On Wednesday, September 22nd, I did a presentation for the Camden County Juvenile Detention Center, addressing a group of people training to become prison guards. With the help of my mom, I told my story and read from this blog. We talked about forgiveness, redemption, and restorative justice.
I feel privileged to have been able to share my story with so many different people. It helps me to learn from and appreciate different things I may have missed in my own experience of my recovery!
I was trying to think to myself what I learned from speaking with this group in particular. In looking at the notes I kept, there are a few points that stood out. I was grateful to see how much forgiveness was the lesson that connected with so many. A couple of them spoke about holding grudges and seeing forgiveness as not being as hard as they thought. Perhaps compared to me.
The comment that struck me the most was from one guard towards the end who said, “Forgiveness can change a person’s life more than jail..!” The thought, of course, is not a new one for me or my mom. But it was for that person, and maybe one or two others in the group. These are people who are in the midst of training to become guards for a prison, so for any of them to hear our story and see that restorative justice can be more effective than prison time felt gratifying to hear because that is exactly what we’d hoped they’d leave considering.
I was recently reflecting on how these posts may be hitting the people who read them. My dad said to me that I sometimes go on about the different things in my life that are positive, and that I may not be considering the people who still feel like they lost me, or at least part of me. When I try to put myself in their shoes, I imagine that at times it is painful, and maybe even feels like more of a loss when I talk about the positive things that I see as coming from the accident. I am sorry if this makes anyone feel more distant from me because your feelings don’t match. I can imagine if I had a dear loved one who was in an accident that caused a traumatic brain injury, I would likely feel the same. I guess what I would ask those who feel this way, is to please share your own experience. I feel like I have gone on about my personal experience of this all. But I haven’t heard enough of others’.
I want to know primarily because I care about you and yearn to connect honestly. But also because if I am going to be speaking about Restorative Justice to others, I need to hear from the perspective of the other people impacted, my loved ones.
NOTE FROM MOM
Those of you familiar with our story kow tat we petitioned the court for clemency for the driver who struck Julia. We believed that forgiveness for something so profound would have a more corrective impact on his behavior than would years languishing in prison.
Our correctional facilities are not correcting. They have become turnstiles for offenders moving in and out at an alarming rate. The national recidivism rate today is over 50%. For youth offenders, that number jumps up to 85%. That means 85% of all youth discharged from prison will be back within 5 years. If their mission is to rehabilitate offenders so they are more fit for society, they are failing miserably.
3 years after the driver and we entered into a Restorative Justice model, he is more fit for society than ever.
He has developed his own business in roofing, hiring many former offenders. A self-described “tradesman” he is not only providing for his family, he is helping his employees provide for theirs. In addition to providing a living wage, he is teaching them a skill. He says mentoring is his favorite part of his job. He learned from his father who had a similar business. When his teenage son ran into trouble in school, Malchijah made him come work for and learn from him. That son today has gone on to start his own business, owns his own home, and numerous trucks. He also hires former offenders and teaches them the trade. Malchijah is determined to pay it forward.
There are many of Julia’s family and friends who scratch their heads over the decision to set other expectations for the driver than a lengthy prison stay. I know that comes from protectiveness and love. I also know that it’s impossible to hate someone whose story you know. And if you knew this man’s story, you would see this is likely the first 2nd chance he’s ever received. And yes, he made a huge mistake. But we are not our actions. We are NOT our actions. This particular human definitely is not. He is a deeply religious, family man. He is also, honestly, one of the more humble and gentle human beings I have ever met. I cringe thinking how he would have fared in prison, as gentle as he is. To hear him talk about how stunned he was in the courtroom is humbling. “For a white family to forgive a black man?? Nah.” He is more grateful than he can say and I believe he will spend the rest of his life paying it back.
He recently asked me for help writing a mission statement for his life, to keep him on the straight and narrow. He is sincere. He is earnest. He is grateful. He is trying. This is only one person’s success story. People ask us, “Is Restorative Justice appropriate for everyone?” The answer is No. The person has to be eligible for this process which begins with being sorry. Not just saying, “Sorry”, being sorry. As well as having an honest desire to atone for one’s actions. As well as caring about the community one is trying to “restore”. This sounds like tough criteria but we think more people, if given the chance, would meet this criteria than we would imagine. And for every one person who is believed in, there are countless lives who are touched as a result.
One of the first things I was taught as a child was how to find the rainbow in the clouds. So, finding the meaning through the trauma of my accident was something I have been preparing for my whole life. Part of that entails being able to hold two seemingly opposite things at the same time. Things aren’t wholly good or bad, they can be both. It is also possible to feel gratitude in the face of loss. And loss in the face of gratitude. Life often demands that we feel both together. That’s being really alive.
My losses have been coming up for me more recently than they have in 3 years. The other day a thought came up that made me feel a little sadness. At first, I tried to go on with my day and think of something else. But then I recognized that this was the first time in years that the feeling had really come up in this way. And how important it was to feel it.
So I went outside to a place where I could be beside the trees and I cried. I let myself cry and feel my losses. I let them all come up. I felt it and I cried. And it hurt, but it was a relief.
There are parts about my life, before getting hurt, that I do miss. Certain aspects like being able to take more than 2 classes at a time, or being able to run in the rain, or ride ocean waves, of course, but more recently in my personal life. Just being able to live independently in Philly with friends who are also living independently and figuring things out alongside one another.
Those aren’t feelings that I think I’ve been keeping bottled up, but they are feelings that I really haven’t given a voice to, and honestly haven’t felt. Now that I feel them, I want to give them a voice and an honest one. It makes me feel connected to the people who feel like they lost something with and in me because of the accident.
One of the reasons I think I haven’t felt this loss is because my mind is so often occupied with the daily tasks of recovery. And when it’s not, I’m focusing on the different reasons I have to be grateful. I hope I have expressed before how frequently and ardently I feel thankful. But my gratitude does not erase the sadness that has come up recently over the losses.
I feel like some loved ones in my life are not sure exactly how to ask me how I am, or how to interact with me in a way more like they used to. When I put myself in your shoes, I can understand why you would be less sure of yourself. It might not always be easy to remember when you see me, but please talk to and treat me as you would have 3 years ago. If you feel sad for or about me, please tell me! It might not be comfortable. But I want to know how my life impacts others. It doesn’t make me feel bad, it makes me feel better to know how I am received. And makes me feel more connected to you, which I want.
I have been looking at some old journals recently and reflecting on how different my inner voice is now in comparison to the old entries. Rereading old journal entries makes me see how fearful I was before. I think it can be hard for anyone to put themselves back in their thinking in years past, much less someone with a brain injury, but I can do this because I have a number of old journals that I have that show me. Since I was a young teen, I have journaled about almost everything. I would process my feelings about my family, about my romantic interests, going into detail of how it all hit me. I have recently read these old journals and it struck me how fearful I sounded. I would worry about things like liking 2 boys at once that I look back now and think, ‘Julia, you should have been psyched..!’
There may be people who relate to the more fearful person I used to be. Most of the fears that come up may not even register as being that, so it is a practice of recognizing the fears when they arise. Once you become more practiced at recognizing this, you are more able to see the choice you have in feeling and leading with fear or with love.
I do not feel regretful that 2017 Julia cannot be here conversing and interacting with you. I know that’s probably still hard for some of you, but I feel like I am in some ways more able to meet you mentally and emotionally- if you are honest with and meet me exactly where I am. Because I know that’s where I’m supposed to be. I know I am who and how I’m supposed to be right now, including the losses, which gives me compassion for others, and I don’t want to go back. Thank you for continuing to take this journey with me.
NOTE FROM MOM: WHAT I’VE LEARNED WATCHING JULIA
I recently attended a funeral for my father-in-law where I watched Julia ascend the altar stairs to do a reading. With her obvious limp, I thought that the empaths in the congregation likely felt badly for her. Her gait makes her look unsteady. On the street, she draws side glances sometimes from curious strangers trying to act “normal”. I’m sure people assume from her limp, that her brain is limping too. But, it’s not. It’s jumping hurdles.
Whatever Julia experienced in the 2-3 weeks she was on death’s door, I’ll never know. I have heard testimonials from others, who have had near-death experiences, and they all say the same thing. Once they were free of their bodies, they floated into a state of pure peace. Where all fear disappears. All that’s left around them is love. And this state of pure love feels like the Heaven we’ve imagined. Nirvana.
Julia is in this state everyday. Whatever she experienced on the other side, she came back with a different soul. I say that without hyperbole. She is the embodiment of every spiritual tomb I’ve ever read. And she is light years ahead of me. Watching someone who’s been through an undeserved ordeal, and not see their heart harden from it, but rather break open in a way that gives them more room to love others, including the driver, is something magical to behold. And it is contagious.
You have heard us say, The opposite of fear is love. And the only way to vanquish fear is to apply love to it. Love in the form of gratitude or compassion. Nowhere is this more evident to me than watching Julia.
Julia’s first words as a baby were Thank you. True story. Today, when I bring down the laundry, she says Thank you. When I check the mail, she says Thank you. When I feed the cat, she says Thank you. When I go to the gym, she says, thank you for taking care of yourself. When I say, “Thank you for seeing it that way!” she says, “Thank you for reminding me I have a choice!” This Thank-you-boomerang goes on all day. If you live in the lap of that kind of gratitude, daily, and reminders that every action you take is rooted in the choice of love or fear, it shapes you profoundly. By osmosis, it seeps in.
I know from this, one of the most important things in life is to surround yourself with people who support and influence you positively. Avoid complainers. That is just fear. Fear breeds more fear. Compassion breeds more compassion. Love breeds love.
If you have been following our story, you know we asked for clemency for the driver, and suggested a Restorative Justice model from the courts, which spared the driver a potential 7 yr incarceration. I sometimes wonder if anyone judges me for that. What kind of mother would forgive her daughter’s assailant so quickly?
The answer is compassion.
The compassion I had for him started before I met him. Because it happened on campus, I assumed it was a student who ran the light and hit Julia. On my 80 MPH I-95 trip to the hospital, I thanked God that Julia was the one who got hurt and not vice versa. Hurting someone else so severely would have been harder for me to recover from, and harder for her.
If you look at this person’s mugshot, you might think he ran the light on his way to a drug deal. Would it surprise you to know he was in a hurry to get to organ practice at 1 of the 2 churches he plays for?
I heard someone say once, It’s impossible to hate someone whose story you know. I know the driver’s back story. He is from a wonderful family. He is a man of faith. They all love and pray for Julia constantly.
