By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski.
I lost my son on December 3, 2011.
My sweet, cheerful boy with his contagious grin, ever helping hand, and heart of pure gold was gone in the instant his car slammed into the stone wall. What was left after intensive surgeries was an unmoving, minimally conscious body, kept alive only with the help of machines, monitors, wires, and loud, piercing bells. What was left according to medical charts and the doctors in their own insensitive words, was a vegetable, was no hope, was a severe case of traumatic brain injury. What was left was not the boy I knew and loved and mothered for 17 years. I still had a warm body, but on that day I lost Damon.
Damon’s story, is a story of faith, a mother’s healing love, gut instinct, blind hope, miracles. It is the story of the rippling effects traumatic brain injury has on family and friends. But most importantly, it’s the story of an amazing boy who just refuses to give up, who faces each day with resilience, determination, and a heart bursting with so much appreciation for life.
Damon lives at home with me and his two beautiful sisters who have each played a major role in his recovery. He has made huge strides in his recovery, but still has a full journey ahead. Today marks three years of progress. Three years of loss. Three years of hope. And three more years we have been able to enjoy Damon.
Tomorrow will be three years.
Three years. We’re not through the tunnel, but the tunnel has side lights, it has lights wired in, it’s not total darkness all the time anymore; although the bright light at the end is still so far away, still so very dim.
As we journey past those side lights, life’s amazing windows in that tunnel, we see two beautiful sisters flourishing despite what life has handed them.
One highly achieving in school, in sports, becoming the most loving sister to her big brother, planning now her own future, based pretty much on his experiences. I don’t know many adults who could have endured what she did throughout these last three years, and handled it with such grace and such strength. Many can’t and won’t ever understand her part in this journey and may always continue to judge it, but they never, I am certain, could have filled her shoes, or walked her path.
We see the other sister redefining what she thought her life path would be; finding her inner peace, a journey on its own; helping others find their inner peace; opening her own yoga studio so close to home, so far from what and where she thought she’d be today, prior to that day, three years ago.
We forget, until we look back, the hidden toll this journey must have taken on both of them.
We forget until we look at the happy, before pictures: a grinning brother lifting his sisters up in bear hugs, driving them in his Jeep, taking care of them both; a brother who appears stronger than life.
We don’t realize the extent of their loss until we compare it to the after pictures: sisters spoon-feeding that same brother; holding him up because he can’t sit on his own; pushing him in his chair.
We never see in any of the pictures what the past three years have emotionally cost these sisters, their inner turmoil, their demons, their struggle to accept. What we only see is their beauty, not their strength; their smiles, not their pain.
We never see that both of them had to grow up way too fast, way too much on their own. We don’t see their heart aching, their silent comparison of the brother that was to the brother that is. We don’t see that they both face their loss anew every day, a fresh sorrow, as they walk down the stairs each morning, toward his bed.
The darkness still sometimes overcomes much of the light, as we move through our days. Emotions constantly collide as grief slams into joy, anguish meets up with gratitude.
We lost the boy we had, there is no way around that, and we grieve for him, for us, and for his lost dreams and ours as well. On the other hand, our gratitude that he is still with us and our unconditional love for him is beyond measure, but it’s a teeter totter inside our minds, happy and sad, up and down, day by day, minute by minute.
We’re ok for a while, and then we’re not, and then we are. Up and down. Up and down. The new norm. Ever changing emotions, never finding their level ground.
The train speeds through the tunnel, speeds by the side lights, toward the light at the end, still so far away….scaring me sometimes that I am wishing away the ride so I can just get to the bright light. I’m terrified to think that what if after all we’ve endured, after all this time chasing the bright light, we never get there or it is not so bright.
What if it is forever dim?
Three years is forever. Three years is a blink of the eye. It just depends which side of the teeter totter you’re on that day, or which part of the tunnel you’re driving through at that precise moment.
Karen Pyros-Szatkowski is a full time caregiver, nurse, cleaning lady, cook, and the best mother in the world all in one. Her 20 year-old son, Damon Szatkowski, was in a car accident a little over two years ago and lives with a TBI (traumatic brain injury.) She is also the mother of two beautiful daughters (can you tell her daughter wrote this bio?) You can follow her story or contact her through Facebook or at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Her daughter wrote this bio.) 🙂