Two weeks ago, my brother Adam was in a mountain biking accident. He fell off a ramp and pile-drove himself into the ground head/helmet first. When he landed, he couldn’t move. We learned later that if he wasn’t wearing a helmet, he might not have made it at all. Over the next few days, we learned more than a family ever wants to know about spinal cord injuries.
His is called Central Cord Syndrome – it’s a compression injury to the spine by the neck (C4 and C5 vertebrae) that impacts the body’s ability to control motor movements in the arms. Because of the swelling and trauma to his spine, all four of Adam’s limbs are affected to some extent as well as some autonomic functions of internal systems.
The good news is that with time and rehab, Adam should walk again and has the possibility of getting much or all of the movement back in his arms, wrists, and hands. From the first day in the hospital to today, he has already regained or grown movement in all four limbs, including small movements in his index fingers and thumbs. His recovery will be one of incremental steps over weeks and months and each additional movement will be hard won through muscle spasms, nerve pain, and exhausting rehabilitative physical therapy. In the meantime, my family is rallying around to support him, his wife, and their three adorable sons (ages 5, 4, and 11 months). (Read more here about how to help).
The first week of the accident, I flew home to be by his and my family’s side. We prayed together, cried together, we educated ourselves, and we started putting the plans in place to support my brother and his family over a long haul. I flew home and cried some more – wishing I could stay and help, wishing I could take on his injury myself (I’m single with a cat — he has a family and three sons to support!), wishing and hoping for the outcome to be great.
This week, I chastised myself – I have work to get back to. I have clients to continue serving, I have classes to teach, I run a weekly networking group that needs my leadership, I have a wonderful boyfriend to be a partner to, I have friends to stay in touch with, I have laundry to do. The mantra in my head was this – GET OVER IT. Get. Over. It. I felt like now that I know what is going on, and how long the process is going to be, I needed to stop moping around the house, stop refreshing my sister-in-law’s blog fifty times a day hoping for an update, stop calling my family for updates, and just get back to “normal.” After all, I am not the one in the hospital, right? I’m not trying to juggle getting the boys off to school, picking them up, nap times, lunches, dinners, my husband’s rehab, and responding to the hundreds of people wanting to help with all of the above. I’m 800 miles away living my life – GET. OVER. IT.
But here’s the truth. When trauma happens — to you, or to someone you love – there isn’t a getting over it. Asking yourself to “toughen up” or “get back to normal” or “let it go” doesn’t work. And, it doesn’t honor the sadness and grief that is so normal after a traumatic event. The goal isn’t to get over it. It’s to GO THROUGH IT.
Go through it.
Don’t try to minimize the pain you are feeling, but experience it. Understand that this deep pain comes from a wonderful place – the love and compassion you have for the people you care most for. Be kind to yourself – forgive yourself when you are forgetful, or weepy, or not all there. Get more sleep (or at least enough sleep). Reach out to your own support network. But don’t minimize your experience. Don’t tell yourself to Get. Over. It.
There are no short cuts in grief and trauma. Go through it. Experience each bit of sadness and pain. It won’t feel this bad always – it will get better. And you’ll be a stronger person for going through it.