With that said, we have expectations of him still! Recently, I suggested he write Julia’s dad a Thanksgiving note to remind Pat that he is still “paying” for the crime in his own way. When he asked for ideas of what to say, I sent the following:
I’m not sure how to advise you. Restorative Justice is about accountability. He wants to hear how you’ve been accountable. Earning every day you aren’t in prison while Julia is in sort of a prison of her own because of you. Have you gotten your license reinstated? Have you gotten insurance? What’s the last thing you’ve done for Restorative Justice including spreading the word? What have you done for Julia recently to let us know you are remembering her every day?
Gratitude isn’t about being grateful for the trauma. No one is grateful for a brain injury and partial paralysis. You are grateful for what comes from the trauma and what comes because of it. In Julia’s case, it was the absence of fear. She gets exhausted being around it. Even the kind of fear that sometimes comes in the form of sarcasm. She is just this big ball of love and light. And her compassion for others is off the charts. When we see a sad story on the news, she reaches for my hand and says, “Let’s say a prayer for them.” When I catch her staring off with her big toothy grin, I know what she’s going to say when I ask her of what she is thinking. “I’m just so excited about the past, present and future!” She says this every day. And she means it. Wouldn’t’ that be a nice way to live? I thank God every day for it.
What I’ve learned from all this is, Forgiveness is our Superpower. It changes you and it changes them. And it all starts with compassion.
A challenge to you is, this 13th, on the anniversary of Julia’s accident, pick one person you can’t forgive. And don’t even forgive them yet if it’s too hard. But start with compassion. Think of one thing about them for which you can have compassion. If you think about that, rather than focus on the transgression, you might feel your shoulders relax a little. You might find you’ve created an inch or 2 more room in your heart for yourself or others. What can it hurt?
Have a Fearless, Forgiving, Compassionate Holiday!
2 Years ago today, I was discharged from the hospital in a wheelchair and Depends, with limited sight out of only one eye, and no short term memory.
I couldn’t remember any of the people who took care of me for 4 months, so their tears confused me when I left.
I could only walk short distances with help.
I had an alarm on my bed in case I forgot not to try to get up by myself.
I couldn’t bathe without help.
I’d lost all sense of smell.
I couldn’t follow any TV, even for the length of a commercial.
I never could remember which house was ours, so I couldn’t leave the house on my own.
I’d ask my mom what was for dinner and hear that we had just eaten.
I was told that my dream of going back to college was unrealistic.
2 Years Later:
I remember the new neighbors and friends I’ve met and call them by name.
I average 12-14,000 steps a day, pain free.
I do my morning and evening hygiene routine all by myself.
Just recently I watched my first full length feature film and could discuss it afterwards.
I take daily walks around my neighborhood by myself and know exactly where to go.
I make my own meals.
I got an A and a B in the courses I took last semester at Saint Joe’s, and am currently taking 2 more.
I can remember which room my classes are in.
I went back to my old job at a vegan cafe.
When I’m not at school or work, I volunteer twice a week at a daycare.
What has not been recovered (yet):
I can’t run.
I can’t climb trees.
I can’t walk without my sneakers.
I can’t drive.
I still have a limp and limited coordination on my left side.
When you hit your head as hard as I did, twice (once on the windshield, once on the pavement), even the experts can’t tell you how much of what’s been lost can be recovered. They say 90% of it relies on your support. I look at the two lists above and know that it was only achievable because of the constant and continual support around me.
What they don’t tell you to expect is everything that I’ve gained.
I am much closer to God.
I am closer to my family and my friends.
I have formed a wonderful relationship with the driver and his family.
I got to experience the power of forgiveness, which is life changing.
I know how much I am loved.
I am patient with myself.
I don’t judge myself.
I don’t take for granted my health and privilege.
I know exactly what my calling is.
I don’t worry about the future.
I am grateful all of the time.
You might not believe me when I say that the night I almost died and the brain injury that resulted was not a curse, it was a blessing. Being forced to find meaning through trauma was the greatest gift of my life, and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
I last spoke about some things that I would be pursuing this winter. I have since accomplished a few of them and would like to tell you about how they went for me.
On October 4th, I attended a banquet dinner in honor of the work I did through my Summer Scholars project on Restorative Justice. This took place at Saint Joe’s with the other summer scholars. I learned a lot about justice personally through the research and interviews I conducted. Restoative Justice is about the perpetrator taking responsibility for his/her actions and how restorative that can be. It’s also about there rarely being one victim of crime. Usually crimes impact whole communities, both victim’s and offender’s. And the healing power that can occur if those communities come together and speak from the heart.
As such, on Nov 24th, we had the VOC (Victim/Offender Conference). This was also held at Saint Joe’s. We had two facilitators, and 24 participants from both my, and the driver’s communities. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to hear so honestly from family and friends about their experiences of the accident. It seemed that people were being more honest that day than ever as we were gathered with the shared aim of authentic healing. Speaking directly from the heart seemed very important to everyone which meant the wold to me. Especially my brother who is usually very conservative in those settings. My dad, who was ambivalent about coming at all, ended up saying that he felt lucky to be apart of it. My cousin Jeannie, who is always authentic, was honest enough to say that, at the end, she still felt conflicted, which I admire her for. The driver’s mother-in-law told my mom she’s been married to a pastor or 35 years and this is the closest that she’s ever felt to God. My cousin Alyssa threw down a challenge to Malchijah (driver) to, like Private Ryan, “earn this.”
On Dec 6th, my mom and I spoke at my old boarding school, Westtown. This was amazing for me because I had seen so many of these speakers on the stage through my HS years, but never imagined I’d be up there one day! I spoke about what my experience has been, and then we took questions.
On Dec 15th, we went to Broad Street Ministries, which is the church where Malchijah (driver) plays the organ, and the community that has prayed for me. I performed 3 songs with my aunt Jen, my uncle Richard, my teacher Kevin, the driver Malchijah and his wife Sarah: Rainbow Connection, You’ll Be In My Heart, and The Circle of Life. I don’t know if I’ll be able to express how incredible it was for me to be joining these people in music. I woke up at 4:30 that morning, and couldn’t go back to sleep for the excitement. We performed to the Broad Street community, as well as many of my family members and friends and it was truly a dream come true. I also did the homily, which was an honor. I spoke about the power of faith and forgiveness. I felt very lucky.
The following Tuesday, I took my last oral exam in one class and submitted my last paper in another. That week I celebrated the two year anniversary of when I was hit. I feel incredibly grateful for all that I have been given, and that includes you. Thank you.
NOTE FROM MOM
I am infinitely grateful that Julia is with us this holiday. Every day a fraction of her returns. Recovering from a brain injury is incremental work. When Julia was still in the hospital, my sister, Susan, sent me a TED Talk of someone who was brain injured 8 years prior. It took her 8 years from her accident to performing the TED Talk. 8 years. It brings me to my knees in gratitude that Julia has accomplished what she has in 2 years. With humility and awe, I tell you she has exceeded my expectations. And we’re just getting started. I will never take prayer for granted again.
An integral part of recovering neuro pathways and cognitive connections is the exercise of creativity. We write all the time. The following is a “Restorative Justice” rendition of the classic Rainbow Connection performed by her at the recent church service commemorating 2 years of hard work and growth. I’m proud to say 90% of it is her, including the clever chorus.
The RJ Connection (sung to the tune of Rainbow Connection)
Why are there so many
problems with justice
and helping folks really change?
Prisons are systems
but rehab illusions
and they are not changing ours ways.
So we’ve been told that
we are our bad actions
I know they’re wrong, wait and see.
Someday we’ll find it
Forgiver, Forgiven, and me.
Who said that every crime
should be harshly punished
just by us throwing up bars?
Somebody thought of it
and someone believed it
Where has that gotten us so far?
What is so healing that keeps us forgiving,
and what do we think we might be?
Someday we’ll find it
Forgiver, Forgiven, and me
All of us under it’s spell
we know that it’s probably magic
Have you been half awake
to know we have choices?
I know they’re calling my name
Is this the sweet sound
that calls us together?
The voice might be one and the same
What is so healing that keeps us forgiving,
and what do we think we might be?
Someday we’ll find it
Forgiver, forgiven, and me
In closing, to quote Julia’s Christmas letter to me:
“Thank you for helping to grow my spirit with fearlessness, faith, and enthusiasm. I look forward to the next year of living, loving, laughing, and above all, always, learning.”
At the end of July, I was discharged from out-patient therapy. It felt like a real graduation for me because I had been going to therapy for 16 months. I wrote each of my therapists a letter to try and express my gratitude for each of them and their hard work. I know I owe so much of my progress and recovery to them.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was awarded a small scholarship through Saint Joe’s to study a topic that is very important to me, Restorative Justice. Restorative Justice is an alternative form of justice that works towards the offender making amends. This takes various forms, but I wanted to do some background research and then try to take a restorative approach to seeking justice with the driver who hit me. Some of my research was by conducting interviews with friends and family members. I asked each person about their experience of when I had gotten hurt, what they’re opinions were on how justice would best be served, and then more broadly, what justice looks like in general. I was really grateful to get the perspectives I did because it gave me a sense as to what it was my loved ones went through last year. It gave me more compassion for what that was like.
This will all culminate in a Victim Offender Conference, which we are preparing for now.
This week, I will begin taking classes again at Saint Joe’s. I will be taking two classes and will be getting some academic coaching. It is exciting that I will be getting back on campus. I look forward to being around the friends and professors I love. My parents and I did a walk through this week, which also made me feel excited. I do sometimes feel anxious thinking of the challenges that simply navigating the campus may bring, but my feelings of excitement far outweigh any worries.
Several people have encouraged me to try and publish my journey. Writing has always been a dream of mine. This community has been so supportive, I wanted to ask if any of you knew anyone in the publishing world?
Thank you all for you continued support!
Julia and her besties Peter and George on her bday
NOTE FROM MOM
“There are some things that are a bummer, but they fall away compared to the blessings.”
What Julia can do since our last post in May:
Walk without a boot
Shower without a chair
Retain and follow up to 30 mins of TV
Step up on the curb without holding my arm
Walk down an incline without holding my arm
All of these are advancements in strength, coordination and balance so we celebrate them heartily! And she’s still healing…
Julia’s gait pitches her forward in a way that makes her look like she’s going to fall. She’s much steadier than she looks. We get a lot of side eye from people who don’t want to stare. But neither of us care (ok I care a little). “I’m sorry if walking with me makes you feel uncomfortable”, she says.” “When is the last time you saw me try to blend?”, I say. And we laugh.
