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Saturday, January 25, 2014

A Thousand Words...






I remember the day I took this picture. 
I remember this day because it was an incredibly different day than the one I had imagined.
This was Frankie's first day of school.  

Since my son was born, I had pictured a bright day in August, Mike and I chasing him around with the camera in his brand new outfit.  The smiles and anticipation for new beginnings, a planet of thought going into the perfect school, the perfect teachers.  We would follow him into the building, hugs and kisses.  And tears.  I knew there would be tears, just not for the reasons there were.

April 15th was gray.  It was rainy and awful.  And it snuck up on me.  

I am happy that we had begun to look at schools the month before your accident.  For once in my life, I had actually done something prior to the last minute.  In fact, I had met the teachers, we had toured some of the buildings.  But my decision would not be one of a well thought-out, balanced mindset.  It would be one of rushing to fill out paperwork in an ICU waiting room as you clung to life.  


"I mean, I liked this place."
"This lady was nice."
"They'll take him now?"  "Could you pick him up then?"
Signed.  Sealed.  And done.

I know it must sound pathetic.  I realize that for many, their babies are placed into the care of strangers long before my son ever was.  But it was something I worried about.  Not necessarily for his safety, but under these circumstances, in such a hurried state, would he be able to adjust?  We had tried to explain to his two year old brain that Uncle Patrick was hurt in the best way we could, that his grandmother wouldn't be there to watch him tomorrow, or the day after...why his mother hadn't been home at night to tuck him in.  I wondered if he would be able to conform.  I worried I was damaging him forever.  

In a way, I'm thankful that I didn't have the focus for these thoughts at the time.  The night before Frankie's first day of school wasn't one of packing a lunch or a book bag, there were no checklists or calming bedtime stories.  The night before we had almost lost you.  You see, my focus was entirely on you.  At the time, if I had been able to properly analyze my son's confusion as well, I might have gone insane.  

Instead of the multitude of pictures I had planned, this one was an afterthought.  Mike had gotten him dressed, sweats...and as we rushed our son out the door, I had remembered the camera.  There would be no chalkboard keepsakes with "FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL", date and time inscribed.  "Smile, sweetheart."  I had said.  And he had, sort of.

Off we went, umbrellas in hand.

Mike and I would walk Frankie in as planned.  But I wouldn't cry as he hugged me tightly.  I wouldn't cry happy tears as he ran off to play with the bin of new toys his little eyes were seeing for the first time, and I wouldn't cry because he had grown faster than I wanted him to. I wouldn't lovingly watch him from the window as I reminded his teachers about the blanket he still prefers to sleep with.   Instead I would rush out the door, desperate to hear your status that morning.  It was only then that I would cry.  All the way to the hospital.  Rain beating at my windows as my little brother lay comatose, the sun nowhere in sight.  

If this experience has taught me anything, it is that life doesn't always work out as planned.  But it has also taught me about resilience.  A great deal about resilience.  

Frankie would have his transition.  There were tantrums, there were many time-outs and tearful goodbyes.  Some days I knew it was more than simply adjusting to life in a classroom.  My absence was taking its toll, but I had no choice.  I cried about it and the guilt would eat at my soul for a time, but in the end I would learn something important.  I learned that my son would be okay.  I learned that he could adjust.  And more importantly, I learned that he could do this without holding my hand.  

You would eventually pull through.  Against all odds.  You would surpass every setback, every hesitation.  You would astonish the medical community with your capabilities, despite the significant injuries you have suffered.  You would do this down the hall from where we sat, your family. You would progress as your godson was born weeks later, as our sister became a mother, as school let out and back again.   And us?  Your family?  We would persevere.  With each birthday and camera-worthy moment, we would gain a bit of hope.  All of us, never leaving your side.  Never giving up.

When I look at my son now, I can't help but swell with pride.  I know he is far from grown, but in my mind he has aged a lifetime since then.  We all have.  Each day, I watch him hug his friends goodbye.  I see the love that he has for his teachers, his amazingly patient, angelic teachers, and I can't help but be thankful for the route we have taken.  

I am proud of our family too.  So incredibly proud.  We have been there for every step, every machine you progressed passed the need for, every tube removal, every doctor's furrowed brow.  We haven't missed a step, a phrase, a laugh, or a good cry.  

I can't help but wait in anticipation for the next milestone.  You can bet I'll have my camera ready.


I'll have my umbrella, too.  











visiting hours with Aunt Stasia, Mercy Rehab


Mother's Day, 2013.  Mercy Rehab Hospital


School Treasures :)




Frankie and Uncle Patrick, July 2013
With Uncle Bob


Brady Gerard Brockmeyer, April 30, 2013





 Frankie's 3rd Birthday June 3, 2013
August 2013




Uncle Patrick with his godchildren 



Sister Love


Uncle Patrick's first dinner out, May 2013
feeding baby Brady

Team Patrick, We love you!


