Posted by: 1of10boyz | February 8, 2015

One that makes me wonder

I read part of a blog the other day, a blog about a 16 year old boy that was in an accident that gave him a traumatic brain injury and his sister that was supporting him in his recovery. I was reminded of a 16 year old boy I knew and his brother, only this was 30 years ago this spring and the brother was me.

It was an early April morning in 1985 when the world changed again for me and my brothers. But the change that I along with my other brothers experienced was nothing compared to what was changing in brother #4’s life. It seems like only yesterday but it also seems like it was a lifetime away.

The police report likely doesn’t say too much. It isn’t likely to be much different than what could be said in hundreds or thousands of other highway accident reports in Wyoming. I imagine it goes something like this: a car ran off the side of the road when the driver fell asleep, the occupants in the vehicles were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown from the vehicle, the driver of the car sustained serious injuries, the passenger received head injuries, and both the driver and the passenger were transported by ambulance to the nearest medical facility. It is likely that the highway patrolman filling out the report has filled out many just like it in the many years he was in law enforcement.

What is different in every one of those reports is what actually happens to the occupants in the vehicle beginning at the moment that both sets of tires leave the highway. The events that unfold in each of those incidents are as unique as the people involved. As I read the blog I was reminded of too many emotions that went along with that experience of me and #4 in the weeks, months, and years that followed.

Life before the accident: Me – home from my mission for about 6 months and falling in love, and #4 – working towards a college football scholarship. Accident: Me – an overnight stay in the local hospital, life returns to “normal” with a few stitches in a head wound and a shoulder that no one can find a problem with but hasn’t been the same since, and #4 – life flight to Salt Lake City, UT, coma, major reconstructive surgery, the first football player in WY to wear a protective tinted face-shield face mask, and other life changing experiences too numerous to list.

Life isn’t really that simple though. Life isn’t just a list of changes that happen in some scientific experiment or documentary or chronicle of life. Life comes with “baggage” or the emotions of those events. Those emotions are often the hardest to deal with because the wounds heal and the stitches are taken out. The skin eventually completely heals, the scars even begin to fade, but the emotions are often still close to the surface. Those emotions are often even more difficult to handle than any number of broken bones and open wounds.

My experience has been that there is always someone looking to place blame. Regardless of the circumstances or results, someone has to be responsible or accountable for what happens. You won’t find many places or circumstances in life where there isn’t someone trying to take credit or place blame. Truth is, that really doesn’t help anyone. I have been told it was my fault, I wasn’t driving, but it was my fault. In some ways I can see that, I am brother #1 so why would it not be. I was older. I should have known better. The list goes on and on. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to mull over these things; didn’t make any difference then and it doesn’t make any difference now. There are so many contributing factors to what happened that late night/early morning that I just prefer not to even think about them. Nothing can be done to change the event today, although likely more than a thousand little changes during the day or night could have resulted in a different outcome.

When I read about others that have survived tragedies, they always describe some form of guilt that is felt by those that survived. How that guilt eats at them even though there was likely nothing that they did to cause the event or to have survived it. The veteran that feels guilt from living through the war while buddies didn’t and so many others; the questions that rise in your mind as you wonder why them and not you are feelings that can be overwhelming. I would be lying to you if I said that I didn’t have these feelings. I have felt that it would have been better for me to have been in his place and for me to have had all of those challenges. Most days I have reconciled with myself the guilt that comes from these events, others – like the days when I read blogs like this one – where the feelings all come rushing back and I am not sure about guilt. These days I also realize how lucky/tough/strong #4 was in being able to return to life. I won’t say it was or has been normal but it is the “new normal”. Likely most people wouldn’t be able to even guess what he and the rest of the family went through to get to where we are today. I also am grateful for an understanding of the Atonement of Jesus Christ to know that even those kinds of feelings can be given to Him and He will provide comfort.

The guilt and the desire to trade places are sometimes heavy. It would be so easy to be crushed by those feelings, especially when there are stories about others with traumatic brain injuries that you can look and see how lucky #4 was and is. How lucky I am that in most cases the guilt of surviving and living a normal life are easier because there isn’t a huge difference in what I see in the life of #4.

Life has returned to a semblance of normal for him and me. People don’t look at my family pictures and wonder what happened to #4, it is mostly not even visible today. If you didn’t know it you would never guess that the scar across his head from ear to ear was what they did to remove his face to rebuild the bones beneath it. You would never know that the bottom of his eye socket used to be his rib. You would never know that he is nearly blind in one eye, interestingly not the one with a rib making up the eye socket. They would never guess that they used the mold that was taken of his mouth for braces just weeks before to reconstruct his upper jaw and palate and used a freshman basketball team photo to get his face as close to normal as possible considering that it was crushed upon impact with the steering wheel. You would never know that he has nerve damage on the left side of his face.

So when people say they are hoping and praying for miracles for those with traumatic brain injuries, they do so because there are cases out there, like #4, where life does get back to normal or at least the normal that it looks likes “normal” from the outside. It never is really normal again, but the “new normal” is only distinguished by those that realize the life we see was dramatically, traumatically changed.

So my wishes and prayers to all of those that are holding onto the “new normal” hoping it will look like normal. I am here 30 years later with a glimmer of hope for you, it is possible. Life still does have a chance to “look” normal; it won’t be because you know where you had to go to get to those major milestones in life but most people won’t be able to tell the difference. That is really the victory that you are all hoping for and for some it does happen. Here’s to hoping it happens to you and the ones you love. And if it doesn’t, don’t give up hope. What is normal to me or to others doesn’t really matter when you get to cherish moments with loved ones; even if those moments are in the “new normal” they are moments that others never got with their loved ones. Don’t let the guilt destroy the moments that you do have because your normal doesn’t match someone else’s, enjoy them.


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