The highlight of my summer was seeing Julia go into the ocean for the 1st time. In her sneakers. Up to her chest. Fall over and get up (with help) laughing. She says her goal, besides climbing trees, is to be able to ride waves next summer. When she said she was glad there weren’t a lot of waves, I said, “Me too, so you wouldn’t fall ”
“No”, she said, “so I wouldn’t feel badly about not being able to ride them.”.
Julia worked earnestly on her Restorative Justice project this summer. The research was cumbersome. Because one eye doesn’t work and the other is partially “broken”, Julia has to read a few inches from her face. It’s slow going. Her memory has improved, no doubt, but most things we have to drill into her through repetition and other strategies we’ve learned. When I say she can relate to her grandmother who, at 91, is experiencing her own memory deterioration, she says, “No, because I’m going to get my memory back; she’s not.” Believe and receive!
I don’t know if she can do 1 class much less 2, but if she’s game, I am too! On Wednesday, we practiced finding her classes, getting from 1 to another, remembering to turn left or right, which stairs to use. Fortunately, there is an elevator nearby to transport her up and down the floors. Her dad, the conscientious coach, was against this at first. “Do we want her to stick out like a sore thumb?” “You think her trying not to break her neck on the stairs while people wiz by her with backpacks isn’t going to make her stick out like a sore thumb?” Fair point, he says.
Julia’s Faculty Adviser, Julie McDonald, is helping us coordinate the VOC (Victim Offender Conference). My attitude toward the driver may be unseemly to some people. When I try to see that point of you, I think if someone tried to mow Julia down, that would be an entirely different story. Thankfully, I know this driver had no mal intent. I know that because he pulled over immediately and called 911. Because he stayed to talk to the police knowing he’d be arrested. Because I know the hell he’s gone through since the accident. His wife practically had to be hospitalized. Their whole family was effected. I met with him and his wife recently to ask some lingering questions. His wife told me this entire experience has deepened her father’s faith – and he’s a minister. Malchijah (driver) wants to learn more about restorative justice and maybe work in the prisons.
Julia and Faculty Adviser Julie McDonald @ SJU
Watching Julia back on campus in our “dry run” was emotional for me (which I hid until I got into the car). Not just because we had to cross the intersection where she was hit, but because she’s coming back as a different person. Watching her lumber down the hallway next to the flow of breezy coeds moving easily from place to place made my heart ache for her. Because that used to be her. Even though she’s walking along like she owns the place. My friend John said, “Maybe it’s harder on you than it is on her.” I think that’s apt. At least I hope it is. I tell her brother, whom we’ve just moved into college, any time you’re tempted to skip a class or ditch homework, think of your sister and how she would die to change places with you.
When I ask Julia, “How do you feel about starting school tomorrow?”
“Do you have any trepidation?”
“No, I’m going to take it 1 step at a time. Living one day at a time is the way I have to live because if I look too far ahead – or behind – I might get depressed. So I stay right here, in the present.“
Our days continue to be full of joy and laughter and learning, extracting the meaning of her accident everywhere. Last night, at a meeting, someone came up to us and said, “My name is Caroline. Someone sent me the link to your blog and, reading it, I honestly had a spiritual awakening. I saw you guys come in and I thought ‘That must be her!'”
Julia bounced out like Tigger, “Can you believe that?!” she said.
After I posted my last blog, I received 2 forms of feedback that stood out. One was from my teacher who I wrote about who brought that beautiful rendering of the Blessed Mother back from Israel. Incredibly, and in the name of my theme, Connectivity, she wrote the following to my mom:
Your timing is miraculous!!!
I received your email as I was on the bus with a group of Westtown students driving to Nazareth in Israel to the Basilica of the Annunciation, where Julia and I first saw the mosaic of the Blessed Mary in 2016. On the bus, I shared the story of Julia and me first looking at Blessed Mother together and about Julia’s accident and her miraculous and challenging recovery, and of the picture we had given her of the Blessed Mary just a few months ago.
When we got to the Basilica, the students agreed that the mosaic portrays Blessed Mary with such strength, power, and grace. We each thought of Julia and I lit a candle in her name at the Basilica.
Thus your timing was miraculous. It brought Julia’s story to another whole group of Westtown students who are traveling in Julia’s footsteps these two weeks in Israel, and who now know her story and will keep Julia in their hearts and in the Light of healing. Please express our love to Julia and thank you for sending your email exactly when you did.
The 2nd was from the driver who hit me, Malchijah:
Hello Julia, Dyan, Bo & Pat,
I apologize for not responding sooner. It’s kind of ironic that I overlooked this email which I have been eagerly anticipating for weeks now. I’ve been so anxious to know how Julia and her family took to heart my sincere words and account of the moments both leading up to and following this DIVINE MOMENT OF OUR LIVES.
I felt a loving, righteous energy coming from Dyan the nanosecond I met her at my preliminary hearing last winter. This same beacon of energy was also overt when Dyan took the stand advocating for restorative justice on my behalf. Like the saying goes “Fruit doesn’t fall from the tree”. These same attributes of LOVE were so discernible in Julia.
Julia, I will forever be hanging onto every last one of your words from this blog entry. TBH it was like reading a novel I didn’t want to end. You are a breath of fresh air. Everyone connected to you including myself are blessed by your graciousness. We should all be able learn from the sacrifices you’ve made.
I’m just so moved by you and your family’s perseverance. Instead of digging two graves you’ve created two Halos. I still cannot put into words how thankful I am for you and I to be with our loved ones. I will always pray for you because we are incredibly connected.
I would love for you to get to know me as well as my wife personally. It would be awesome if a group of us could go out for coffee or brunch someday. I have to remind myself that it doesn’t take much for many of us to become jaded. For me, Julia stands as a constant reminder of the narrow path we all travel aka: THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH.
A sincere, warm, heart felt THANK YOU Julia, to you and your family!
In keeping with my commitment to promote a form of justice that is more restorative to the person (me) and community (you) harmed, and more meaningful for the perpetrator and thus more correctional, I applied for a Summer Scholars program through SJU to further my study. Below is the response to that application, from my Faculty Advisor, Julie McDonald:
Dear Friends, In case you missed it, Julia had a letter to the editor published in Friday’s Philadelphia Inquirer! I’ve attached a copy of her letter, as well as the article to which she was responding. I understand that Julia’s already had a number of responses, since the PI required her to attach an email address to her letter. (In this case, she used her gmail address – I’ve added it to the CC line above should you wish to contact her at that address.) And since Julia’s letter cited the blog, “MeaningThroughTrauma,” which she and her mother Dyan Furey have been writing, the blog has also received many new hits.
Also, please join me in congratulating Julia for being awarded a 2019 Summer Scholar Project grant! Her research this summer will examine the theory and practice of restorative justice. If you’ve followed the blog, you’ll know that Julia has decided to enter into a process of restorative justice with the driver who was arrested after striking her on City Avenue. During her summer research, Julia plans to continue this process, as well as study classic and contemporary texts on RJ. Betsy Linehan, Jenny Spinner, and I will serve as her SJU SSP mentors, as will her mother Dyan Furey, M.S.W., who first raised the topic of RJ given her past research.
All best wishes to Julia, as she continues to heal, and plans a return to her studies. Julie McD
My Summer Scholarship kicks off on May 20th and I am eager to dive in.
Thank you for continuing to take the time to read these posts and follow my progress. It really means the world to me.
NOTE FROM MOM:
After taking 2 courses at her boarding school, Julia bumped up last semester to actually taking an on-line course through SJU, the grade for which would go against her cum: Philosophy of Human Nature. Plato, Aristotle, DesCartes… An extremely dense an ambitious endeavor. It entailed hours a day – reading and re-reading, notes and more notes.
When it came to her exam, I took pains not to assist in any way. When she was ready to submit I steeled myself away from even proof-reading. I emplored the prof to be objective as possible! This is an experiment. Our goal is to get a baseline of where she is academically so we can track progress going forward. A realistic yardstick is the only thing that’s useful. If she doesn’t pass, fine. It was only a year ago that we were told Julia would never return to college.
Julia received a C+. It may as well have been the golden ticket in Charlie’s chocolate bar to me. There were time-limit assists. She was given a longer window to submit projects. But she did the whole thing herself. Her dad calls her a Worker Bee and that came through in spades.
The next goal is her Independent Project on Restorative Justice this summer. Julia wakes up daily at 5:30 AM. When I beseech her to go back to sleep she says she’s too excited about the work on RJ we are doing this summer.
Lastly, Julia is still in the boot that supports the intricate tendon-replacement that she underwent 5 months ago. She is not stable enough to go without it. Her PT has started introducing a sneaker on that left foot during her PT sessions. They walk gingerly as the foot is delicate. Pat and I have taken to walk her a little bit at night also without the boot and just the shoe. She still has a long way to go. She says, I don’t care if I walk with a limp forever, long as I can go back to school. But don’t you miss climbing trees? I ask. Yes, that’s true, okay, good goal.
Yesterday, at a 5K for Brain Injury, Bo came in 2nd in his age group, and Julia walked 1 whole mile in her boot. Her dad deserves all credit for pushing her to do this. She slept the whole way down the shore to see my mom, and 2 hours after that. She was shot. But she did it.
That left foot that is still booted, has not seen the light of day unless to wash it. She sits on her shower chair in the tub, we wash the foot and leg gingerly, dry it, and put her boot cast back on before she gets out. Her bare foot has never touched the ground.
A goal her dad and I had for spring break a few weeks ago, was that she might take her boot off in the pool. And with the buoyancy of the water, try to step on it. Everyday I checked in; every day she wasn’t ready. It was only on the 7th day that her dad got her to simply dangle her feet over the edge into the water. That was enough for her.
Even though her dad is the one who pushes her, I’m the safe place to land, I did tell her last week the only thing I wanted for Mothers Day was to go to the Y and have her go into the hot tub with me, bare foot.
Today, as God as my witness, after saying a motivating prayer in the ladies locker room, Julia did the following:
She took off her boot on the bench. She stood up on 2 bare feet, held my hand and slowly walked 30 ft across and around a slippery pool deck and down 6 steps into the hot tub, across the hot tub and took a seat on the bench. 2 minutes later she says, I think I’d like to dunk my head. 5 minutes later, Julia decides she’d like to remove her glasses. With that, she walks, BY HERSELF, across the hot tub, places her glasses on the towel and walks back. (I’m trying to act like all this is normal.) She was even able to rise up on her hands and pull her legs up straight enough for the tips of her toes to crest above the water. We had a contest who could hold it longer.
