Eleven Years Later

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Sarah Cannon, Washington

This summer I facilitated an experience that gives the phrase “coming full circle” a completely new meaning. It was my mother’s idea. My troubled teen daughter had spent the summer visiting her dad who is a TBI survivor. We live apart and she misses him terribly, or, misses who he was. The kids were little when he’d had his accident and he and I were young, too. We had been in so much love. It was a difficult time then and now.

After our divorce, I took a year off work to learn about what I felt and wrote a book. I knew that if I didn’t do that, I would be stuck in a grief cycle for a long, long time. Part of this backfired. See, while I was processing my sadness and confusion, my daughter was stuffing her feelings way deep down inside. She began to hurt herself and think dark thoughts she kept far away from everyone who loved her.

Who knows why, but it seems my son is less fragile than my daughter. Could be because she lost her special Daddy, and likewise doesn’t have sports or another hobby to fall into to forget all she lost.

My fragile, angry daughter spent this last summer visiting her Dad. When she came home, I took her and her brother to see their dad’s surgeon, the man who put back together his broken skull and eye sockets. The man who knows so much more about brain bleed and subdermal hematoma than we do. I wanted him to show them the scans, to fill in the gaps in our story, to provide scientific documentation I could not.

We parked underneath the city parking garage and took our ticket. We found the right floor and it all came back, all the memories, but I wasn’t scared. I held my head up high and walked with the kids, both nearly as tall as I now. I laughed with them as they play-punched one another and made jokes.

Only the visit was no joke. Dr. Surgeon isn’t a psychologist, but he could be. He asked them how their relationship with their Dad is and I waited, quiet. They nodded and said it’s good, though my son admitted that their Dad is often scatterbrained and impatient. My daughter rolled her eyes a little and said that she doesn’t “remember him from before.”

In hearing that, I sat with the realization that we adults might have imposed a sadness narrative unto the kids, that because their Dad is different now, they must be depressed. But they aren’t. They are only sad that he doesn’t come around very much anymore, doesn’t call. And it’s hard to talk about, because they love him. It’s so hard. I asked the kids if they wanted to see the cafeteria. Yes, they did. We took the elevator and got lost, but found our way, eventually.

The “coming full circle” part came when we left, and the kids were quiet on the ride home. The accident, it was eleven years ago the month we visited the fancy surgeon in the not-so-fancy trauma center. After silence, the kids admitted to each other that they learned some new things. They liked looking at the scans. It’s like a lightbulb got screwed in and there is light where there was once none. I am grateful for the surgeon – he didn’t have to do that. He gave them information squarely and without sentiment, though he did share how much he had liked their Dad, and to please send along his well wishes.