Brady's Baptism





Friday, January 17, 2014

Superman doesn't fly.


May 18, 2013

This week we moved you into the rehab hospital.  I’m having a rough time with it. 
In the ICU, you were monitored so closely.  Every breath, every movement was documented and celebrated.  Here, things are different.  I’m not sure why, but it feels lonely here.   It feels real.

You are on the ground level floor, for patients with brain injuries.  When they first admitted you I am told that they decided to switch your room assignment, closer to the nurse’s station.  Somewhat unsettling news.    I don't like to be reminded of how hurt you are.  I would rather view this place as some expensive resort, a step-up from where you were before; however the reminders are everywhere I turn.  You aren't the same.  None of us are. 

There are beautiful plants everywhere, and the nurses all look happy.  It’s difficult for me to focus on these things.   Instead I notice the patients.    Most of them are wheeled around, some of them on walkers, being spotted by nurses or family members, blank stares on their faces.  Some are crying.  Some  have cages around their beds.  Everyone is wearing a helmet.   I catch myself wondering about these people before their injuries.  Weeks ago?  Months ago?  I can see them happily riding their motorcylces and eating ice cream, playing soccer and attending birthday parties, their families oblivious to what awaits them.  The danger lurking in the distance.

I note the varying colors of the socks on their feet.  Yours are gray.  I am told that yellow is code for “fall risk”.  I am not sure what gray means.   
Your room is nice.  There are not nearly as many monitors surrounding you here.  You have a window along the side wall, your own TV and bathroom.  But I can’t escape it.  This feeling that you are somewhere you don’t deserve to be.  No one deserves to be here.  I try to be friendly towards the family members I pass in the hall, lost.    I can’t help it.  Instead of “Nice to meet you,” I want to say, “excuse me but are you crazy?”  I don’t feel nice about meeting any of them.  They shouldn’t be here, their daughters, their mothers.  In a perfect world, our paths would never cross.   

Today several of your friends came to visit.  We were all eating in the cafeteria when Frankie decided to get some hand sanitizer from the wall.  I saw it coming, as he stood on his toes to push the lever,  head pointed upwards.  I let out the warning a second too late, soap falling directly into his left eye.  My little guy began to cry then, blindly staggering over to me.    

I carried him out into the lobby in search of a bathroom.  When I didn’t see one, I slipped into an empty patient room and found the sink directly inside the door.  Some cold water did the trick, and soon he was all smiles again.  As we began to walk back towards the cafeteria, I picked up my son as if he were flying.  “You’re Superman!”  I said. 

Frankie wanted down.  “No mommy,” he said.  “This Superman doesn’t fly.”
Right then I catch a glimpse of you through the cafeteria window, and I realize that this is the best view I’ve had all day.  In the silence I curse myself for all of the things I’ve been missing at your bedside, all of the progress I’ve dismissed in my resentment, from the seat right next to yours.  Your accident has forced a new perspective on me.  My view on life has changed, maybe it's time my outlook did too. 

Surrounded by your friends, I watch you pick up the fork and place it to your mouth.  I see you shift your weight from the pain.  I watch you smile, following  their conversations.  Your eyes are open,  ever-present for these moments you fought so hard to return to.  You muster a laugh as you scratch your forehead.   When your gaze eventually meets mine you wave. 

You truly are Superman, to me. 

 

Monday, January 13, 2014

All Ye Faithful



Shortly after you were hurt, a friend brought a bag of rosaries to the ICU.  I reached in and out it came.  Red.

I stared at it for awhile  before placing it around my neck.  It felt strange there, sort of weighing on my chest. I consider myself to be a spiritual person, but it felt different now.  It felt foreign to me.  I looked around at my family members and I felt like an imposter.  Here I was with this proud symbol around my neck, during the time in my life where I felt the farthest from anything remotely faithful.

After a few hours had passed I realized that this symbolic display was doing nothing for me.   As I watched it there, dangling on my shirt, I could feel the anger seething through.  If it weren't already red I would have seen it as such.

I imagined my second grade teacher, sliding us eager children into the pews.  Back then I had known every word, practiced the inflections in my sleep.  Blindly, I had searched for it week after week, and I had always found my answer.  Back when things were uncomplicated, it was so easy to see.

I had put the rosary into my purse that day, willing myself to forget as I have done so many times before.  During that time I didn't believe in anything.  Maybe I never had.

Two days later we almost lost you.  Down the hall you were on the brink, and your family recited the words we had all been trained to.  I listened to Dad as he lead us, and I found no comfort in those words.   I imagined you on the side of the road, writhing in pain and struggling to breathe, the rain beating you in the dark.  I thought of  your lungs, "trashed" is the word your doctor had used.  Even then I could see the life long repercussions.  And as you lay there dying I could only manage how unfair it all was.  I wondered if you were somehow aware of that moment, how close you were to leaving us forever.  I realize now that  was the darkest place I have ever been.  I was scared for you.  I was scared for myself.