After 20 minutes, Julia walked AHEAD of me, across the hot tub, around people, up the 6 stairs, BY HERSELF, and then across and around to the bench with my hand. But confidently. It was like 1 of those Baptist TV Evangelical shows where people get out of their wheelchairs. She was fearless.
I felt like I was watching Helen Keller hand-spell W-A-T-E-R into her teacher’s hand under the spigot.
As she dried her foot and replaced her boot I said, What made this so different than 2 wks ago on Spring Break? She didn’t know. “That I trust you?” “You trust your dad too.” “That’s true.”
We showered, changed and went to the car, me like a psychopath on Crack. All I could think of was telling Pat and her brother.
As we sat in the car, she said, “I think I know why… It’s because you bring out the courage in me.”
“Because you teach me that I have a choice.” (re: Victor Frankl: “The last of human freedoms is our ability to choose our attitude in any situation.”) “So I say to myself, ‘This could be a good experience… If I want it to be.’ And since I know I have the choice, I just make it one.”
So, it’s not about your dad or me. It’s about you.
To all of you, males and females, who have “mothered” Julia this past year and a half, I hope you take this as a small dividend on your investment. Thank you for being vital cogs in the wheel of our ongoing journey towards connectivity and healing.
The following is an update on Julia’s progress this winter, 11-14 months post-accident.
She has continued her 3 day/wk schedule of aggressive Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech (cognitive) Therapy. Julia works hard and is conscientious about the hours of homework she has every day that she’s not in therapy. Her dad and I both work her hard. She calls the days she’s not in formal therapy, “Motherapy” or “Fatherapy”.
She continues to take a class 4x/wk at her boarding school. Last semester was World Religions. This semester is Environmental Justice. In March she will begin her first on-line college course at St. Joes.
“THANK YOU FOR SEEING IT THAT WAY”
I’ve referenced before Victor Frankl’s quote: “The last of human freedoms is one’s ability to choose one’s attitude in any given situation.” Julia continues to demonstrate this in spades. Everytime I thank her for something – her stamina, her optimism, her lack of frustration, she answers the same way: “Thank you for seeing it that way.” Thank you for seeing it that way. And she means it. Giving me credit for crediting her. I say, Thank you for reminding me I have the choice on how to see it! Gratitude boomerang. It goes on all day.
Her dad and I have found our lanes. He works tirelessly on her independence. Scheduling her dutifully and developing strict routines. 10,000 steps on her Fit Bit is the expectation. On the mornings she isn’t at therapy by 8, they’re at morning mass.
My emphasis is on cognitive rehabilitation. We were told upon discharge that the first 2 years were the most critical in terms of cognitive recovery. As her Neuropsychologist Aunt Claire explains: Biological recovery of the brain occurs over the first 18-24 months. Functional recovery continues after that through routine, and it is possible, through new ways to evaluate the brain, that biological recovery can also occur longer than 2 years.
Maybe it’s because I needed a goal I could see, but I committed myself to focusing on nothing but that for this window of 2 years. We make everything a cognitive exercise. Everything has a therapeutic approach, even our recreation. Even if we are driving, we make everything a metaphor. I keep her synapses firing non-stop. When she retires at night, we are spent. Especially after bathing which is a 2-person aerobic activity.
As we approached the 1st year anniversary of her accident on 12/13, I had to face that I was probably expecting she’d be a little farther along at this point. In some ways, she’s the exact same person – even better with her enhanced peacefulness, patience and wit. Physically, she still walks with a significant limp. She manages her compromised coordination by extending her left arm behind her for balance. She needs a hand on unsteady surfaces. Her memory is improving, ever so slowly.
Because a year of PT failed to render significant gains, we resorted to surgery on Nov 27th. Due to the right-brain injury, she walks on the side of her left foot which is inverted. Her toes are cramped, slightly mangled. She needs the structure of orthopedic sneakers constantly. She puts them on before she gets out of the shower, or on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The impairment on her left side not only effects her gait and her balance… it hurts. Because she was an athlete and learned to “play hurt” she toughs it out. But after 15 minutes at Target, she’s had it.
In the 4 months Julia was hospitalized, through many invasive procedures, I only saw her cry twice.
Once when they pulled the feeding tube out of her stomach with no anesthesia. Once at the first of those medieval nerve-blocker treatments on her legs.
The night after the surgery there were more tears than sleep. A logical, but unfortunate result of the Opioid epidemic in our country are more conservative controls on pain meds. Add to that, Julia’s reluctance to “annoy” staff (and since she is 21 she has to demand herself) it was hard to relieve her. By 1 AM she was begging me to remove the cast. “Just for a few minutes.” No, Sweetie, we can’t. Through this, her main concern was me. “I’m sorry you have to see me cry, This must be hard.”
“Are you kidding me, you know I love tears. Let’s hold hands and cry, and breathe and pray together and not be afraid.” It was a long night. At one point an aide accidentally bumped her bed and you’d have thought she was tazed.
It took my sister’s text, “Please gently remind Julia that when she’s in pain, we are too” and my encouragement, “Just like you speak up for marginalized groups on campus, you must speak up for yourself now” to get through to her. They finally upped her meds and by 5 AM she fell off. They woke her again at 6 to check vitals and administer meds. That 1 hour was an oasis in the desert.
3 months later, she is still in the boot that replaced her hard cast so we’re not sure of the outcome. When they removed the cast initially to transfer her to the boot, her PT asked if it was upsetting to her to see the scars from her surgery as they had severed, spliced and reattached several tendons. (I smiled to myself because I know Julia thinks of them as symbolic, like a tattoo) “I don’t mind my scars,” she told her PT. “They’re like a road map of where I’ve been.”
You will hear from Julia about meeting the driver who hit her, Malchijah Gibbons, at his status hearing in December. After which he submitted a lengthy commentary on all 12 of the JFBelieve blog posts as well as answering the 4 Restorative Justice questions: What were you thinking when you did it? What are you thinking now? Who are all who were impacted by your actions? How can you make amends?
Pouring over Malchijah’s many words took weeks for Julia and I. It was like reading a book where you read a chapter of events from one person’s experience, then read the same chapter from another’s.
He begins with a disturbing dream he had 6 months prior to the accident of his son hitting a young woman with his car. It shook him enough for him to have a sit-down with his son about careful driving.
On December 13, the night of the accident, he was on his way to a choir rehearsal, at a church where he was the organist. He was late. He had taken this route down City Line Ave many times. He saw the light change. He watched the sedan ahead of him in the outer lane slow to a stop. He told himself he could still beat it and gunned the engine. Next thing he knew something flew into his windshield, projected into the air and landed on the pavement. Oh God, oh God, oh God… He talks about standing over Julia’s near-lifeless body, digesting the horror, praying she’d live. This continued long into the 1st of his nights in his jail cell. While we were at the hospital begging God for the same.
Even though our appeal to the judge for a different form of justice in his sentencing, that would spare him significant jail time, was a relief, he said Julia’s graciousness and forgiveness tore the hole in his heart deeper.
When someone offers a benevolence to you that you don’t deserve, it can steel (not steal) your resolve to be deserving. Tom Hanks told his charge in Saving Private Ryan to “Earn this.” He went on to do just that. Hopefully Malchijah will do the same.
He says that 1 of the parishes he played for “dropped him like a bad habbit.” The second surrounded him and prayed for Julia at every mass.
Maichijah was particularly moved by Julia’s brother Bo’s college essay which gave him a tsunami of a gut check. “I’m so sorry Bo for what I put your family through.” He speaks of Julia’s dad and I and the 4 daughters he has and can’t imagine not being hell bent on vengeance.
To Julia, he said, “You are truly a rarity. I will never forget your impact statement: ‘I was a Sophmore in college when you hit me. Learning is my greatest passion. Now it is my greatest challenge. This is tragic to me. That is what you took from me when you hit me.’ How can you ever make amends for that?” He had a few ideas and so do we. It seemed apparent that, like Private Ryan, he would spend the rest of his life trying.I am sensitive to those among you who do not support the idea of restorative justice and prefer punitive justice instead. It’s natural. Julia is certainly not the only one who lost something. My sister put it plainly months back by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m pissed.” I loved for saying that. I know it’s heavy. Her interest, like many of yours, is accountability.
“Thank you for holding that for me then,” is all I could say.
“Thank you for seeing it that way,” she replied.
The last thing I’ll say, for anyone who is travelling a similar path of unchartered waters: When a person changes, their relationships change, too. It has been a wonder and a journey to watch the relationships around Julia ebb, flow and evolve. You will hear her speak about the delicate evolution with her longtime, dutiful boyfriend. With his permission, we speak about it only as an honest testament to her journey and how it spins out effecting others. We’re all intricately connected.
Some weeks ago, I saw a movie called The Theory of Everything. I immediately saw Julia’s boyfriend in the stalwart devotion of the Protagonist, Stephen Hawking’s girlfriend then wife. I texted him and asked if he had seen the movie. Ironically, he responded that he and Julia had “seen it in the theatres together… Winter break 2014.” Just then I remembered the length of their tenure.
Suffice to say, that started a conversation that culminated in what you will read from her own account. I feel broadened and deepened for having been apart of such an honest, human experience.
Hi Everyone and thanks for your continued prayers!
On October 21’st, my cousin Maria got married in Tennessee. I didn’t know how traveling was going to be with my casted, hurting foot. We had to use a wheel chair so I could transport between gates without being in too much pain. At the wedding, I was surprised to hear the petitions my cousin Maria wrote that my Uncle Billy read. For the life of our beloved Julia, whom we are blessed to have with us today. May all those who are enduring sufferring and hardships be filled with your peace and hope. I was so touched!
On November 28th, I had surgery done on my left leg because after 6 months of out patient therapy, I’m not getting much better. Rather than endless months of trying to rehab, strengthen, and rewire the circuitry, the doctor’s next move was to cut the tendons and rewire them internally.
December 18th was the probationary status hearing for the driver who hit me. At the sentencing 6 months ago, the judge asked my mom if I could be there that day so he could meet me. On my way to the hearing, I honestly didn’t know how I would feel upon meeting Malchijah, Would I feel angry? Sad? I was anxious, but I knew if I was worried at all, he would be feeling so, tenfold. I was hoping my feelings of peace would be seen so we could have an open, honest conversation. I was heartened to see my friend Emily and her mom waiting for us at the courthouse!
