Friday, September 27, 2013

The Other Side of The Other Side

It has been a while since I've spent any time in this space... Life has been busy and not afforded me much time to spend here. And in all honesty, this space has been consciously avoided at times. But we are nearing that time of year again when the air is crisp and fills my chest with dread. My mind starts to drift places that I typically don't allow it to stray. And there is something that has been on my mind since Monday, July 22nd...

When Ellie died, my life changed forever. In fact, the second Ellie entered the PICU in critical condition, my perspective on everything instantly changed. It quickly became obvious that those who had not stood where we had did not understand. Most tried, but never really understood. I found great comfort in those who were on my side- The Other Side. 

The Other Side... On this side, a nurse has looked at you with incredibly sad, knowing eyes. A doctor has sighed before walking up to you to say the words that you will remember forever. On this side, you have had sleepless nights at the hospital and spent hours in prayer, begging for a miracle. You may have had a conversation with a serious man in a tie that ended up with you picking out a casket or burial spot for your loved one. On this side, you have walked back through your door wondering what the hell has just happened to your life.

It is hard on The Other Side- impossible at times. Suffocating, lonely, desperate and out of control. It is sad, full of regret and guilt. To me, I could almost see a physical wall between me and those who were not on The Other Side. Being on The Other Side is all consuming and it is blinding. It isn’t that you stop caring about those you once stood with, but you just can’t see past where you are at now.
The wall never completely goes away, but I think, over time, it becomes more transparent. You get glimpses of what is going on over there and sometimes remember what it was like before the wall. You remember that there are loved ones still over and maybe, you understand that it hasn’t been easy for them either. It is hard on them having you on The Other Side…

On the evening of Monday, July 22nd, 2013, Dave and I were powering through another dinner with the kids. Life here was our normal. Kids throwing food on the floor, demanding more fruit and Dave and I were looking forward to bedtime! We had no idea that we were about to cross over to The Other Side of The Other Side.

Right at the end of dinner, Dave’s phone rang. It was the call no one ever wants…
Our brother-in-law, Travis, and one year old nephew, Layton had been in a bad car accident. All we knew was that they were on their way to the trauma hospital and Dave’s sister, Chrissy, was on their way to meet them. We made plans for my mom to come sit with your kids after they were in bed so we could go down there. Over the next hour, we got confusing bits of information from various people but it became obvious that the accident was much worse than we assumed…
Travis and Layton had been on their way home, when a man fleeing the police, driving down the wrong side of the road, ran a red light and broadsided them. Both were air-lifted to the hospital and emergency personal at the scene were certain that Travis would not make it to the hospital. Layton had a small brain bleed in one ventricle and a bruise on his temple. Travis had a larger brain bleed, a collapsed lung, broken ride, large facial laceration and internal bleeding. Both were intubated and sedated in the Trauma ICU when we arrived.

From the beginning, the doctors were pretty sure Layton would be just fine. And he was. Within a week and a half, he was out of the hospital and mostly back to himself. I have no doubt that during that car accident, his cousin Ellie, laid down right over the top of him. It is a miracle that this beautiful, beautiful boy survived with such few injuries.
At the time of the accident, Chrissy was seven months pregnant. And there were times during those first couple days, when we weren’t sure if that baby would ever get to meet his Daddy or at least the Daddy that the rest of us knew. Conversations were had about survival, catastrophic brain damage, long term care…. It was devastating. It was shocking, heart-breaking and mind numbing. In an instant, the rug was pulled out from all of us. In a split second, everything changed.

As I stood alone in my nephew’s room, next to his crib, holding his hand, I listened to the nurse in the next room explain Travis’ injuries to his wife, parents, grandparents and sisters. I thought about my sister in law Chrissy, and I was sick for her. I knew how I felt as the sister in law to Travis and aunt to Layton. I couldn’t imagine how horrible this was for her. To be seven months pregnant and have your one year old intubated in the ICU and your husband- your support and other half- in the room next door with life threatening injuries, is way more stress than one person should ever have. It was tragic and unfair…

It was there in that quiet room, standing next to my unconscious nephew, that it hit me- this is what it feels like to be on The Other Side of The Other Side. This beautiful, innocent family that we love so much was suffering and hurting, and we were powerless to help them. There wasn’t one thing we could do to make it better. I didn’t have words to make it not hurt so much and I couldn’t do anything to make it go away. We couldn’t make the doctors stop telling her about all the bad things that happened to her family and we couldn’t erase the vision of her son and husband lying in hospital beds from her memory. And when everything was “calm” for the night, we got to go home to our kids, together, who were safe and sound in their beds, and leave Chrissy keeping vigil at her boys’ side.

We were sad, angry, anxiety-ridden and shocked. We hurt for Travis, for sweet little Layton and for Chrissy. We wanted it all to go away. We were sad for not being able to be at the hospital with our family every moment… In these moments, I began to understand how our friends and family felt when Ellie was sick, and after she passed, and when Levi was shortly hospitalized for “meningitis.” They not only hurt for themselves, but for our children and for us. They wanted to make it better, make it go away, yet they were powerless. They were left to hand out hugs and bring bottles of wine, all the while knowing it wasn’t enough. They were grieving for themselves, and for us. They too, had sadness, anger and pain. It wasn’t the same as mine, but just as real.

As I’ve said before, I have very little recollection of many aspects of being in the hospital with Ellie, and the few days after she died. And for that, I am extremely grateful. I most certainly have aspects of PTSD, and can’t imagine how it would be if I had to carry around memories of everything that happened. One thing I don’t remember is how our friends and families were notified when it came time to say good-bye. And I don’t want to know. It might be selfish, but I don’t want to know how it all went down. I don’t want to know how they felt at her funeral, how they felt carrying her small casket or standing at her graveside. I don’t want to know, and I am so grateful that no one has forced that on me. I’m not sure I could handle it. I feel like I can hardly handle my own grief- I think it would kill me to know how hurt our loved ones were and still are.
But being on The Other Side of The Other Side has reminded me just how much our families and friends went through when Ellie died and again when Levi got “sick.” It reminded me that they too were traumatized and forever changed. They dealt with all of that while standing by us while we drowned in our grief. And for that, I am forever grateful. I’m thankful they had the strength to endure it and eternally sorry that they had too. Because if I learned one thing this summer, it was that even though being on The Other Side is nearly impossible, it’s not easy on The Other Side of The Other Side either.


Travis walked out of the hospital just over three weeks after the accident and graduated from outpatient therapy after just two weeks with minimal residual injury from the accident. He isn’t completely 100% yet, but he will get there. Less than two weeks ago, he was there by her side, when Chrissy gave birth to our new perfect and completely adorable nephew, Nash. Without a doubt, we witnessed a miracle this summer….
The second lesson I learned this summer- sometimes there are happy endings…