Lessons of the Heart (Pendant)
By Donna Lowich
Stolen. The word made me shudder just to think of it. I had only taken the necklace off because the clasp on the chain needed a little repair, and I thought I might lose it if I wore it that day. Not wanting to take the chance, I took it off and placed it carefully in my dresser drawer. That same day, our next-door neighbor burglarized our house, taking my pendant as well as other pieces of jewelry and money. It seems destined that my cherished pendant would be lost to me.
It was not just any pendant; this was a gift given to me by my son for Mother's Day, a gift paid for with money he earned from his very first job. It was my most prized possession, and now it was gone.
I was in a snit
Usually, I'd jump at the chance to go shopping, especially with Mary Lou; usually, just hearing her voice cheers me up. But, for the time being, there was a hole in my heart, and I wasn't about to let anyone take away my power to make myself miserable.
With some urging, although my mood was not improved significantly, I reluctantly agreed to go. We were closing in on Christmas, and shopping was on my "To Do" list.
Besides, talking to Mary Lou always helps; she always puts things into perspective. I just couldn't shake my feelings of anger and resentment towards the neighbor to whom I had opened my house during his younger days, since he was almost the same age as my son.
My sister and I had talked about it on a number of occasions; this was another sequel.
Still, Mary Lou listened sympathetically as I vented: the only way to rid myself of the anger was to get a duplicate of my heart pendant. Mary Lou worked her usual magic as she verbally peeled away, layer by layer, the dark mood that surrounded me. With the promise of checking some jewelry stores, we shifted topics to Christmas, focusing on gift ideas for our families. We even tackled our Christmas dinner menu.
Mary Lou, supportive as always, patted my arm. "Don't worry," she whispered to me as we left the store. "We're not done yet".
That is her essence: Never give up. This was not the first time that she bolstered my sagging spirits. Fifteen years earlier, I underwent two spinal cord surgeries, which rendered me paralyzed from the shoulders down. During my most troubled moments and through all those months while undergoing physical therapy, Mary Lou was there for me. Each weekend while I was in the rehabilitation center, and even after my discharge home, she stayed with me, bringing my then-three-year-old nephew, Kenny, to play with my four-year-old son, Jeffrey.
At the same time, she researched the topic of motivational tapes, and brought them for me to watch. This was the time to work and achieve, not to sit back and wallow in self-pity. That was her gift to me back then.
We finished our shopping trip, all the while checking all the jewelry stores we could find. The heart pendant could not be replaced. It was time to come to grips with that conclusion.
Cheerful Christmas morning with family
At Mary Lou's house, our day is steeped in more traditions. We had breakfast together, and then we exchanged gifts. Mary Lou handed me a small, beautifully wrapped box. I looked at the box, and then at Mary Lou. Inside was a gold heart pendant enhanced with several rubies! It wasn't like the one I had lost, but even a duplicate wouldn't be the same as the one I had lost. I know that now. This one represented an attempt to heal a wound that had previously refused to close.
As we embraced, Mary Lou whispered, "See? I told you we weren't done yet!"
There were tears, more hugs and smiles, and a lesson learned:
Sometimes it takes a painful event to teach us what is most important in life: it is impossible to replace anything we lose, whether it is family, friends, pets or a heart pendant. It is important to enjoy what we have while we have it. Anger only prevents us from enjoying the moment to the fullest.
My sister, Mary Lou, taught me that lesson. And, on occasion when I forget, she's always there to provide the refresher course.
Beyond that, I learned that it is Mary Lou who has the heart of gold.
I am very happy to report that Mary Lou's surgery went exceedingly well. The surgeon said it went just as she expected it to--she removed ALL of the tumor!! For her part, Mary Lou has remained steadfastly strong and confident. She has faced this challenge just as she has faced everything else--with an upbeat attitude and a never-to-be-defeated optimism.
I was at Mary Lou's house the other day. We spent the afternoon going through old photographs that were stored in boxes in my mother's basement for years. We found a few of the two of us when we were very young. We even found a few more with our brother, Jimmy. He was almost two years older than me. We lost him to leukemia when he was only twelve-years-old.
The pictures brought a few tears but also a flood of wonderful memories that we shared growing up. Jimmy was the best big brother anyone could ask for and it shows in the pictures. He was always smiling and always very protective of us. I have only very good, very happy memories of the time we had Jimmy with us.
I think facing Life's challenges makes a family stronger. Families pull together to overcome obstacles. It is like a broken bone that, when healed, is stronger at the point of the injury. And so it is with us.
