by Wendy Keller, survivor, thriver
I was 26 years old when my children died in that terrible car accident. In seconds, I went from being an active mother of two to completely emotionally and physically devastated. The doctors predicted that if I lived, I’d probably never walk normally again.
I didn’t care about walking. I didn’t care that my entire left side was broken into thousands of pieces and I had all that internal damage. I just cared about dying.
When I woke up in the hospital after my extremely long surgery, fully aware that my children were in the morgue below, I had to face a whole new life. My children were gone. My body was gone. My identity as a mom was gone. My hope was gone. The way I added it up, I had nothing left to live for.
I know some of you have also felt that way, or perhaps feel that way now.
I tried every method of suicide I could think of that was available to a woman who could not even feed herself. But the suddenly-vigilant nurses busted me every time I hoarded pills or tried to somehow make it to the open window to throw myself out.
Eventually, I was released to live in a hospital bed in my own living room. I hated my life. I hated my body. I hated the angry, self-obsessed cripple I’d become.
My emotional and physical pain were off the charts.
Then someone insisted we attend a support group for bereaved parents at a local hospital. I had finally become able to sit in a wheelchair after months of lying on my back. So one night, my husband pushed me into a meeting room full of also-bereaved parents.
I didn’t know my whole life was about to change.
Something happened there that altered my destiny from that day to this – more than 20 years later. (This one story has inspired so many people who’ve heard me tell it when I give a speech or a workshop or write about it.)
I want to share this with you now. Because if you think about it, it applies precisely to your situation, too.
That first night, the director – a woman in her late 50s – greeted us warmly. We’ll call her Pam. All the parents sat in a big circle of chairs and starting with Pam, we went around the circle telling how our child(ren) died. Pam said her adopted son “Little Billy” had put a bag of natural gas over his head and committed suicide! Ghastly! Around the circle: the nanny left the pool gate open; hydroencephalitis; drunk driver; SIDS; teen suicide; so on. Jeff and I told our story and it was surprisingly cathartic to say it in front of so many understanding bereaved parents.
I chose to go back. Jeff did not.
Next time, I wheeled myself into the circle and we did it again. Pam starts with Little Billy. The nanny; SIDS; suicide; and so on. I tell my story. I wonder when do they get to the “here’s how you handle this” part? Maybe that’s later? Afterwards, there’s a little coffee and cookies thing. I talk to Pam and find out that her husband divorced her after Little Billy died; she has three grown daughters and possibly grandkids but none of them speak to her anymore! This poor woman! She’s suffered so much! And her whole life is so nobly dedicated to this group. I’m so touched by her sorrows.
I come back the third time… (SPOILER ALERT: This is the event that changed my life!) …Pam starts with the Little Billy story, but this time, she’s sobbing incoherently! If I didn’t know the story about the natural gas and the kitchen and finding him, I wouldn’t know what she’s saying. Apparently, I misunderstood and hers is fresh grief. Or maybe today would have been his birthday? She’s shaking and incoherent with sorrow.
We’re not supposed to ask any questions, but I’ve already learned people in wheelchairs can get away with anything. So I interrupt.
“Pam, how long ago did Little Billy die?”
She looks at me like a deer facing an oncoming car. Her eyes get very wide. Then she wails….”Twenty-six years agoooooooo!”
In that instant, at that second, right then and there I knew that…
Unless I chose a different future, unless I made a 110% commitment to find a way to handle my life’s tragedy…
I would end up like Pam! I wheeled myself out of the room as fast as I could and sat in the parking lot, shaking with emotion, waiting for Jeff to come back to pick me up.
Pam was the Ghost of Christmas Future for me.
She showed me by her horrible example – alienating everyone who once loved her – the very high price of choosing to keep my Victim Identity as Bereaved Mother prominently displayed. I don’t believe it affects my dead kids one way or the other if I live like Pam or live the life I’ve chosen, full of wonderful friends and family, adventures, love, joy, happiness, learning, peace and service to others. But it affects me! And your choices affect you – and mostly, only you.
You may not have met your own Pam, that’s why I’m sharing mine. From her bad example, I learned that
You can choose whether or not you recover.
Make a new commitment to choose to live abundantly, happily, joyfully, gratefully while you are still alive.
I know absolutely for certain that if I could do it, you can too.
We all suffer. Everyone’s life has traumas, hardships, difficulties and weeping. It’s how you choose to handle it that determines who you’ll be in 26 years.
Choose to live your life!