This is not how it’s supposed to be, I thought as my husband and I packed up our daughter’s belongings from her dorm room.
I choked back tears as I boxed up her barely used Keurig and like-new text books, her fluffy white comforter and coordinating desk lamp. These same items—so full of promise and possibility when we helped her unpack them three short weeks ago—were painful reminders now of how the best laid plans can change in the blink of an eye.
Two weeks into the school year, our daughter, in a fluke accident, sustained her third concussion. Her third traumatic brain injury. And at that moment, her collegiate path was altered.
Instead of living in the dorm and going to classes, she’ll spend the upcoming months living at home to allow her brain the time and the environment it needs to heal. Instead of taking quizzes and attending football games, she’ll be juggling a full calendar of occupational therapy, vision therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, pain management, and most importantly rest.
We had to make the difficult decision to medically withdraw her for her first semester of college. To full-grown adults, it’s only a few months, but to a kid who was eager to begin college life—her next chapter—a few months feels like an eternity. She’s missing the first semester of her freshman year, a season of making friends and football games, of midnight pizzas and communal bathrooms. A season of discovery and wonder.
I keep telling her that the path from point A to point B is not always a straight line, that her path from high school through college will have plenty of curves. But it’s in the curves where we grow the most. That is the place we learn who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s also where we find our strengths and the people who matter. But I don’t think it helps, at least not right now. Right now she needs to mourn. Then she needs to heal. And hopefully, one day she can look back on this experience and see a silver lining in the curves.
My reason for writing about this is twofold. One, I hope to let other parents know they are not alone if their children are not following “traditional” paths or if they are struggling in this season of adjustment. Second, I hope I can offer a small glimpse into the impact (pun intended) concussions can have on young brains so that people will be more understanding and more compassionate of people suffering from traumatic brain injuries.
There are many misconceptions out there. Trust me, I’ve heard them all over the past two years since our daughter received her first concussion. If I had a dollar every time I heard someone say concussions are “no big deal” or that “everybody gets their bell rung once in awhile,” I’d use that pile of money to pay our pile of medical bills!
Her first concussion happened on the tennis court and took several months to heal. Her second, the result of a fall on wet, slippery tile, took several weeks. And here we are again today with no Magic 8 Ball to tell us what to expect for recovery time. That’s the thing about concussions. They affect each person differently. Some people recover quickly, in a matter of a few days. Others, like our daughter are not so fortunate. She’s one of the unlucky people who are more prone to receiving them and require a much longer recovery time.
As a mom, I feel protective and helpless. This is a problem I cannot fix.
I get a little prickly when people make well-meaning comments like, “she looks fine.” Of course she does. Her injury is on the inside. They don’t understand that she starts every day with an excruciating headache, that her super-cute glasses are actually special prism lenses designed to help her eyes as they struggle to focus, or that she misses her social life. A lot. They don’t know how isolated she feels, what it’s like to not be able to read a book or look at a television or computer or iPhone for weeks. She’s eighteen and just wants to feel “normal” and do regular things like SnapChat, drive a car, stay up late, or go to a concert with friends. But she can’t. Not yet, anyway.
After we loaded up the last of her dorm room things yesterday, I spent the three hour drive home working through my own stages of grief. I cried and prayed and dealt with my own fear and frustration, my sadness for her and her delayed dreams.
About half way home, I heard a loud crack of thunder and the sky opened up with rain drops pelting my windshield so hard the wipers struggled to keep up. But moments later, the rain stopped and the sun broke through with radiant beams of light bouncing off the dash. The sunshine after the storm, for me, symbolized hope and reminded me to be grateful. Grateful she’s alive and that she will recover over time. Grateful we get a “bonus” few months with her at home. Grateful for her committed, caring team of docs, nurses and therapists. And oh so grateful for our village—the friends and family who have reached out to her and to us, sending cards, offering much-welcomed hugs and asking what they can do to help.
As I continue to to work through the emotions of this situation, I know I must let go of the words “supposed to” and focus on the present, on “what is.” I must remember to be grateful and keep my priorities in check.
After all, a wise woman once told her daughter that the path from point A to point B is not always a straight line. But it is in the curves where we often grow the most. That is the place we learn who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s also where we find our strengths and the people who matter.
I need to lean into the curves.