A Standing Perspective for the New Year

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on January 16, 2017 # Caregiving

Happy New Year! If you are reading this, you have survived the holiday season, maybe the first or second week of a New Year’s resolution or maybe you are just barely surviving. But you are here, and so is 2017, so let’s make the moments count. My husband, Geoff, always says that perspective is everything and if, through the miracle of modern medical technology, his paralysis status is changed, he is going to take a long walk, maybe even complete the Appalachian Trail. Yet, he doesn’t hold onto the hope of walking again because this distracts him from the good work which remains for him here and now despite his disability. He feels lucky not to be in chronic pain like many whose spinal cord injury is perhaps partial or incomplete. Of course, he is also quick to say that he doesn’t want to be one of the world’s guinea pigs for human testing in this regard as he could happily live out his days still from a wheelchair. He wants to make certain the ability to walk again isn’t compromised by the fear and reality of chronic pain.

We celebrated the holidays with our parents and siblings, grateful to have time together. We also hung out at the “Standing Bar,” which lives in Geoff’s parents’ basement, built by my Uncle Gordon many years ago as a way for him to stand while serving drinks and re-constructed by my brother Greg and friend Matt. In a twist of irony or fate, my mother’s only brother was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident when I was a teenager. For a while he was truly angry and pissed off, but he was generally grumpy before his accident, so that part didn’t really change post accident until he went to college at the University of Maine. He found purpose and direction and support becoming a custom furniture maker and woodworker until various shoulder injuries slowed him down and then, much too young, sepsis- related complications ended his life three years ago this March.

Gordon never had his own children, at least that we know of. He left me three things after his passing: his ashes, which rest on a top shelf in our living room in a beautifully crafted wooden box of his design; a box of audio cassettes telling his life story, which I will write one day; and, lastly, this standing bar he built with a pulley to enjoy a different perspective when friends visited. Geoff says it actually feels good to stand because his back and legs are being stretched in ways they do not ordinarily. Plus, it’s a different view looking down on everyone else. People forget that Geoff is actually 6’2” because he is always sitting down. Greta tells him he is the shortest daddy she knows. Perspective is everything. What works for us might not work for you.

Everyone tackles situations in unique ways, just as they do the more private aspects of their injury. We recently attended the wedding of my dear friend from college who was paralyzed while skiing. Both she and her wife were seated, along with the minister who married them, while all of the guests stood for the ceremony. Perfectly lovely. When Geoff and I married, he preferred that I stand while he sat because these are our real life positions. Also perfectly lovely. And for some people, they use leg braces or standing frames to face their loved one on their wedding day because that is their wish, and who are we to judge.

Our children, honestly, were completely freaked out and nervous and crying the first time they saw their dad vertical behind the standing bar. This was not how they knew their dad, and they worried for his safety. But for me, there was something special about being able to stand next to my husband and have his arm around me for a few minutes. Not better or worse-- just special because our perspective for a little while was different. So 2017 is slated to be filled with medical developments and setbacks; hopes and dreams; and disappointments and losses. But our perspective--whether seated or standing-- is what provides the structure and strength to move forward into a New Year. May 2017 be filled with continued health, happiness, and hope for our world.