At age 2, my daughter–a dynamic, delightful child–was thrown from our car when a driver fell asleep at the wheel, crossed into our lane and crashed into our car traveling about 80 miles per hour.
In the blink of an eye, the life I’d envisioned for our family vaporized.
Upon impact, my husband and daughter, who were outside the car, ricocheted off our vehicle. He landed in the grass, unconscious.
She, instead of being crushed or run over by our car, miraculously traveled forward with our vehicle and landed–as still as death– underneath it between the front and rear tires. She wasn’t breathing.
I was in the driver’s seat. My body absorbed the impact. I broke my shoulder blade, crushed the left side of my face, broke my jaw in several places, suffered a head trauma, and partially severed my left ear from my head.
My little girl would spend the next three days in a coma. I would spend the next two months shaken and disoriented, and we would spend years putting our lives back together.
In the months immediately following the accident, I struggled. I struggled with guilt and shame as I searched for answers to the haunting question: Why had I pulled onto the emergency shoulder of a busy interstate?
I wondered if we’d survive the trauma as a family. I was driving. Would my husband blame me for the accident, which had caused my daughter life-altering injuries?
Would our marriage survive in the aftermath of trauma, which frequently tears families apart? Would we ever be the same?
Twenty-one years later, I have answers. We’re not the same. We’re better.
This month my daughter will graduate from college.
I’m stronger, more sure of myself and a far better mother than I might’ve been otherwise.
Not that I haven’t struggled.
My daughter, who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI), still struggles with depression. She’ll live the rest of her life with a reduced processing speed, social anxiety, word retrieval issues and a host of other emotional issues related to head trauma.
And there’ve been days when I’ve been stricken with an overwhelming sense of grief over what could’ve been or what’ll never be.
Even so, I’ve grown stronger and have moved forward. Not without some effort.
I realize instead of celebrating this month, we could be commemorating that day in South Texas by laying flowers beneath a roadside cross.
I could’ve come out of that trauma-induced state to find my child had been decapitated, which we learned is most likely what would’ve happened had she remained strapped in her carseat due to the design of the carseat and the force of the impact.
Instead a pediatric resident was traveling behind the car that struck us. She began almost immediately rendering life-saving aid to my husband and daughter. We were airlifted us to area hospitals.
The following chain of events could have only happened by some higher power. You can attribute it to whatever you believe in.
Someone matched one of my husband’s business cards to a name in his address book–cell phones were uncommon. They called his brother.
His brother then contacted my parents in Oklahoma. Our families arrived within hours of the accident.
I’ll never know the answers to some of my questions. I do know the accident could’ve killed us. But, it didn’t.
Because I had no memory of the day, I could only reconcile the truth through my broken bones, my husband’s severed wedding ring which had been sawed off his finger before surgery, and my two year-old daughter, who could no longer walk or talk.
As I began mourning my old life, I had to find ways to move forward in my new normal.
I speak for many when I say I don’t like pain, physical or emotional. I don’t like circumstances I can’t control or don’t understand.
My life didn’t take the path I’d planned or imagined.
I believe it took a far better one. Am I glad the accident happened? No. If I could re-write history would I change it? No. Because it changed me and others around me in a way that couldn’t have happened without it.
My life is more meaningful now than if it hadn’t happened.
I’m better because of it.
Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, I was able to do more than just put my life back on track. I was able to grow stronger through a difficult life-altering circumstance and find joy in the face of tragedy.