This time last year, I received a text message from my friend Kyle. "Have you heard any updates on Jim?" He asked. "Should I?" I asked him, watching The Kid and making sure she didn't wander too close to the edge of the water. "You mean you haven't heard?" He responded. Within 30 seconds, I was on the phone with him. Fifteen minutes later, I was off work and on my way home to be closer and to be with friends for support and a distraction while we waited to hear more.
Jim had a preexisting condition - Ankylosing spondylitis. Coming home from work, he was in a car accident. Making a very long story short (which you can read more about here), Jim suffered a spinal chord injury and is now a quadriplegic. He and his wife spent months in Atlanta at a rehab center, helping them learn their "new normal," helping her learn to become his caretaker, and helping Jim reach his full potential. Updates came in little bits and pieces over the months, mainly from a blog by a friend who kept in close contact with them (I wrote about that blog here and couldn't rephrase it or how I was feeling at the time better.) But this post isn't about what happened a year ago - it's about what has happened since. I have been fortunate enough to watch them evolve in the last year. I have watched them go from just trying to get their feet wet in new experiences to see what their capable of, to coming at experiences full force not afraid to try new things and combine planning ahead and improvising as things arise. They've gone to faires, shows, museums, gone kayaking, hiking, dinner dates, bars, and have done overnights in other states to visit family. As often as we can, we have weekly dinners and make plans big and small. I've watched them grow as individuals and as a couple, and I feel so lucky that I have been able to witness it. Out of all the grief and struggles and adjusting, the biggest change I see isn't their lifestyle or their choices they make - it's simply that they smile more. Something that small makes the biggest difference, I think. They help us all smile more.
Wednesday we had our weekly dinner, inviting a few new faces and adding in another that hadn't been there in awhile. We didn't need to make a big deal over what had happened a year ago - these dinners are a pretty steady thing to begin with. It was brought up and talked about, but not in a way that was labored - their life isn't about what happened a year ago. Their life is about living it and experiencing it and loving it. We grilled and sat around the fire pit enjoying one of the first warmish night of the season. It was peaceful and loving and laid back. We talked and joked and smiled and laughed a lot. At the end of the night, there were hugs all around.
I am lucky. I am surrounded by love and support and smiles and laughter. I am also lucky because I get to be part of that group that surrounds them with the same. For that, I am also very, very grateful.
Although I've already linked it a couple times, I can't mention A Fragile Hope enough. It's a wonderful resource about spinal chord injuries linking to articles, stories, information, and even gift guides. Whether you know someone who is affected, are yourself, or even just want to learn a little more, it's the place to go.