand, and eventually, to walk again. Slowly and shakily at first (and to this day, there are still some terrifying, unstable moments), but he is walking.
The hardest part for me to endure now is the day-to-day part, knowing he still cannot pee or poop on his own, and that is the hardest aspect for him. I wish his story could be one of full recovery from his devastating accident, but those are not the cards he was dealt. And while I get caught up in my daily life, I often feel guilty for not calling enough, and not being around enough.
He can’t feel significant portions of his body, and likely never will, but this guy is still as inspiring as ever. I called him last week to check in and lament about some stupid issue I was having, and he said that he is lucky to be alive, and for that he owes the world. A man who is paralyzed and faced huge obstacles to be able to merely walk again… is “lucky to be alive.” I will never be such an awesome person as my Dad.
I feel like our whole family has been impacted for the better as a result of my Dad’s wreck. We are all more loving toward one another, we have SO much fun when we are together, and we appreciate that we can be together. Our family has always been close, but this has definitely brought us closer, and given us a new perspective on the power of love, watching my parents fight through this as a united front, in spite of not even living in the same house.
Here is the video I made for my Dad commemorating his one-year anniversary of the accident.
And speaking of my life, a lot has changed since I wrote that ominous blog post almost two years ago. The good news is I DID graduate with my bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, and my Dad walked (albeit with arm crutches) into my graduation, three months after the accident.
…but that’s the end of where the things I predicted, happened. Right before I graduated, I got accepted to the Master of Public Administration program here at BSU and I have been working hard on that degree. Ironically, I will again graduate this coming December, but with my Master’s this time around. I also got a new job this past October, and I love it and the people I work with. I feel so much happier and this is such a better fit for me.
Our family is doing awesome and there are so many things we have done that I have wanted to blog about, but I could never bring myself to do it, because I can’t ignore the last two years and their impact on my life, so I just kept skipping it. I couldn’t bring myself to even try to write this post.
Nevermore! I want to start cataloging our adventures and stories again and putting my words on the things we’re doing because being able to look back on our adventures from Abu Dhabi and beyond has been so important for our family. I feel like we might be missing things without the accompanying dialogue about them.
Also, my baby brother got married to his beautiful new bride in January. :) See? SO MUCH MISSED!
So, with that, I announce my return to my blog! Haha. Stand by for stories and photos to come!