When I met him and looked at his face, it seemed to confirm his deep remorse. We had to wait for awhile for the judge to call us. My mom was reading from a book of prayers by a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. I read over her shoulder the one she was reading. After reading, I took the book from her and passed it behind me, where Malchijah sat. He said thank you and that he had to read it a couple times to absorb it.
I didn’t think that I would feel much anger upon meeting Malchijah because that was never a feeling I had. I think I was expecting maybe I would feel angry for what he had done, but also empathetic for the fact he had to carry the weight of those actions. My feelings somewhat matched what I was expecting. I honestly did not feel the anger that I was anticipating was possible. I think this was because of how apologetic he was and how palpable his regret seemed.
He was someone I felt worthy of forgiveness. If he had meant to hurt me, I don’t think I’d feel the same way. His action, however, was definitely not intended and his regret was very clear.
Upon reading Malchijah’s responses to the questions we had given him to answer, I had an overwhelming amount of gratitude for my mother’s idea of sentencing for him, and the fact that it was unfolding as we had hoped it would. Malchijah repeatedly reflects back on his faith, which makes me feel connected to him, as I also pray frequently. Like he does, I believe it is through his and so many other’s prayers that I am here today.
I also felt a sense of empathy for him after reading about his then pregnant wife and other young daughters. Making a mistake like this with that many of your loved ones vulnerable to being impacted as a result must have been terrifying. I am so grateful that he is with them today, and not in a jail cell.
You may not agree with my mother and me, and that’s okay too. I need every ounce of my head and heart space open for hope. My mother has told me in the past, ‘If you’re bent on revenge, dig two graves.’ I don’t want to dig any graves! It is increasingly more apparent to me how connected I am with others. I now understand that, through faith, I am incredibly connected to Malchijah.
He is not a person I knew before the accident, and I still don’t really know him well at all, but he did seem like a changed man. I think what he did would change any person, but upon talking with him, I think that reading what my mom and I have written on our blog has also changed his views on justice, forgiveness, and the power of them both.
I hope I get to know him and his family better.
A BEAUTIFUL CHRISTMAS SURPRISE
This is my beloved Teachers Kevin and Jennifer from Westtown. Teacher Jennifer and I went on the Israel/Palestine trip together 3 years ago. There, we came upon this beautiful rendition of the Blessed Mother. She says she remembers me coming to get her to view it because it made such an impression on me!
3 years later when she returned to Israel with another class, she took this picture for me and had it framed. She said the grace and strength of this rendition of Mary reminded her of me. What a compliment! My Westtown community is incredibly uplifting. I pass this picture everyday now when I walk down the stairs and feel strength and gratitude.
DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF DISABLED?
I had lunch with my boarding school friend, Marissa, recently. She and I are close. I can count on her candor and honesty. She is pre-med and taking a class on disabilities; specifically how people live with them. She asked me, did I consider myself disabled? And if so, how does that make me feel?
I never really thought if I was disabled before that. Maybe because my parents and therapists emphasize I’m a work in progress and that’s what I focus on. The question made me think that others may see me that way. That she may see me that way. It made me look at my life and the lunch we were having from a bird’s eye view.
My honest answer was, “I guess that depends on your definition of disabled.”
She said, “I knew you would say that!”
When it comes to the future, I know the “why”, I just don’t know the “how”. And that’s okay with me.
This past Sunday, I met my boyfriend for dinner. It was just two of us, which was nice because it gave us the space to talk about our relationship. He and I have been more friends than bf/gf for over a year now. In previous years, even if we weren’t together that way, we would talk and text pretty constantly. Over the last 5 years we were always mature about letting each other go when we went back to school. I brought this up to him by stating what was obvious but unspoken, while I’m busy working on my recovery for at least the next year, I wasn’t much available to be anyone’s girlfriend. I love him too much to hold him back.
I mentioned how he and I had been through so many different settings of our relationship over the years. He called them “seasons.” This, I said, would just be another season. We then kind of just looked at each other with a shared feeling of understanding. He then, all of a sudden, got teary eyed, an quickly wiped his face while smiling, looking a bit embarrassed. I can’t remember ever seeing him get choked up before, much less over me, so it was touching to say the least. It made me feel very loved by him.
My dad picked me up from the restaurant and asked about the dinner. I told him how nice it was to be with him, and what a meaningful conversation we shared. When I told him more specifically about the conversation, HE started to get choked up too! This is another person who I have only seen a number of times cry over something like this.
Because I was raised knowing the power and courage of tears, I felt a deep sense of pride over the men in my life and their courage and sensitivity.
The journey of working, thinking, loving, laughing, learning and healing continues… Thank you so much for being a part of it! Love, Julia
Hi everyone, this is Julia speaking! This is me above teaching my 90 year old grandmother Backgammon! My mother has been brilliantly capturing my journey thus far, but I’d like to have a moment to tell you myself.
For about half a year now, my day has consisted of a series of therapies to help my walking and my memory. Although the therapies have truly been a blessing, and I do feel myself improving, it hasn’t made up for the fact that I can’t return to Saint Joe’s.
That being said, I did get to go back to Saint Joe’s earlier this month where I got to see some teachers and friends, and an added surprise of the head of school, Mark Reed! I was greeted at the writing center by my old professor, Dr. Spinner, and we met my friends Emily, Javon, and David as well as friends who have graduated, George and Peter. All of us walked around the campus visiting other past professors, Patrick, Julie, Jamie, and PK, among others.
They have been working hard on campus on safety reforms so what happened to me doesn’t happen to anyone else.
They recently passed this Public Safety Resolution. I am very grateful.
My visit to Saint Joe’s wasn’t my only return to school. I have also started taking a class at my old boarding school, Westtown! There, with my teacher, Kevin, returning to my greatest passion makes my life feel a little more right.
The class is World Religions. It is one I have taken before, with the same set of readings, so it is a good level at which to start my scholastic return. That being said, each reading I am assigned is one that I have to read one or more times, and take notes while reading in order to retain the content of the chapter sufficiently. You would think that this would be frustrating, however, I am so grateful to be back to school that it isn’t.
Religion was one of my majors in college, and greatest passions because I am deeply curious about the infinite, diverse views of the world. Religion is the most important aspect of many peoples’ lives. I’m curious about how beliefs can be so defining and bring us together or divide us. The more I learn about varying beliefs, the more accepting I am of people I meet, which is my first priority.
I think this accident has shown me the quality of the friends that I’ve chosen. They’ve all been so loyal and present.
I also this past month had the privilige of spending time with a college classmate of my mom’s who flew in to meet me. She’s a physician and gave us hope about what she thought were signs of my physical and cognitive progress, considering my injuries. She works with Doctors-Without-Borders and invited my mom, my brother, and I to come on one of her missions this summer in Africa. This is a pure dream of mine. I hope I am fit enough to go.
Thank you Dr. Gretchen for Giving Me a Goal
I met with a surgeon who thinks he can help me walk better and with less pain. My mom left there saying, thank God for first world medicine. The surgery is scheduled for November 28th.
Lastly, my brother arrived at my mom’s last week leaning on the doorbell instead of using his key. When we opened the door, all 6’3 of him was standing there, with the tiniest kitten in his arms! His friend, Joey’s cat had kittens. He looked so funny my mom and I kind of freaked out and burst into laughter. We didn’t know whether to be more shocked or happy. She is a sweet addition to our family. Despite that Bo wanted to name her Rodeo, I’ve christened her “Hillary Kitten”. My PT asked if we were going to put her in pant suits.
Thank you for reading and for your continued prayers.
Note From Mom:
6 months post-discharge, Julia’s physical progress is microscopic.
We work daily on her left side, in PT, OT and and at home. If we didn’t, she might slide backwards. No one really knows. We’ve invested our hopes in an aggressive surgery at November’s end. If she could walk better, she’d have so much more independence.
Where Speech Therapy is concerned (a.k.a Cognitive Therapy), there have been significant strides. Cognitions have improved at a steady pace since we started at Bryn Mawr 6 mos ago. You wouldn’t believe the conversations she’s capable of. Since this is the one thing Julia cares about, we are grateful. Short-term memory is still an on-going challenge.
If you’ve followed this blog, you know Julia’s parents differed about her discharge plans last spring. Each with our own ideas of how to best orchestrate her out-patient recovery.
Sister-in-law Jennifer and friend Kerry nobly put themselves between us like human shields. Brothers Bill and Richard supported further. All walking the fine line of keeping their eye on the prize: Julia.
My friend Elisa, years back, said, “When you’re pushing against something that’s pushing back on you with equal strength, how do you win? Move out of the way. That’s how you win.”
In an elevator last week after scheduling her next surgery at Penn, Julia’s dad and I mused over the number of hospitals she’s been in. When he added Christiana, Julia asked when she was there. When you were born, we answered! Her birthplace hospital… something melted in me. Remembering a hospital where we were in each other’s fox hole, together against the risks, made me move out of the way.
The way Julia and I get through this is to look for the gains and learning from her accident. I’ve highlighted extensively here the compassion, sensitivity and generosity it has brought out in others. Crisies draw out our strengths. Many previously unrealized.“
The strengths I want to highlight in this post are her father’s.
I wrote earlier that I believed Julia and I, because of our spiritual approach toward suffering and the opportunities it offers, were built for this. From watching Pat since discharge, I believe he was built for it even more.
He has his mother’s work ethic. Disciplined, uncompromising, intractable and laser-focused. Many of the things that worked against our marriage are working for Julia now. There are many elements to the insurance-coordination since she has 2 streams (1 from college). Pat is on top of it all. We have different ways of advancing our goal of getting her better. The minutia organization is squarely within his bandwidth and I have to say, he’s great at it. Towards her independence, he’s myopic and relentless. Him doing his part allows me to do mine.
No one is any one thing. We’re a mixed bag of light and dark, all. What we have in common is: We’re most alive when allowed to do what we do best. Many demands of Julia’s recovery are in her dad’s wheelhouse. It’s a pleasure to see someone do what they do so well. We all benefit.
Professors Patrick,Julia’s Dad, Dr. Spinner and Julia on SJU Visit
I also acknowledge Pat’s partner, Chris, and her mother “Grammy”, who spends a lot of time with Julia.` This is something Chris did not bargain for. Along with her very cool kids, she has responded to it generously, with stamina and with grace.
