Hard for me, harder for her

September 8, 2013

Two years ago, my cousin and her fiancé were in a car accident. They were stopped in traffic in an interstate highway construction zone. They were behind a semi-truck. Another one barreled up from behind. It turned them and their little Honda into sandwich filling. They both had serious head injuries. I suppose that’s redundant. When is a head injury not serious? When is it not life-changing?

I will preface whatever else I write today with the acknowledgement that anything I felt or feel is nothing compared to what my cousin, her fiancé, and both their families struggled with and will continue to struggle with for the rest of all their lives. I know that I’m just a bystander and that in life, it’s not about me.

But this blog entry is. The immediate aftermath of the accident ranks right up there as one of the hardest things I’ve been through. That’s why it’s been more than a week since I last wrote. I had to work up to this. Selfish.

Me and cousin A, a week after her birth. One of the only times in my life that I've held a baby.

Me and cousin A, a week after her birth. One of the only times in my life that I’ve held a baby.

I have a small family. I’m an only child, my mom’s an only child, and my dad has one brother. My uncle and his wife have two children. The oldest, A, the one in the accident, is seventeen years younger than I, and our two branches of the family never lived nearby geographically. My cousins and my parents are pretty close, but not them and me.

Nevertheless, when my parents called to tell me about the accident, the family instincts kicked in. The first thing to do was shepherd my other cousin, A’s sister M, through her overnight layover from Montana through Minneapolis to Michigan. I brought her back to my place for a few hours of fitful sleep, then got her back out to the airport. M is outdoorsy. She didn’t care about a refreshing shower.

The next day at work, I began making my own arrangements to go to Michigan. Fortunately my schedule usually can be pretty flexible, so I was the first of my family to be able to go. I didn’t know what I was in for.

Again, because of our tiny family size, I haven’t had to deal with many misfortunes. My parents are ridiculously healthy. My four grandparents all made it to old age, so there weren’t any big surprises when they died in their 80s, 90s, and, finally, 105. I’ve attended the funerals of friends’ loved ones, but those weren’t people I had a huge vested interest in. I had my own visit to the emergency room a few years ago for what turned out to be severe heartburn brought on by a week of eating tomato-based dishes breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t laugh. Women tend not to think they’re having heart attacks. I didn’t want to be a statistic. Twelve hours later it all made sense.

My point is, nothing in my life had prepared me for the shock of seeing my cousin lying unconscious in a hospital bed.

You see it in movies and in soap operas. You see actors with fake needles in their arms and fake tubes in their mouths. You see actors weeping at the bedsides of their actor fake relatives. It doesn’t prepare you for the first time you see a real person whom you actually care about lying unconscious in a hospital bed with needles in her arms, a tube down her throat, a tube in her neck, her delicate hands that could play the violin so well lying limp at the side of her induced comatose body. It just doesn’t. And then you go into the next room and see her beloved lying there in the same condition.

A and A (my cousin’s fiancé is also an A, also a musician, and I think it’s appropriate that I’m not using their full names) had just finished packing up their Michigan home to move to Boston for job opportunities, with their wedding to follow soon thereafter in Wisconsin where my aunt and uncle live(d).

I am an emotional ice queen. It’s not that I don’t feel stuff, but I don’t often give much away outwardly. I partly get that from my dad. With my mom, nothing is unknown. She doesn’t filter, and she kind of badgers and passive-aggressives to have things go her preferred way. My dad, on the other hand, internalizes, maintains a pretty even keel, and mostly goes with the flow. I internalize, too, combined with the life experience of failed relationships and not wanting to make that emotional commitment too soon. I try to save my energy for the things that matter more.

I guess I had been saving it up for the moment I saw my aunt and uncle, which was followed closely by the moment I was ushered into A’s hospital room. I became a puddle of mush. My aunt and uncle had the advantage of having had a week already to culture their disbelief and numbness. I was fresh.

I stayed for a week. I met A’s good friends and cousins-in-law from my aunt’s side. Everybody was trying to be optimistic about A’s chances. I feel guilty because at the time I was more in the realistic camp as it seemed in those early days. I felt guilty for not having been a better cousin in the previous thirty-one years. At A’s bedside I promised to do better, but I haven’t. I still feel guilty.

I’m happy to report that I’ve been proved wrong about A’s recovery, at least. Again I’ll say that nothing you learn about head injuries leads you to think that things will return to the old normal. But A is leading a decent life, considering her circumstances. She remains in Michigan and my aunt and uncle live there with her. She has resumed many professional musician activities, though she has issues with short-term memory.

I don’t know the status of A’s relationship with her fiancé, whether they are still considered to be engaged. He, too, has made a recovery, but is not as well physically. He has paralysis, which includes not being able to swallow, and is confined to a wheelchair, though his mental faculties are intact and strong. He is back in Indiana with his parents.

I don’t know how to deftly wrap this up. Thanks for reading.

2 Responses to “Hard for me, harder for her”

  1. Stephie Says:

    That was powerful.

  2. kellydna Says:

    Thanks for reading, Stephie.


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