(This post contains a somewhat graphically bloody photograph. If blood bothers you, you may want to skip it. If you’re too curious to skip it, pretend it’s facepaint.)
One of the great joys of having your adult children come home for visits is simply observing them. Now before you start labeling me, be aware that over the years I’ve already been accused (by various tweens and teens of my spawn) of being a stalker…to which I cheerfully agreed. Earlier this summer my oldest was home for a visit and I happened to glance over and focus in on the thick, ropy scars peeking out from beneath his watch. (By the way, when did we start wearing watches again? What’s next? Corsets? Spats? Panty-hose for god’s sake?!) My eyes rose to take in the criss-crossing of scars on his forehead. My reaction to seeing these marks so prominently displayed on the skin of my firstborn? Gratitude.
Exactly one year ago Tyler and Cooper, my two oldest boys, along with four of their best friends, were in a roll over accident which very easily could have killed them all. They were returning from a concert at Cheyenne Frontier Days, when the driver fell asleep (he was a designated driver and hadn’t had a drop to drink, he simply fell asleep). The suburban, travelling at 75 mph swerved and rolled multiple times, ejecting the one boy who wasn’t wearing his seat belt about 30 feet from the vehicle.
Miraculously, the sum total of injuries was a few broken bones, multiple lacerations, bumps and bruises. Cooper ended up with only a few bumps and contusions, as well as a severely bruised psyche (the first thing he saw when the rolling stopped was his older brother dangling from his seat belt, his face a sheet of blood. He thought he was dead.) Tyler received a jigsaw of stitches on his face, over 60 on his forehead alone, and a forearm and wrist that were laid open and embedded with glass. It could have been so much worse and we were and are, obviously, grateful. My gratitude took some twists and turns and led me to some unexpected places.
I found myself being unexpectedly grateful that Gerald, the boy in the front passenger seat was NOT wearing his seatbelt. I was stunned to see in the above picture that the steel frame of the car had buckled in the exact spot where his head would have been had he not been ejected. (But still, wear your seatbelts.)
Seeing the strength of character of both my boys through the trauma was amazing. We also got a perfect glimpse of Tyler’s twisted sense of humor (wonder where he got that?) Paramedic working on him by the side of the road: “You don’t look so good, buddy.” Tyler: “I’ve been worse.” Paramedic: “You sure about that?” And then, of course, there was the selfie taken in the back of the ambulance and tweeted to all his friends:
(He wanted everyone to know that no, that flannel shirt was NOT originally red.)
I am also so grateful that my kids have the kind of dad that they do. He’s not satisfied just to stand by and observe when he sees something that needs correcting. He wasn’t at all happy with the care Tyler was receiving from the ER doc, so he stepped up, snapped on a pair of gloves, gently pushed the doctor aside, and took over. Pretty natural looking for a used car salesman, don’t ya think? (JK!! He’s an orthopedic surgeon.)
As I was looking at Tyler’s scars I realized I was grateful for them. They are the only visible reminders of that horrible night; they are also the only visible reminders that, while I could have lost one or both of my sons, they are still with me. Gratitude is a tough one for those of us who struggle with depression and anxiety. Even though I am innately a positive person, when I’m cycling through worsening bouts of head shit, my brain draws me to the negative and to the “what if” scenarios which only serve to push me deeper into dark places. Having visible reminders of what is here, now, in this moment, of what is good, lovely, and worthy of celebration…these reminders are invaluable. The platitude “there’s always something to be grateful for” makes me want to stick pins in my eyes. While it may be true, for those of us who suffer from mental illness, there are many times we simply cannot be grateful. Our brains won’t let us. This is when something outside of ourselves, something we can see, feel, touch, hear, something that does not rely on healthy brain chemistry, may be the one thing that reminds us…..