Julia’s accident is tragic. It has changed the trajectory of her life. I’m no Pollyanna, blowing sunshine everywhere. The losses, I grieve in waves. Some days, on the 8th day, when I give her back to Pat, I lay on the couch with the curtains drawn watching Super Soul Sunday on OWN, looking for inspiration and praying to regroup.
We fight to let it bring out the better in us, anyway. Finding meaning through trauma means accepting the daily losses as well as celebrating the gains. Realizing we can be more for both.
As inspiration goes, the following is from my college roommate, Mary Kay, who I have not seen in 20 years:
“I have begun teaching GED classes at the local jail here, in addition to bible study.
Back in Jan/Feb, I read your entire blog to the inmates – in the women’s class and the men’s – and handed out copies. It had a profound effect. One girl cried through the whole class. The guys were dead silent, you could hear a pin drop.
I was really moved by your ‘Restorative Justice’ post. I read that section to the classes and we had a really good discussion. One guy, from Philly of all places, was a Heroin dealer in the midst of his apology to family of a guy who overdosed on his stuff. He said his father was blaming him for the entire situation. He couldn’t believe how mercifully you and Julia were handling the defendant, The other guys really opened up and I can say that they all identified condemnation as never-ending, but that forgiveness keeps us connected to one another and frees usand makes us want to do better. I had one guy ask me about Julia for 6 months until he was transferred. He couldn’t get her out of his mind.
There were tears… hearts and minds were opened. There are prayers coming to you and Julia from this remote local jail. One of my favorite inmates, a young addict off to rehab, took your blog with her to Southwest Colorado.”
On an unusually sunny morning back in March, a week before Julia’s discharge from the rehab hospital where she’d been living for nearly 4 months post-accident, I was about to wheel her into the Speech Therapy session where I was about to receive the upcoming bomb: Where memory is concerned, this is the best it’s going to get.
As God would have it, 1 hour before that, I wheeled her into the cafeteria for coffee and had an unexpected conversation.
In the 4 weeks prior, once Julia began to get language back, I’d often ask her what she was thinking. Every time, my question jarred her and she lost her train of thought. “I’m not sure,” she’d answer.
On this morning, before we got the grave news, as I approached her by the cashier where I left her in the sun while I got my coffee, I asked gingerly, What were you just thinking about?
“I was thinking how grateful I am that we met in heaven and chose to walk this path together.”
I wheeled her to the elevator. I felt like I could push her wheel chair the NY marathon. I felt ready for anything. I told her about a quote I found scribbled on a bookmark I found in a book 2 nights ago. I don’t even know the source. This was it.
Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you’ve chosen it.
Make it your friend and ally.
This will miraculously transform your whole life.
As we made our way up to Speech, where I’d hear the news I wasn’t expecting, Julia was present and peaceful. “Accept everything as if I’ve chosen it,” she repeated to herself on the way there, “I feel like that’s going to change my whole life.”
Accept everything as if you’ve chosen it. We’ve been operating on that mantra since.
Above: Julia gets energy from trees. She was identified at the accident by the tree tattoo on the back of her neck.
JULIA’S 17-YEAR OLD BROTHER’S COLLEGE ESSAY
We’re down by two with five seconds left. My teammate in-bounds the ball to me, I check the clock, take two dribbles, then shoot the three. The ball is in the air as the buzzer sounds. Swish! I score and we win the biggest game of the season. My teammates descend in jubilation. At that moment, I couldn’t imagine life could get any better.
After the celebration, we head to the locker room. My coach beamed about our performance, his excitement for the future palpable. I went to change, and checked my phone. 5 missed calls from my mom. 5 missed calls from my dad. A text from my dad: “EMERGENCY CALL ASAP”.
Both my parents were unable to attend this game because my mom was down the shore with my Grandmom, and my dad was out to dinner for his birthday. When I called back, my dad, in a wobbly voice said,“Julia (my sister) was hit by a car. We don’t know if she’s going to make it.” She was in one hospital being airlifted to another.
What I would learn later is that my 20-yr-old sister was walking across her college campus to meet my cousin when she was mowed down by an impaired driver.
I dropped my phone in complete shock. I couldn’t comprehend it. I had just gone from an all time high to an all time low in minutes. After I got my emotions under control, I picked up the phone and finished the conversation. I called my mom immediately. She just told me not to worry and that everything would be alright. That did not make me feel any better though, because my mom always looks at the positive side of any situation no matter how bad the circumstances. I had so many emotions coming so fast that I thought I might pass out. I couldn’t stop crying.
That night, and the ensuing days were the hardest of my life. I couldn’t sleep from stress and worry. It was difficult to eat. I didn’t want to talk to anyone.
When I got to visit my sister, I felt a small sense of relief. She was in critical condition, but I could see that she was safe. After I saw her that day, I was able to sleep and eat a little better.
I hoped after that, things would get better. They only got worse. It was extremely hard to focus at school knowing my sister was enduring painful surgeries daily to repair her. My grades started dropping as did my basketball season. The smallest tasks took extreme effort.
I realized I had two options: I could continue to let the situation with my sister get the best of me, or I could persevere through and turn it into a positive.
To do this, I turned to my faith. I started going to church more. I prayed constantly. Slowly but surely, everything started to turn around. My grades started to pick up again, and I started to play better in basketball. My faith in God made me stronger. The expression, “Everything happens for a reason”, that my mother always begged me to embrace, kind of released me. Everyday life would still be challenging every once in a while but every time that would happen, I would go to church and pray, and that would make me feel better again.
This not only made my life better but it turned me into a kinder person. I suddenly found myself helping people who I would usually never help before. This experience affected me in many ways, first bad, but then, in the end, good.
My sister survived. She is only a portion of herself. But, 8 months later, she is slowly getting better everyday. I don’t know if she’ll ever return to who she was. I am just grateful she is here.
My sister Julia’s accident was a life changing experience for me. I’m naturally an introvert. My own thoughts are home base. Expressing my feelings is uncomfortable. I’m smart and I’m athletic, but much to my Social Worker mother’s dismay, I don’t have what she calls an “emotional vocabulary”. Perhaps that’s owing to my parents’ contentious divorce. My first thought is always what’s best for others.
Julia’s life-threatening accident this year made m e learn what true stamina is and that what’s inside you is sometimes bigger than you are. It drew me out of my shell to connect with people on another level which I believe will help me for the rest of my life.
After seeing the perseverance she and I were both capable of, plus the connection with God and with others this experience fostered, I can truly say I am better person. For this I am grateful to God… and to my sister. Thank you, Julia.
Bo is right. Julia is still only a portion of herself. But the best portion. After 5 months of 3 day/wk Physical Therapy (where they work on her lower body), Occupational Therapy (where they work on her upper body) and Speech Therapy (where they work on her memory), she has moved up to 4 days of PT because walking is so difficult. After a number of non-invasive attempts, her foot still turns in and her ankle rolls. We’re looking at surgery sooner than later.
She extends her left arm behind her when she walks, for balance I assume. Coordination, range and strength on her left side is about 60%. Things like scratching her back, shaving, or tossing a horse shoe are difficult.
My friend Summer recently asked me, “How are you really… no lollipops and rainbows!’
NO LOLLIPOPS AND RAINBOWS
When you focus intensely on climbing a mountain, all you see is the summit. Not the terrain beyond it. A visual pinnacle for me was imagining Julia dance at her cousin Greg’s wedding in July. I dreamed of this when she lay unconscious at Jeff hospital, while staff were unsure she would wake up or ever walk. (Even though I was sure of both.)
As the wedding approached, I heard the phone ring. After 10 minutes, Julia mosies in, “Gregory asked me to read at his wedding!”
“What did you say?”
“What did I say? I said, ‘I’ll try not to sing it… I’ll try not to rap it… I’ll try not to be dancing when I do it!'”
Above:My sister Susan, her son Gregory and Julia. The pinnacle of my dreams
This wedding followed 2 other boisterous family occasions this summer: One grandmother’s 80th birthday, one grandmother’s 90th, both combined with her 21st.
Mid-August, when the fanfare died down, her brother, she and I had a quiet visit with my mom down the shore. It was then that the terrain behind the mountain, that I’d not allowed myself to see before, came into view.
Walking the 2 blocks to church was difficult. Conscious was I of the people behind us on the sidewalk. I beckoned them to pass us. Walking up to Communion, people nervously moved out of Julia’s way.
Moving through a restaurant is challenging. At breakfast after Mass, I ran into a school mate I often see in the summer. He didn’t recognize Julia. He doesn’t know about the accident. I reintroduced them. He was confused. I was uncomfortable. The waitresses moved uneasily around her. I excused us, politely.
It was a beautiful weekend but Bo went to the beach alone. I’ve been to the beach once this summer – in May. It was disastrous. Julia can not walk on the uneven surface of sand, I discovered. By the end of August, now that her brain and bladder are communicating better, she gets up through the night to use the bathroom. This means removing her intricately strapped sleeping cast and lacing up her sneakers. Just to walk across the hall. Nothing comes easily.
Without frustration, Julia struggles mightily with memory. This affects every facet of daily life. She’s best talking about the big questions of life: Literature, Philosophy, History, Natural Science, Politics, Religion… On these topics, her cognitions are as sharp as ever. Small talk is not in her wheel house. She can discuss Quantum Physics but not answer her therapist on Monday morning when she asks, “What did you do this weekend?” She barely vaguely knows. She guesses.
She’s as interested in others as she’s always been and has many questions she wants you to answer. When she asks you about your life, when she reaches her hand out to you, when she hugs you, she means it.
Her love of film and Netflixing has not returned, unfortunately. She can not sustain the plot lines. 5 minutes into any show, she loses interest and asks me if I want to play Backgammon. She reminds me, if I hesitate one second, that it’s my turn. She has laser focus with cards, dice, scrabble, etc. She beats me at every game. If I took her to AC, I could pay for her therapy.
Everyone asks her when she’s going back to school. She’s been talking this summer about auditing classes at St. Joes this semester. I say, Let’s aim for next. This week she started a class at her boarding school Westtown with her teacher Kevin who has become a family friend. The class is World Religions. Baby steps! In Kevin’s words, after her 1st class on Tuesday: “She’s a rock star… Inquisitive, attentive, engaged, and humble.” Thank you, Kevin.
LOLLIPOPS AND RAINBOWS
The most important thing is this: Despite what I’ve written,amore joyful, peaceful kid you will never meet. That’s the God’s honest truth. Don’t ask me how. She smiles and laughs constantly. 5 times a day she reaches for my hand and tells me how happy she is and how grateful she is to be with me. She says, “Even though I wish I was in school, I feel like being around you I learn even more. How lucky am I?”
