Acknowledging Loss

About a year ago, at the 2-year mark, I decided it was time to share some of the God-moments from the time of the accident and weeks surrounding it. After months of procrastinating, I realized I wasn’t yet ready. I will follow through, recognizing the importance of documenting those surprising moments for our children and grandchildren, but they’re still apparently too raw.

At the time of my accident, one of our sons gave me a blank, lined-paged, hard-covered, black book simply labeled “Road to Recovery.” It’s an on-going place for thoughts and notes. I realize now that to proceed down that road, it’s time to own up to and name the losses, then move on. What prompted this?

One recent wind-free evening, my husband returned from Mariah after attaching her sails with the help of a friend. “Everything go ok?” was my question after he arrived home and had a few moments to settle in. “The sails are on,” was the expected short answer. I persisted and got, “The headsail went up first – about 20 minutes – and then we worked on the main (sail) the rest of the time. I didn’t have the experienced person who used to help me.” J He had been gone for 2.5+ hours so my antennae went up for inevitable challenges to the intricate process. “Tell me more.” “What more do you want? It’s done.” “I miss being out there and helping. We did it together for decades. I just want to hear all about how it went so I can picture it again.” My thoughts went back to the one and only time I really wept following the accident – for at least 40 minutes. It was the fall after the accident when he went to prep Mariah for winter and, for the first time in 40+ years, I wasn’t there. Anyone who has worked in a boat yard where personal boats are prepped for the winter and again prepped for the summer boating season knows this. It’s a lot of work. There are a lot fewer helpers present out there than there are friends present at the marina to go out for a pleasant sail on a balmy day. Also, there are markedly fewer women than men working on boats in the yard. I had often pointed that out to my husband – wasn’t he the lucky one to have me there each day, each year? I loved being out there, aching muscles, raw hands, ruined fingernails, and all; I loved accomplishing work on Mariah together. There is loss in not only helping work on the boat but even more loss in not being able to enjoy her. The dreams of cruising again on Lake Michigan are lost. The easy day-sails in and out of our Macatawa port are lost. The feel of the boat riding the waves under our feet and the sounds and smells that go with it are lost. This was special time. As one of our sons noted when younger, “boating is family time.”

The most obvious loss is being able to walk, move about, stand, and even sit unsupported. Those go without saying. Other losses are more subtle. I remember dreaming in Mary Free Bed (rehab hospital) that I’d just get up in the morning and go fix …(fill in)… Well, morning came with the realization that getting up to go do anything was lost. I haven’t had that recurring dream since last winter.

I miss:

  • Easily flying which means walking on, with my own carry-on luggage, stowing it, and not fearing whether I’ll arrive at the next airport without needing a bathroom.
  • The times we expected to have with our children who live too far away to drive.
  • Traveling to the exciting and sometimes exotic places – or even a few of the destinations – on our bucket list
  • Watching my husband without seeing the stress, loss, angst, and lack of control in his life.
  • Walking the beach.
  • Walking the pier and sitting down for a bit to watch boats come and go.
  • Looking for rare pieces of sea glass.
  • Noticing new, unusual, or nearly perfect shells.
  • Walking through nature preserves.
  • Hiking in the mountains.
  • Going anywhere without worrying about finding a handicapped parking spot – with the blue slashed lines designed for vans with ramps or lifts. (NO, they are NOT designed so drivers have extra wide spots where there is no risk of nicked doors.)
    • Going to art shows, parades, reenactments, outdoor concerts, special events, etc. without the fear of rolling for blocks from a parking spot – or worse, returning home out of frustration.
    • Getting from point A to point B without fear of being missed by a driver who isn’t tuned in to looking for 3’ high people crossing a street, going through a parking lot, or using a sidewalk or bike lane.
  • Weaving between others at events without worrying that they will back into me landing on my lap or walk in front of me getting their toes crushed under my wheels.
  • Freedom to be like other couples who walk around side by side or reach out to hold hands or wrap an arm around their partners’ shoulder or waist.
  • Reaching for anything more than 2’ from me or higher than 4’.
  • Satisfaction from tweaking / adjusting / fixing minor issues around the condo that should take two hands.
  • Biking near our condo with its safe and beautiful nearby destinations.
    • Using our pre-retirement bikes, a noticeable step up from our 1st anniversary bikes, which were well worn but ones we could afford back then. I never knew bike riding could be so easy and enjoyable.
  • Easily stepping out onto our deck or out of the condo door.
  • Getting down on the floor and reaching under the bed, chair, or sofa to retrieve an item.
  • Being able to simply roll over in bed and cuddle up.
  • Singing. Oh, I loved to sing. I learned that there are three portions of the breathing system: inhaling and exhaling the lungs (work), diaphragm (below level of injury but thankfully the control area is above injury level so works), and small air pockets in the lower lungs, alveoli in the terminal bronchiole, I believe (don’t work). I still sing but need to take frequent breaths, rejoice that now finally I can hit high C, normally D, and occasionally E. F is definitely out of reach at all times. Half notes and whole notes easily go flat. In retirement, when Board meetings wouldn’t conflict with choir practice, we both looked forward to rejoining a choir. Another loss.
  • Driving normally and without even thinking about heavy traffic. You see, I drive but I’m like a 17-year old driver without the years of experience using my hands only. So, from driving comfortably on highways in some of the heaviest truck traffic areas (Harrisburg is central to much of the US population so ideal for distribution centers) and enjoying this quiet time for reflection, I drive only short distances, through familiar routes, and when most drivers are off the streets.
  • Shopping and exploring.
    • Many items on the grocery shelves are out of reach.
    • Items I do grab can easily slide off my lap, even if there were room to hold more than an item or two.
    • Although never an avid shopper, some amount of getting out and browsing is important as well as enjoyable.
    • On-line shopping works only to a certain point.
    • Visiting stores that have so many wares that the racks are too close to roll between.
    • Exploring our new retirement areas.
  • Going to friends’ homes because of the need to go up steps and other non-ADA features.
  • Carefree days since everything below my mid-spine no longer works as intended. I dread the times when even work-around methods fail.
  • Simplicity of independence.
  • Being pain free.
  • Accomplishing recurring tasks like dressing, makeup, dusting, and laundry in a reasonable amount of time. Vacuuming and making the bed from scratch are out of the question.
    • Each task involves work-around maneuvers, task-analysis, doing multiple small steps, and lacks the ability to utilize smooth and efficient arm/hand moves. I need to wrangle my chair to the most effective location through a series of small angled back-and-forth movements. (Think geometry)
    • One arm or elbow must always hold me upright so two-handed tasks need new procedures. That doesn’t even take into account the 15-minute rule for the health-crucial pressure relief
  • Cooking without fear of burns from hot items: stove, oven, or cooked food. Microwaves are safer but that reach is problematic.
  • Not being able to hold in my stomach. Even weighing just over 100 lbs., I need to carefully select clothes that hide the fact that a lack of stomach muscles leaves nothing to hold abdominal organs in place.
  • Being part of normal social activities – the work and the fun.
  • And, the list goes on …

Ok, enough! Time to pack up the losses and put them away. Move beyond. Time to stay focused on positive ‘self-talk.’ I DO appreciate seeing, hearing, using my arms, thinking, reasoning, speaking, writing, communicating, elevators, single-floor living spaces, and dear family and friends who have been right there with us. I really am blessed.

Shalom, Collene