A mother’s journey | guest blogger Nancy Kay

Posted by Reeve Staff in Daily Dose on November 03, 2017 # Caregiving

I’ve just returned from a glorious weeklong celebration of my son’s wedding. I experienced most if not all of the traditional “mother of the groom” stuff ranging from unadulterated joy to wondering, “Where has the time gone?” And, as the mother of this particular groom, I enjoyed a special element of elation knowing that there was a time when I couldn’t have imagined his life moving forward on this trajectory.

November 23rd marks the 13th anniversary of the bike versus truck injury that resulted in my son’s paraplegia. It remains impossible for me to forget the mind- numbing, nitty-gritty details of that day and the many days that followed. In that place and at that time, when simply transferring from bed to wheelchair required Herculean effort, how was I to envision my child ever taking care of himself much less getting married?

Those first few months were profoundly challenging. I often felt as though I were drowning in a sea of sadness, anger, hopelessness, and despair. Coming up for air was made easier when parents ahead of me on the spinal cord learning curve and members of my son’s health care team gifted their wisdom and advice to me. Their insights translated into survival strategies for me. They kept my head above water and gave me the gumption I needed to support and advocate for my child. I’ll pay some of them forward here with hopes they might buoy you up when you feel as though your ship is sinking.

Hope for the best and prepare for the worst

I first heard this expression from my son’s neurosurgeon in response to my question, “Will he ever be able to walk again?” I’ve since learned that hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is common advice bantered about within the newly-injured spinal cord community. As thread-worn as the phrase may be, it offered me much needed hope at a time when things were feeling hopeless and I equated recovery with the ability to walk again. As someone newly initiated into the world of spinal cord trauma, I was naïve about how rich and full life can be regardless of one’s ability to walk. Looking back, I suspect the surgeon knew that my son would remain a paraplegic. Nonetheless, I remain profoundly grateful to him for not severing my hope. Left hopeless, I’m not sure I could have continued to climb the mountain before me.

Stay in the moment

In the throes of initially caring for my son, casting an eye towards the future felt scary and overwhelming to the point of being downright debilitating. It was impossible for me to support him and care for myself when my mind was churning with unanswerable questions about how life would ever be okay again. A psychotherapist coached me on creating a state of mindfulness that prevented me from drifting out into the future. This practice worked remarkably well. As soon as my mind wandered into an uncomfortable time zone, I very intentionally reeled myself back in. During those first few months, purposefully focusing on what was right before me while keeping the big picture at bay proved to be enormously beneficial.

Avoid making major decisions while in a state of emotional distress

This incredibly important piece of advice arrived in the nick of time. My son was a few weeks away from being released from the rehab facility and I was moments away from signing a lease on a rental that was more wheelchair-friendly than our very comfortable family home. Reading my anxiety about this decision, an occupational therapist, whose face and calm demeanor I’ll never forget, advised me to avoid making major decisions while in a state of emotional distress. She told me that we really had no way of knowing what our son would be capable of once he arrived home. She encouraged me to wait and see and then, if possible, adapt our home to suit his needs. Whew, what a relief! I heeded this important advice and, yes, we did manage to adequately adapt our home for our child’s needs.

My son and his bride participated in their wedding ceremony from the comfort of a loveseat, and they opted out of the traditional first dance. I’m enormously proud of my child who continues to redefine “normal” for himself. And, I’m proud of myself for doing the same.

Dr. Nancy Kay is a specialist within the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and author of books Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life and Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet