I figure I should start off at the beginning.
Two years ago, I was in band class when my teacher approached me saying I needed to pack my things and meet the principal in the hall. When I asked my teacher what happened, he quietly said words that I still think about everyday. ¨Your dad has been in a car accident.¨
On his way to work, my dad was hit by a semi-truck on the highway, and the impact immediately broke his spine. From that moment on he became completely paralyzed from the neck down. For a long time I believed I would never be able to hug my dad again nor hear me say, ¨I love you.” Before the accident, my dad was the most charismatic, energetic, and go-getter type of person I’d ever met. He was constantly teaching and showing me all about life and what I could expect.
I took time off of school and spent most of my time the next two weeks in the hospital´s critical care unit, sitting by his side whenever possible. My dad was unconscious the entire time. Finally, my parents were flown to Atlanta for therapy for him, and I felt alone and helpless. My aunt, uncle, and their one- month-old son moved in. Suddenly, my parents were gone. I lived without them for seven months in total. Every couple of weeks I traveled down to Atlanta for a weekend where I would sit in a hospital room by my dad’s side for sixteen hours a day. And when back at home, I relied on my schoolwork and extracurricular activities for support. I would go to school for seven hours, then have an hour of meetings, and some sort of practice whether it was band, dance, or musical.
I was having a pretty rough time. My mom was my main support system, and she was hours away. My dad was learning how to live a new life, as we all were. My aunt and uncle were brand new parents, and they had to learn how to take care of me and my sister, two high school girls. They came to my ceremonies, taught me how to drive, took me to get my drivers license, and celebrated holidays with us. I love them more than anything and I could never thank them enough for what they have done for me.
One of the most important parts of this story are the moments in between the trauma. Although I was struggling emotionally, missing my family, and uncertain of our futures, I achieved more awards and got my best grades thus far by that point. Sophomore year I got my first job at a dog boarding facility as a certified and trained helper, and receptionist. I achieved the ¨Breakfast of Champions¨ award at my school. It is only awarded to seven students a year for positive qualities in extracurricular activities, classroom behavior and educational experiences. I was awarded the only ¨Perseverance¨ award for the MSHS Varsity Dance Team. I was elected to be a leader for the marching band for the following year, and elected to be a freshman mentor to a class of 30 girls. I assisted in our special needs program at school, and participated in the school musical as a singer and featured dancer. I was secretary of my school student council, and then elected to be vice president for the following year. I organized multiple school events such as assemblies, dances, and volunteer work. I achieved multiple academic and athletic awards for finishing the year with a 4.3 GPA. I also volunteered and plunged at the local Polar Plunge. I managed to accomplish this all during the toughest time in my life. I think I worked so hard because it was a distraction from what was actually happening.
Fast forward after seven months, my parents came home from Atlanta and to this day we are still learning how to live. Everyday I have to help take care of my dad, and he moves around in a wheelchair that he controls through a straw. It was hard being strong then, and it’s hard being strong now. I learned that it’s okay to lean on others for help, and friends and family are the most important things in life. I learned that I can thrive under stressful situations, and mental health doesn’t actually have a resolution, it’s something you deal with for the rest of your life. My dad still continues to help me learn and grow as a person, it just looks a little different now.
I don’t think things like this get ¨easier,¨ I just think they become ¨normal¨. There are still days when all I feel like doing is crying, and there’s not much to make me feel better except a blanket and a movie. When my family goes out in public, I always wonder what the people who stare are thinking about. I never feel embarrassed, but I do feel proud. My dad, my whole family, has gone through something I would never wish on anyone else.
What I would want others to know is that the world still goes on after traumatic events. While others have moved on with their lives, you still feel stuck. I would want others to know that we still need grace, because it still doesn’t always feel ¨normal¨ –and that I still don’t feel ¨used to it.¨
I learned that people who experience trauma don’t want someone to relate to them or try to understand them; they want someone to listen and make their feelings feel valid. Lastly, I’ve learned that although my dad cannot hug me back, he is still here and most importantly, I can hug him.