In 2002, this was a beautiful, blue sky, sunny day. I was finishing a paper I had hanging over my head, long overdue and necessary for me to finally, finally finish a graduate degree I'd technically completed three years earlier. My parents were sitting on the deck at their lake house. My brother was riding his motorcycle on a long road in Virginia with a few of his friends who had just rounded the bend ahead of him.
I won't ever forget that day because it is the day I logged off the dial-up internet service at my parents house and the phone immediately rang and the hospital chaplin told me my brother my brother had been in an accident, was being transported from the ER to the ICU, and yes, that it was very, very serious.
You may know the story. I've talked about it many times here and other places. That day changed the course of the lives of everyone in my family and so this day is one that need to acknowledge.
[My brother at age 11 or 12. Such a baby face. I mean...so cool.]
I call this day my brother's Survive-iversary. I occasionally envision my brother in his toughest moments --- swollen, marred by road rash, stapped down and cuffed by a neck brace and countless tubes. Fitfully unconscious for days. Crying out in confusion and pain when the coma began to recede. Taking his first steps after re-teaching his body to walk. Sipping rootbeer floats in celebration of being released to do rehabilitation in Chicago, then to return to school again months later.
Even those celebrations were hard. The constant process of letting go of someone so vulnerable made my parents and I ache, even as we toasted rootbeer floats back at him, even as we thanked God when his skull, jaw, teeth, tracheotomy wound, scars, and pieces of his life mended.
The balance of that is that we did find joy, laughter, and amazingly, some good times in the midst of all that pain, in the harsh light of the hospital. In the years since we have found ways to do that again and again when the road ahead of us is uncontrollable and bending, grieving and healing, crying and laughing in turn.
Last year, I didn't write about my brother's survive-iversary here. It was just too much at that time for me. But like we do every year, he and I shared a moment together on the phone. Just like it all began, we stopped what we were doing and focused in on that moment in time.
[My family, last summer in Virginia.]
This year, we exchanged acknowledgements on Facebook before we found each other on the phone. The messenger may be changing but the message is the same. This year, unlike others, I did not cry. But on this beautiful, blue sky, sunny day, I did feel the same rush of relief I did when I finally got there, became the first family member to arrive in the ICU seven years ago, the same rhythmic prayer of thanks:
He's alive. He's alive.
It was enough. It was everything. It was June 29th.
Our own little public service announcement: My brother suffered a traumatic brain injury and was wearing a helmet. We still advocate helmet laws in every state, angering some commenters and connecting us to others. You can read more about our efforts to promote helmet laws and helmet use here and here.