5 Years Later

My daughter feels the same way I do.  It hardly seems possible that it has been just five years since the wreck and her paralysis.  We both feel it’s been much, much longer.  In fact, it is sometimes difficult to remember there even was life before the wreck.  It’s always awkward to know what to call it.  Alissa calls it her “Paraversary.”  

Our family rarely speaks of the wreck, yet we learned very quickly, people were hungry for details.

We simply try to forget.

Yet the other night, my husband and son began reminiscing about their wreck experience. 

I’m usually not quiet, but I was quiet the entire time they spoke.  I wanted to ask them to stop.  That would have been selfish.  I learned some information about that day I’d never known.  Almost five years after the wreck, it was by far the most in-depth either of them had ever spoken, in my presence, about the events of Friday, July 17, 2015.

I wrote a book about it.  It is not the book I want to write.  While I am sure it would be interesting to many, it cost me dearly to write so many awful details.  It is neither the tone nor the message I want to convey.  Besides, the story isn’t finished yet. Maybe someday I will write a book with the message I want to convey. And of course, the story is still being written.   

When Alissa graduated from high school in 2018 and the two-part story ran on a Fort Wayne news station (YouTube: Moves Like Jagger Part 1 and 2 WANE-TV) we all felt thrust into the spotlight . . . again.  Growing up thoroughly enjoying the spotlight on stage, you might think I enjoyed it.  

Not true.

I’ve concluded I love being in the spotlight while pretending, playing a character, and making people laugh.  Yet, a spotlight in real life is exhausting and I certainly have empathy for those who must meet its continual, unrelenting, bright demands on a daily basis.  I was a little hesitant to write this blog; however, I did want a recording of what it truly feels like for me at this point in time.  Life . . . a paradox, for sure. 

I’ve been cleaning this summer and spent time going through the hundreds of letters, cards, and notes we received after the wreck.  It was honestly draining.  And it was completely humbling . . . again.  So many people graciously gave money to help our family.  To this day, I hope you know how grateful we are for your financial sacrifice.  Whether your gift was used to help pay for our time in West Virginia, or Atlanta, or Chicago, we are grateful.  Some of your gifts were used to buy the necessary orthotic devices of the moment.  We are grateful.  We guard that medical fund like Fort Knox, and we’ve been able to save just a little and look forward to using it in the future.  We assure you, it’s not going toward meals out, or for Alissa’s college expenses, or for Alissa’s apartment expenses.  It is waiting to be used to make an initial payment on a surgery, a new device, or something I can’t even imagine yet, to come down the pike, so Alissa may one day have an opportunity at walking normally again here on earth.

I still believe.  I still pray.  I will never give up hope.  And even if God doesn’t grant us that miracle here on earth, I think He is pleased with the small band of us who continue to acknowledge He has the power to do so, should He choose. There’s about five of you, who I know of, who have not given up hope.  Thank you.  Oh . . . thank you so much for your faithful, continued, and expectant prayers! 

Especially in 2020, we don’t have to look too far to see many many people give up when a situation gets long and difficult. Nobody likes not living the way they want to live.  Good grief, even being a bit “uncomfortable” for a short period of time elicits angry unimaginable responses from many.   I refuse to become a member of that club.  

In the last five years I have seen the best and worst of people.  In the last five years I have seen the best and worst of my family.  In the last five years I have seen the best and worst of myself.  If there is one piece of advice a “tragedy family” would allow me to offer them, it would be this: “There will be highs and there will be lows.  It will not be a continual, upward, positive trajectory out of the crap.  You will do a great job one day and absolutely blow it the next.  You will wonder when it will end and then realize, at this point, there is no end . . . and you can either learn to accept that harsh reality or make yourself miserable railing against it.”

I can honestly say, five years later, I am more content than I’ve ever been.  The four of us are at the healthiest spot we’ve collectively been in the last five years.  But I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit it was hellacious at some points getting to this point.  Thanks be to God for never giving up on us and always being the constant.  Always.  