Mary Lou went to see the surgeon and the oncologist in early April. They were very pleased with the way the surgery is healing and with the post-operative MRI. They feel they have removed the entire tumor but want to treat it carefully. Mary Lou will begin her chemo and radiation in the middle of May.
Through it all, Mary Lou remains positive and upbeat. She has helped me as much, if not more than I have helped her, She is amazing. Follow Mary Lou's progress in Donna's blog.
Editor's note: Donna Lowich is an Information Specialist in the Foundation's Paralysis Resource Center. Donna was spinal cord injured over twenty years ago and has since dedicated her life to helping others living with paralysis.
Tell us your story
Telling your story is one way to let anyone touched by paralysis know that they are not alone. We've created a place where you can share your journey for your benefit, and the benefit of others. Your story matters. Share it.
Arkansas Spinal Cord CommissionThe mission of the Arkansas Spinal Cord Commission is to administer a statewide program to identify and meet the unique and lifelong needs of people with spinal cord disabilities in the state.
CareCure CommunityCareCure Community features a SpinalNurse bulletin board with informed comments on matters of the bowel, and all issues of paralysis.
Canadian & American Spinal Research OrganizationPromotes and supports funding research to ultimately find a cure for paralysis. Also publishes journal of latest research they fund. Call (800) 361-4004 or use the link above.
Canadian Paraplegic AssociationAssists people with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities to achieve individuality, self-reliance and full community participation. Call (613) 723-1033 or use the link above.
Craig HospitalWith funding from the US Department of Education's National Institute on Disability & Rehabilitation Research, has developed educational materials to help people with spinal cord injuries live in the community maintain their health. Topics include skin care, exercise, heart disease, weight control, alcohol abuse and conditions related to the aging body. Use the link above and click on SCI Health and Wellness.
Center for Research on Women with Disabilities (CROWD)Dept of Physical Medicine and Rehab Services at Baylor College of Medicine.
Determined 2 HealProvides helpful information for the newly spinal cord injured.
FacingDisability.comFacing Disability is a web resource with more than 1,000 videos drawn from interviews of people with spinal cord injuries, their families, caregivers and experts. I know that this is a lot to ask, but we'd be so grateful for your help. I'm looking forward to discussing this link with you, and to answering any questions you may have.
Model Systems CentersA federally funded program of 14 specialty medical and/or rehabilitation centers across the US. The SCI Care System collects and submits acute, rehabilitation and follow-up (annual, long-term post-discharge) data on SCI patients who received care in the these centers following injury.
The Miami Project to Cure ParalysisThe Miami Project to Cure Paralysis has studied functional electrical systems for exercise.
Mobile WomenArticles, resources, online forum for women with disabilities especially wheelchair users.
The National Spinal Cord Injury Statistical Center (NSCISC)NSCISC supervises and directs the collection, management and analysis of the world's largest spinal cord injury database. Headquartered at the University of Alabama, Birmingham.
National Spinal Cord Injury Association (NSCIA)At NSCIA, we educate and empower survivors of spinal cord injury and disease to achieve and maintain the highest levels of independence, health and personal fulfillment. We fulfill this mission by providing an innovative Peer Support Network and by raising awareness about spinal cord injury and disease through education.
New York Online Access to Health (N.O.A.H)Offers information and links related to spinal cord and head injury treatment, rehabilitation, and children. Materials in Spanish.
Neuroscience for KidsOffers an understandable look at the segments of the spinal cord; from University of Washington.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA): Spinal Cord InjuryFor more detailed information on the clinical practice guidelines on respiratory management with spinal cord injury you can request booklets from the Paralyzed Veterans of America. These booklets also provide guidelines on proper weaning from a ventilator.
SpineUniverseAt SpineUniverse our goal is to help patients and their families understand their back or neck problems. In clear, straightforward language we aim to explain what causes spinal problems and how they can be treated. We are committed to ensure that all of the information we present is trustworthy and of the highest quality.
Spinal Cord Injury Information NetworkThe Spinal Cord Injury Information Center features clinical information about bowel management and all other medical issues of paralysis.
United Spinal AssociationOur mission is to improve the quality of life of all Americans living with spinal cord injuries and disorders (SCI/D), including multiple sclerosis, spina bifida, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS), and post polio.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Fact Sheet: VA and Spinal Cord InjuryOf the more than 250,000 Americans with serious spinal cord injuries and disorders, about 42,000 are veterans eligible for medical care and other benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Quality of Life Grants DatabaseFind resources within the PRC Quality of Life Grants Database. Search by Zip Code, State or an Entire Category.
Library Books and VideosFind resources within the PRC library catalog.