She responds to everything that’s suggested, no matter how unsavory, “That’s a good idea.” When I sing the Mary Poppins song, Everyday’s a Holiday With Julia (Mary), I mean it.
Playing a game the other day, where she had to name a “glowing moment”, she thought and said, “I guess I’d have to say, when I made the decision to go to St. Joes. You know, because it worked out so well.” I just looked at her, realizing she was serious. This is “choosing ones attitude in any situation.”
The man who drove unsafely down City Line Avenue on December 13th, blew a red light and hit my daughter, was sentenced earlier this summer. He was charged with 6 counts, 3 of which he pleaded guilty to and struck a deal, avoiding trial. His sentence would be a minimum of 3 days; a maximum of 6 months incarcerated.
The first time I broached the subject of the driver with Julia was after his arraignment back in February. I had to explain why I was not with her that morning..
I will never forget her response.
“You’re not going to break my heart are you?”
Do you mean that the driver might get in trouble?
I understand, Honey. But he did break the law.
“But it’s not even like I’m that hurt.”
I just looked at her. Bed-ridden and unable to walk. Unhealed hole in her throat from a tracheotomy. Feeding tube protruding from her stomach. Angry scars all over her head jutting through her crew cut. It’s not even like I’m that hurt.
THE DRIVER IS SENTENCED
“The victim was taken to the hospital in critical condition. Giddings stayed on the scene, but was arrested for suspicion of DUI. Police also found what appeared to be marijuana in the vehicle.
He has been charged with Aggravated Assault while DUI, Simple Assault and related offenses.”
I was alone in the court-house the day of sentencing. I’d wanted Julia to attend. I thought it would be good for her, the perpetrator, the judge and all involved to hear from her directly. She was at her dad’s that week who disagreed. She prepared a Victim’s Impact Statement instead.
I encouraged her to be as blunt and honest as possible, considering only her feelings, not his. There is a time for forgiveness, I said, but first there is a time for people to embrace truthfully the effect of their actions.
She prepared the following statement:
“I was a sophomore in college when you hit me. Learning is my greatest passion. Now it is one of the things I have the hardest time with. That is tragic to me. This is something invaluable that you took from me when you hit me.”
We gathered at 8:30 AM, to a full court room. As the hours wore on, without the judge, who turns out was at Fox Chase with his own wife, the court room slowly cleared until it was just the driver, his wife and me. 4 hours later, the judge finally arrived. By that time, the driver, his wife and I had exchanged many words. “We pray for your daughter everyday.”
When I took the stand, I read Julia’s statement. I explained, unvarnished, what the last 6 months had been like. I said, we are people of faith. “We do not wish more bad to come from an already bad situation. I said Malchijah is not the first person to try to beat a light, myself included. Malchijah is not the 1st person to drive when they shouldn’t have, myself included. Take a father away from his newborn does not serve Julia or change anything, except for the worse. Rather than languish in a cell for weeks, I have other ideas.”
If you keep reading, it will sound like I asked for clemency. This would be wrong. I’m no saint. I leave that to my 3 sisters, my mom and my daughter. How I got tossed into this mix is anyone’s guess. When it comes to behavior and behavior change, I am a realist. What I asked for was Restorative Justice.
5 years ago, needing CEU (Contin Ed) credits to keep my license current, I found a convenient 3-day conference in Harrisburg called “Restorative Practices.” The headline said it was about an alternative way to treat adolescent offenders (bullies to murderers) that was more effective than traditional punishment.
The focus was on decision-making and amends. In the research, they found that punishment was doing nothing for the victim. Or the community they’ve injured. Certainly not rehabilitating the perpetrator. Punishing people satisfies our own blood lust. There’s a place for that. But it makes the perpetrator more punishing toward others. More loss. Whose gain?
Our correctional facilities aren’t correcting. That’s why there is so much recidivism.
The Restorative Practice approach is about approaching punishment in a more productive way.
4 Questions are asked to people who offend:
What were you thinking when you did it?
What are you thinking now?
Who are the people injured by your actions?
How can you make amends?
Beyond those principles, there was instruction on a new model of decision-making. At the end of the first day, the instructor asked the 30 students if someone was willing to volunteer a dilemma they were struggling with. Personally or professionally. That way we could do the practical lab work of the theory we were learning.
I raised my hand.
Julia, at the time, had just arrived at the high school she’d dreamed of for years. A “prestigious school”, quoting former Vice President, and alumni, Joe Biden, in an Oprah interview. One that her father and 4 siblings attended. That all 3 of her mother’s brothers attended, along with her mother. Where 2 uncles met their wives. Where her father met his. Where the headmaster married her parents.
She had high hopes. Not only because, after years of all-girls private school, was co-ed. But because she saw herself coming into her own there. At Orientation, she joined every club possible. Even one she was supposed to be gay or lesbian to attend. Julia didn’t realize this until the 2nd meeting! I still laugh at that story. Her innocence reminds me of my mother’s. Like I said, between 2 saints, a sinner like me got sandwiched.
It turned out to not be a fit for Julia. Homogeneous, compared to her multi-cultural interests, she found herself lost in cafeteria conversations about make-up and boys. Being the only Freshman on the Varsity basketball team was lonely. The fact that she started made it worse on her.
She didn’t have the chameleon-like ways of both her parents. She wasn’t cut out for twisting herself into a pretzel for others like we did. Her joie de vivre was slipping away. What do I do?
Should a parent push a kid to hang in there, make the best of it, as we have all have to in life, eventually? Or, encourage her to forge a path she is more aligned with?
If I don’t insist on her hanging in there, will it teach her to bail the next time things get tough? Or is this her Robert Frost moment; where the hardest choice is the road less traveled?
Julia went on to transfer to Westtown boarding school and we both consider it among the best decisions of her life.
How is this relevant, you ask.
After the 1st day of this 3 day conference, I took her out of school to attend the next 2 days with me, to her dad’s disapproval. She says she got more out of it than 6 months in school. 5 years later, as she lay in a hospital bed while we discussed our approach toward the driver who incapacitated her, the lessons of that conference came rushing back. (Again, my mother’s expression: The twisted finger of God…)
The maximum 6 mos. The easy lay-up was push for that and maybe get 3, being the only one in the court house for 5 hrs I’m the point guard. Our families have to trust my court vision. I don’t intend to let them, or Julia, down.
Malchijah spent some time incarcerated but not 6 months. Instead, he and his family are compelled to read this entire blog. He is to write a thoughtful response to it, to you and to I, in this very blog. He is to demonstrate that he appreciates the full impact of his actions not only on her, but on our entire community. He is, after that, to meet Julia, myself, her dad, and any of our family members who are interested in hearing his apology. He is to tell us his ideas of how to make amends.
I understand if this isn’t satisfactory to interested, loving, supportive parties. I respect that. In the end, I need as much of my energy on a daily basis to get this girl better. I’ve no disposable energy for anger and resentment. Forgiveness is 4 times as powerful and healing as vengeance.
Thank you for understanding.
Julia, you recently wrote on Caring Bridge that you are grateful. What are you grateful for?
“Well, I’m only half-blind. (pauses) I could be totally blind. How lucky am I that it’s my left side that’s hurt and not my right..?
If you think about it, that could have been anyone who happened to be crossing the street that night. I have such a strong support system. I’m just glad it was me.”
Some people will think that kind of attitude is unseemly. Or a put-on. Summer would call it lollipops and rainbows. If I print that, people will think we’re religious nuts.
(Laughs) “I guess there are worse things than being known as a religious nut.”
What do you think the purpose of your accident was?
“Dan’s sister said it was for connectivity and healing, didn’t she?”
She did. What are your personal goals?
“I just want my memory back so I can learn. I don’t mind if I walk this way forever. I just want my memory back. (pause) You said we’re going to write about this and speak about it to help others, right?”
Yes. We already have.
“You’re right, we already have. Let’s keep going.”
2 weeks ago, when I went to preview 2 months of recording Julia’s progress, before publishing, I accidentally deleted it. Distraught, I knocked on my neighbor’s door. We set her millennial daughter on it, telling me nothing is ever really deleted. 2 hours later, I returned home crestfallen. I haven’t opened my lap top since. It’s more than ego. (Though I did feel like the student on the lawn trying to grab their blown papers as they scatter in the wind..) I have a duty to Julia to be her memory. So she takes this blog on for her own. So she can make meaning from this trauma in her own way. Just as I am.
It’s hard to write when there’s so much to say. You have to get inside of it and let go. It’s easy to judge each syllable from the outside. I’m always self-critical, but sometimes I read what I’ve written and wonder where it came from… Like I had nothing to do with it. My sister compares it to her singing. She opens her mouth and half marvels at what comes out. Like she’s just a conduit. The rest is the Holy Spirit. As I’ve quoted before, Mother Theresa referred to herself as a ‘Pencil in the hand of God’.
Sometimes the gifts we’re born with feel like burdens. I guess that’s part of the reason people don’t live into them. I watch my nieces and nephews who are athletically skilled and the sacrifices they make to obey them. My son has something called “court vision” which I can only understand as instinct. I watch him look one way, then throw the ball the other, and see his teammates score. A non-athlete, I think, How did he do that? The 1 out of 10 times it goes out of bounds must effect his confidence to trust himself to do it again. To keep passing, keep shooting… I feel that way about writing. My sister must feel that way about singing. You might feel that way about your special aptitude. Our call is to push through it. To trust that what’s at the end of the risk is worth it. It took me 2 months to push through mine in what you are reading right now. Then I lost it. Then I anted up again. I had the benefit of being in a relationship with someone after my divorce whose son struggled and fought for who he truly was despite convention. He’s one of the people I think of when I push myself to speak up and fight for mine.
By way of an update, in the 10 weeks since Julia has been discharged, there has been incremental progress. At first, her coordination on her left side, the result of her right brain injury, that impacts the speed and steadiness of her walking, and overall balance, exceeded that of her neuro-development, more specifically memory. More recently that has flip-flopped. Despite countless strategies to get her left foot to plant flat, she walks on the side of it, and before long it’s too painful to continue. It takes her 3 efforts to stand up from the couch. I watch her in her head say 1, 2, 3…
On May 3rd, classmates at SJU staged a protest on City Line Avenue about public safety.