Five years after the wreck, Chad continues to plug along.  He endured a job loss the entire summer of 2019 which didn’t help our financial cause much, but we are so thankful for his new job (and that almighty important insurance) which has remained steady during the pandemic.  Steady.  That’s a good word to describe Chad.  He is blessed with the ability to be able to compartmentalize life and not get overwhelmed.  God knew Chad would need this skill and certainly equipped him. 

Five years after the wreck, I am back teaching elementary school.  I’m in 5th grade this time at the school and with the community who so warmly embraced me my first round of teaching.  I now teach some of my 3rd grade students’ children.  Does it make me feel old?  Well of course it does!  Yet, I try to teach each day with joy, laughter, quirkiness, and some Broadway show tunes thrown in for good measure. Teaching ushered in a purpose and peace I’d been seeking since the wreck.  I don’t know how I managed it, but once again, I had an amazingly awesome class of kids this past year.  Oh how I miss them!   My leg is still not normal from the wreck.  It will never be normal, but I think I do a good job of faking everybody out . .  . unless you happen to catch me trying to navigate bleachers.  Almost all of the time now, I can forgive the driver who paralyzed Alissa . . . until there’s something stupid and bad paralysis-related that I have to deal with, and then I’m confronted with the task of forgiving her all over again.  Jesus totally had it right when He talked about forgiveness being a continual choice rather than a one-and-done scenario.  

A few weeks ago, I was at Alissa’s apartment and we were doing her “walking.”  Thirty minutes a day she puts on her big long leg braces, hoists herself out of the wheelchair, and walks with her walker around her apartment.  Whenever I visit, I always walk with her.  We were jabbering away, discussing a friend with a disability and the fact that the individual was not trying to obtain employment.  We both thought this person getting a job would be life-changing for so many reasons.  And then I laid down this wing-dinger of a comment: “I’m telling you, if I had a disabled child, I would insist that he or she try to work.”  We kept walking.  I then paused and broke into hysterical laughter.  Alissa was unsure why I was laughing so hard, as I barely choked out through my tears and laughter, “Alissa!  I DO have a disabled child!   Then, we both laughed and laughed!

Five years after the wreck, the young boy whose whole world was turned upside down is now 18, beginning his senior year of high school.  He has already chosen his college and been accepted. I think it will be a tremendously good fit for him.  Cameron plans to major in business.  He works six days a week at his two summer jobs and has been continuing to train faithfully for a cross country season which we hope will occur.  He was really making strides with his running last year and had qualified to run at the indoor state track meet had COVID-19 not arrived.  In a statement which I think truly sums up his maturity and perspective he said, “You know mom, when I found out I wouldn’t get to run at state, I let myself feel disappointed for about ten seconds and then I was done.  People are dying.  People are really sick.  And a state track meet is nothing compared to that.”

And five years after the wreck, Alissa is now 20.  She will enter her third year of college and since she hopes to graduate from college in three years, she’s looking at her last year of living on campus.  She moved a couple hours away this summer for her job in finance.  She hopes to work there after she graduates from college.  Finding an accessible apartment was brutal, but we found one and she is making it happen.  For all practical purposes, she moved out of the house when she was 19, far away from her family, in the middle of a pandemic, working 40 hours a week, taking two online classes, and figuring out what it’s like to mop, cook, and clean from a wheelchair. She knows her rent and expenses are on her and the lessons she’s already learned in three months of truly living on her own are invaluable.  

In late May, I went to stay with her for a few days.  One night,  as we sat in her living room she said, “Wow!  Who would have ever thought five years ago we’d be sitting here in my apartment mom?”

Truthfully, who would have thought?  To God be the glory!  Great things He has done!  Life doesn’t look anything like it did prior to the wreck.  Yet, even through continual heartaches and setbacks, there is still joy, there is still contentment, and man, have we learned a lot about God, others, and ourselves . . . lessons that a cushy, normal life (the one we’d planned) certainly wouldn’t have provided.  We are thankful to God, who takes what Satan meant for our destruction, and brings goodness and blessings from the ashes.  Amen.