Nothing more than a whisper, I had followed Dad's voice.   Our  final plea, so rehearsed.  The words seemed empty to me.   But  I had reached into my purse then, and I had felt it there.  Waiting for me.  My entire life it has been a reach away, waiting patiently amidst the clutter of my spare change. 

I began to beg in that moment.  Silently.  I begged for your life in the most pathetic of ways.  I begged for a chance to hear your voice again.  I begged for a lifetime of you. 

There were no psalms or revelations, no choir or fragmented responses.  I'm not even sure there were words.   My heart raced, and I shook.  My breathing slowed and I closed my eyes. 

And I begged.

After you pulled through I wore it every single day.  On my wrist, in fact.  I would rub my fingers through it when they entered to give us news.  Sometimes at work, when the light entered the window just right, the silver cross would glisten above my head as I wrote equations on the whiteboard.  It brushed against my son's skin as I knelt to kiss him goodnight, and when my heart would race with any news from your room, it would rise and fall in sync with my pulse.   I was wearing it on the days where I cried, and on the days where I laughed with my sister watching SNL skits in the waiting room.  It would catch my eye as I drove home from visiting you in the rehabilitation hospital, and I was wearing it the day you came home. 

After your ordeal, I am far from having it all figured out.  I'm a mess, to be quite honest.   But I have realized something important.    Whether it's faith in a doctor, a brother, or some being beyond all description, perhaps faith is nothing more than a reminder.  A resolve to trust that there is something larger than yourself.   Some days you have to give up control to see it.  Some days it's all you have.  

The rosary is no longer on my wrist everyday, but some nights I still fall asleep holding it.  On nights where I need that reminder, it softly pinches my skin as I toss and turn.  In the dark of the night I search for it.  Blindly.   Behind pillows and sheets there it is, buried under the weight of my days.  Soaked in the tears and the sweat, beneath every frustration and encased in the battle,  it is there.   

It has always been there.  Ready.  Even when I wasn't. 




Thursday, January 2, 2014

'Till Next Time...

There is something about the ocean.

Recently I was able to enjoy a new aspect of its wonderment, that is to see it for the first time through the eyes of my three year old son.


We walked out as far as we could to meet the waves at our feet.  Each time, he would squeal with excitement.  Running out and then back again, jumping and rolling with laughter, clinging to the safety of my legs as each one came crashing, dissipating into tiny droplets just above his head.


I hadn't seen this look in his eyes before.  Pure amazement, complete appreciation.  I thought about the last time I had been here, over ten years ago.  What had taken me so long?


There is this analogy that plays in my head with regards to your recovery.  I used to think that coming to terms with you being hurt meant that I could go without acknowledging what happened, how things are different now.  I used to think that progress was the ability to forget.  I realize now how wrong I was.  


In this image, our family is climbing a steep hill.  We are aiming for the top, of course.  We aren't quite sure what is there.  I maintain that "up there" will provide a different perspective if nothing else.  I long for a way to look at what happened to you without being so angry.  I try for this every time I open my eyes.  


There have been days where I look at you and I can feel myself rising.  I'm immune to the negativity, pouncing off one boulder to the next with the strength of twenty men.  


There are days where I fall so far, hitting every jagged edge in my rapid descent.  Days where I wanted to die, where I could feel the weight of the world on my back as I got up and began to climb again.


Here on our vacation, I have come to realize something important.  As I watch the ebb and flow of the tide, I sense the wonderment again.  I notice that the ability to appreciate is not lost on me.  


So I indulge in another crab leg.  And I let my three year old ride the jet ski with his father, watching them fade into the horizon as I pace on the sand.  Because here's what.


We can never know when we will be here again.  Tomorrow is no guarantee.  


You have taught me that the 'next time' could be very different from now.  People would say, "live for today", carpe diem tattoos on their sleeves, and I would nod.  But I didn't understand.  I never truly felt it.  


Now I sense it with each breath you take.  I feel it in my bones, this reminder that circulates with every heartbeat.  It glistens in my tears, on each bead of sweat and in every single smile.  


I have learned to focus on days like today.  Days where I can catch a glimpse, if only for a moment, from the top of that hill.  Days where I can watch the sun dance on the water and I'm not angry, because I realize that I am entitled to none of it.  Everything is extra, undeserved.


It's a tragic outlook from up here, to see the things you love and realize they could be ripped away at any moment.  While it's completely unfair and terrible, everything is slightly more beautiful at the same time.  Temporary and incredible, from so high that it's hard to breathe.  


And I tread here, and I revel in it for as long as it lasts, and I thank you for that.  Because wow.


What a view.