On May 8th, there was a Town Hall Meeting on campus to address students’ concerns. I was counseled by our lawyer not to attend, so I sent a statement instead that was read. My cousin Owen, who has 2 daughters there himself, was good enough to attend and give me the blow by blow. He said it was very well attended. He said my statement was effective. I am moved and inspired by the mobilization of students to enact changes that will prevent something like what happened to Julia, happening again. This is a time when people are listening to young people. I love that they are using their strong, collective voice for good.
Julia has been subjected to a number of medieval nerve-blocker procedures that take 10 years off my life. They allow the doctor to stretch and manipulate her ankle and foot in unnatural positions, then hard-cast her that way. After 3 days, she has them cut off (relief). Then days later, recasted again. More nerve-blockers, more botox shots, more casts. Each time, we watch hopefully. “Do you see any change?” we ask each other, optimistically. Maybe…?
After several weeks of this, on the most beautiful weekend at the shore last weekend, beach-lover-Julia begged off going to the beach. It’s just too painful to walk on the sand, she apologizes. More trial-and-error procedures are ahead. More trial casts, night braces, splints, endless stretching. I stretch her every morning bleary eyed at 6 AM before she can plant her foot flat enough to brush her teeth. We are probably looking at surgery sooner than later. No one knows for sure. Everything else must be exhausted first.
If you haven’t seen her since before the accident, you will experience Julia as about 50% of her former self, improving .05% daily. On average, her ambulation is 30%. As stated, she continues to roll her ankle and has limited range of motion on her left side, making balancing tough. Her working memory is 40%. She is most comfortable playing games where she can mono-task, and has become quite the card shark. I am excited when I beat her at Uno. Her love for film has not returned. Plot details are too complex for her to hang onto long enough to integrate and sustain. Which she realizes, with patience, which is uncanny and beautiful for me to watch. If I couldn’t follow my favorite shows, I’d be less than patient!
Her physical scars are about 60%. She had her first hair cut. Her brain and her bladder are communicating well now during the day, which gives her much greater independence. Through the night, it continues to be challenging. She eats and drinks constantly! Turns out, brain repair takes a ton of hydration and calories! Somehow, she’s still tiny. We call it the Life-Threatening-Accident Diet. Brain-injury jokes are rife. Finding humor in trauma is as vital as finding meaning in it.
Her personality is 110%. I say this because, in addition to her original essence, she’s developed a new patience and humor about life. She teaches me every day about gratitude. 5 times a day she tells me how grateful she is to be with me, and how lucky she is. “I must have been Martin Luther King in a former life, to be your daughter, Mommy.” What a coincidence, I answer, I feel the same way.
I catch her quietly genuflecting (crossing herself) here and there, throughout the day, which is a new thing. “Were you praying, Honey?” She looks up as if I’ve caught her doing something private, so I don’t ask anymore. The first few times the answer was: “I guess I was just thanking God for everything… my family… my healing…” Julia was Catholic by tradition before the accident, but more Buddhist recently in spirituality, which jive more than people realize. After the accident, she seems much more of both. Her dad sometimes takes her to morning mass on week days. She doesn’t mind getting up.
Despite the pain and discomfort, we walk as far as we can, several times a day, because she has to build up stamina. I engage her mind to distract her body. “I wonder why God made the wind invisible, that the only way we know it’s there is by its effect on the trees?” I muse. “Maybe to teach us the most powerful things that effect us aren’t visible but still real,” she says. We’re interrupted by a car sidling up, rolling down the window, presumably for directions… A concerned man asks, “Do you need help?” We look at him, and then each other, as if everyone doesn’t hobble around the neighborhood, holding hands, lost in conversation and laughing.
A classmate of Julia’s from boarding school asked last month if she could interview me for a final paper for a college course called Medical Anthropology. (?) The course, she explains, is about examining the interventions current medical service delivery does or does not meet actual patients’ needs. For example, she tells me, “If someone has X disease, and they undergo 7 surgeries, does that really advance their quality of life?” She says she’s been following this blog and interested in what, to her, is a novel view on illness. I feel flattered but skeptical I can add anything.
Before she comes over, she tells me she’d prefer to interview me without Julia. That way, my answers are more “raw”. When I share this with Julia, we smile at each other and she reads my mind – I’d probably be inclined to be more honest if she were there. We both laugh. Julia’s presence has a grounding effect that keeps things real for everyone.
When I ask this classmate, Marisa, what kind of questions to expect, she says, “Basically how your relationship with Julia has changed.” I want to be a good subject but I admit, “What if it hasn’t?” She tells me to just say that. Then she says she’ll be asking questions about my experience as a “caregiver”. I feel dumb and stymied in the face of this question, also. There are no caregivers here is the truth. Only care ex-changers. She says to say that, too.
I time Julia’s nap with Marisa’s visit and, as God would have it, she takes an unusually long one. She and I talk outside under the trees for 2 hours. A whip-smart biology major, she tells me the class is filled with pre-med students. The professor’s intention is to shape future docs and caregivers in the direction of patient’s real needs, not academic ones. I take this opportunity to make my pitch about desperately needed mental health “best practices”. I tell her my opinion about how technological progress has eclipsed behavioral health progress. “How is it that my phone can start my car but something like Penn State and a Sandusky can happen?” I query. How is it that we don’t know what causes Pedophilia? How is it that we don’t know how to cure it, and we don’t know, to what degree, it is contagious? How many of those who are “infected” go on to be perpetrators? If we don’t know, doesn’t that constitute a public health concern?
A serious interviewer, she takes copious notes and asks solid follow-up questions. I feel grateful, suddenly, that I don’t have to work today. That I can sit outside while my healing daughter enjoys her ‘cognitive rest’, while I trade stimulating thoughts with a mover and shaker who will go on to effect the future of healthcare. I feel, once again, the connectivity and purpose that has marked Julia’s journey from the start. Finding meaning through trauma is imperative. It’s been raining in abundance around me since.
Her third question takes me off guard the most. So off guard that I can’t recall the exact language. The essence is about “appearance.” Appearance? Subtext, I interpret: ‘What’s it like to have a daughter whose outward appearance has been significantly altered?’ Quite a courageous question! My nonplussed expression must make me look naive.
After I think, I say, Listen, I’m no Bohemian like Julia. I was a cheerleader (my kids won’t let me forget). When I was her age, I had the best (worst) home-perms. I like Ann Taylor. I like my pedicures. I get what you’re asking. I’m sure I, subconsciously or otherwise, trade on my looks like any other shameless red-blooded American woman. I understand that beauty is currency; power. Pushing 50, I’m aware that there are only so many more times I’m going to be able to get through the toll booth with no money.
She laughs while I let myself ponder ‘appearance’ in terms of Julia… A blue-eyed, blonde with slim hips and long legs, I guess she does draw stares at Target now for different reasons. But, because she’s impervious to it (as she’s always been)… and because when you’re with her, her spirit takes up all the space around you… you’re unaware of anything else, too. That’s the corny, honest answer. All I see is beauty. So I think that’s all anyone else can see. And if they don’t, the unbelievable (to me) truth is,it doesn’t matter. Having been conditioned by a youth-worshiping culture, just like you have been, where old women are invisible, I never thought I would see it that way. But I do now. Thank you God for such a gift. Before I’m invisible. Talk about freeing!
Month before the accident. Doesn’t shy from a dare.
Speaking of 50, my BC roommates hosted a birthday reunion for me in CT. I folded in a visit with my closest brother Richard and his wife, Danielle, who live there, as well, which was meaningful. I got to spend time with their daughter Brynn, who is as bright and socially conscious as her cousin, and who reminds me so much of her. So much talent and promise! The 3 hours in the morning, in our pajamas over coffee, we spent jawing, went by like 3 minutes. I could write an entire post about the daughters my brothers – all 3 of them – have raised. All 8 of these young women make me proud to be a Furey.
My college roommates, then, provided a different kind of prescription the doctor ordered! Coffee-table-dancing! I haven’t blown off that much steam, or laughed that hard, since 2017. The gold “balance” bracelet they gifted me is still on my wrist. The “strength” earrings are still in my ears. I continue to be overwhelmed by the connectivity, or reconnectivity in this case, Julia’s accident has catalyzed. I rode the train home to Philly Sunday night, grateful to God for all the “color purple” I see everywhere.
In a delicate moment, approaching Julia’s discharge from the hospital, my best friend growing up, and a plain-spoken, realist, Traci, rather than tell me I can do it, takes the opportunity to tell me how hard the road ahead will be, that she fears I’m not realistic about. I remind her that we all had newborns! She says, So what? “Well what did you do with Sammy?” I challenge. Without a beat, she says, “I put him in a swing!!” Then she adds, “SEE YA!” Since we were 6, she knows how to make me laugh.
What I’m facing is hard, but it’s the good kind of hard. What thousands of kids separated from their parents at the border are facing is the bad kind of hard. I did my dissertation in grad school on Reactive Attachment Disorder, which is a big term for the effects of taking kids (usually from foster home to foster home) from people with whom they are attached, and on whom they depend. No matter your beliefs on keeping our borders strong, a worthy discussion, the health consequences for these kids are serious and will, inevitably, be visited upon us all. There will be regression in these kids of all kinds. Hygiene development, paranoias, acting out aggressively toward their peers, distrust of authority. Their psyches can’t process the adrenaline surge their nervous systems are experiencing. It has real effects, and is a credible public health concern.
We our curating the kind of violence we are trying to stem in our schools with our gun control debate. Let’s take the long view and see how actions and consequences are connected. The shelters aren’t the problem; the exorbitant cost isn’t either. It’s the separation from the parents. For even 72 hours. Tent cities are breeding grounds for trauma that will twist in our direction with no good end for anyone. Every time a child is separated from their parents, the next time they are, even for an hour, they will think it’s forever. Trust is obliterated.
When you can’t trust anyone, psychological consequences follow that we all will absorb. The usual talking heads will scratch their heads on the Sunday morning news shows when it ends in violence, and wonder why. Crimes are the combo of 2 things: Motive and Opportunity. In a free society, we have little control over opportunity. The motive, we do. All random violence has one thing in common: Social Isolation. Do your best to teach your kids that an injury to one is an injury to all. No good or bad deed exists in a vacuum. Everything has a ripple effect. We’re all connected. For better or for worse.
Thank you for your continued prayers and support. They mean more than we can express. You have a stronger hand in lifting up Julia’s continued progress than you know… One foot in front of the other!
Julia’s Godmother Susan and her teacher Kevin from Westtown