A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"I think a hero is an ordinary individual who finds strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles."
- Christopher Reeve
My Mom's entire life changed in the matter of a few seconds. While driving home late one night, my parents' SUV was hit from behind by a drunk driver traveling 70 miles per hour. Their car was pushed off the road and down an embankment, where it flipped several times. Dad was crushed by the impact and killed instantly. Mom was thrown from the SUV and paramedics found her on the side of the road.
My brother was in Houston when the accident happened, and I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, when I heard the news. We both flew home as soon as we could, and I have to tell you that was the longest flight of my entire life. I was only 28 years old at the time and never could have imagined that something so tragic would happen to my family.
Once I saw my Mom in the hospital, I knew she had a long road ahead of her. She had crushing injuries to her arm and shoulder, and her elbow was dislocated in three places, leaving it permanently bent. The doctors thought that they might need to amputate her arm. It was difficult for me to find a spot to touch her that was not bruised - a place to reach out and let her know, "I am here now, and somehow it will all be ok."
After a few months and nine surgeries, my Mother was ready to go home and begin physical therapy on her road to recovery. Having been deeply sedated for the majority of her time in the hospital, she had just found out about my Father's death and was only beginning to realize how her life had changed forever. While the hospital had helped my mother to heal, it had also taken her independence, self esteem and confidence. My Mother found herself in an unfamiliar world when she entered her home. My Father's energy was everywhere but his presence was gone. How was she going to manage all of this? Where would she find the strength? She felt lost and helpless in her own house.
Although it took my Mom a long time to physically recover from the accident, it was only a short time before my Mom's positive spirit returned. She is a fiery Italian woman with the strength of character of a Buddhist monk and a heart of gold. I never doubted that she would persevere and make the best of her situation. Many people would have gone into a deep depression with the circumstances. But not my Mother. Her response to the situation that life handed her taught me that even though you can't control what happens to you, you can control your reaction and attitude.
Throughout her journey of recovery, my Mother rarely complained. I could see the pain in her eyes during physical therapy, but never heard her question why this had happened to her. Life was tough to be sure, but Mother never lost her sense of humor. In doing so, she was able to cope more effectively and put others at ease.
In fact, I remember one "role reversal" where we both just had to laugh. Mother had lost a lot of weight during her hospital stay, so I bought her some new clothes. I had to dress her at first, but she challenged herself every day. Finally, when she was able to get dressed on her own, she looked at me in the mirror and started laughing. While she appreciated the clothes I had bought, she really hated the styles I had chosen for her and couldn't wait to go shopping on her own. I started laughing too; she had struggled for months to put on these clothes that she didn't even like!
It reminded me of when I was in kindergarten and my mother made me wear dresses when I just wanted to wear pants. It was a funny role reversal for both of us and I understood how she felt.
Mother celebrated the small victories. At first, she had to depend on my brother or me to help her do everything. She accepted our help with grace, a smile on her face, or a little laugh about how big a production a simple task like going to the bathroom had become in her life. She lost her independence to drive and cook or to enjoy her favorite hobbies, but you never heard her complain.
It took my Mom two long years to gain back her strength and limited flexibility. She still does not have full movement in her hand and will never be able to raise her arm over her head, but these limitations have not stopped her in the least. She set her mind to achieve simple goals like dressing herself and eating with her left hand, and then tackled tougher skills like cooking and driving a car.
It wasn't an easy road. It was one full of potholes and twists and turns. She had many setbacks on her journey of recovery, but she never gave up hope. She kept a positive attitude, accepted her challenges and persevered ... trying a little harder to recover each day. That's not to say that she didn't have sad moments and feelings of frustration, because she did, but they never lasted long. She rarely felt sorry for herself, and many times consoled other family members and friends who broke down in tears.
Those few years were a traumatic time for our entire family. Mom had to overcome many challenges. But she found that strength of will and a sense of humor can get you through the toughest times, even when you don't think you have anything to smile about. My Mother became a real friend to me during that time. I felt her tenderness and vulnerability, but I never forgot that she was my beautiful, strong Mother-the one who showed me what real courage is all about.