My husband and I practically ran into the Dartmouth ER where we were met with grim news.
Julia was not waking up.
The doctors had removed all sedatives from her system in the hopes that she would begin to awaken, but thus far, she had shown no signs of doing so.
The doctors were awaiting results of the MRI , CAT scans and X rays to ascertain if she had suffered internal bleeding, broken bones, or brain damage.
She was still intubated and alive, but we didn’t know what that meant yet.
I stood next to my daughter holding her limp hand and prayed as I had never prayed before.
Now let me preface this next statement by saying this: I am painfully aware of the fact that there have been parents, husbands, wives, sons and daughters who have stood next to the bedside of a relative and prayed for a recovery that never came. All prayers are answered but not always in the affirmative.
This time, our prayers were answered in a wondrous way.
Julia began to wake up.
Her hands suddenly flew up to the tube attached to her throat and she began to claw frantically at it.
“Julia, honey, it’s okay,” The attending nurse soothed. “We’re going to remove that tube for you in just a second.”
Within a minute, the tube was removed from Julia’s throat. Coarse coughs wracked her body and she started to cry.
“Julia, it’s Mom,” I bent down to whisper into her ear while Doug stood over my shoulder. “It’s okay. You are in the hospital but we are here with you.”
“I just don’t know what’s going on,” she said in a small voice, the tears streaming down her ravaged face.
Those words were among the sweetest sounds I have ever heard in my life. My girl was speaking! She had come back to us!
The good news came in quick succession.
Julia was able to respond to all commands. All tests for internal bleeding, brain damage and broken bones came back negative. She was breathing on her own.
The only broken bones she sustained were that every bone around her left eye was shattered, but they would heal on their own over time.
While her left eye was gruesomely, completely and tightly swollen shut, there had been no damage and her sight would be fine.
There was only one word for what had happened and it came from the mouth of one of the doctors: ““This is a MIRACLE!”
And it was.
Within two days, we brought Julia home.
She had a severe concussion that would take at least a month to heal.
The left side of her face was horribly swollen and would take several months to return to normal but she would not need any plastic surgery.
Her left eye would open in two weeks.
Her two friends who were in the truck with her that night would be fine.
To say that we were grateful is an understatement.
However, life would not be without challenges.
Julia would not be able to attend college as planned and would have to take a gap year.
There was no way her concussion would be healed in time to be able to navigate the rigors of being a brand new college student the following week.
So. Many. Tears. Cherished hopes were dashed into a million little pieces.
As a 50 year old woman, I know through painful experience how fragile life is and how things can change in an instant.
It was heartbreaking for me to see my 17 year old daughter come to this realization. However, as much as we as parents want to shield our children from pain, this is impossible. All we can do is stay by their side, love them unconditionally, and pray our hearts out on their behalf.
Julia spent most of her time in the weeks that followed her return home sleeping as her swollen brain worked hard to repair itself. She wore an eye patch to cover her horrific eye injury so as not to alarm her friends who visited for the short amount of time that she had the energy to receive them.
The day after her return, Diana’s parents drove her over to the house because the girls needed to see each other. Diana had been greatly traumatized. (Unlike Julia, who had no memory of the accident, she remembered everything in terrifying detail).
She had been in the room next to Julia in the ER and heard everything: Julia’s sharp cries of pain, the frantic activity of the doctors and nurses who were trying to save her, the tears and shock of Doug and me as we struggled to deal with this tragic new reality. Like us, she felt helpless as her best friend fought for her life just feet away from her.
Like shell-shocked refugees, Doug and I stood in our living room with Diana’s parents, as we all shared tears for what could have been, as well as thanks for the blessed fact that we still had our girls with us.
The familiar laughter of the two best friends was a much-needed balm for our souls. I had spent the past four years listening to that sound and was incredibly grateful that its joyful music still rang out loud and strong through the walls of our home.
Over time, Julia began to share bits and pieces of her heart with us.
***She had no memory of the accident itself. Her last memory was of her friend Izzy who was driving the pickup truck pulling over on the side of the road right before they started out to their destination.
“Let’s put on our seatbelts,” she had said, “I don’t feel like dying tonight.”
Prophetic words indeed: without seatbelts the odds are very small that any of them would have survived the impact.
*** “The instant I woke up and for days afterward,” Julia told me one afternoon, “I kept hearing the chorus of a song you always used to play, Mom.”
It was a Chris Rice song entitled “Life Means So Much.” The chorus goes like this:
“Every day is a gift you’ve been given
Make the most of the time every minute you’re livin’.”
“I know I’ve been given a second chance,: Julia said in a quiet voice. Her beautiful blue eyes held a maturity that is only gained through enduring a challenge beyond oneself. “I also know that that song was a message to me from Jesus.
Those words were music to this mom’s ears.
From the time my best friend Tracy died suddenly when we were in our mid-20’s, I have known that life is precious and fragile and have shared that so often with my kids as they were growing up. They often (teasingly) accused me of being sentimental and to an extent they were right. Yet, I spoke the truth to them and now Julia understood.
We are not promised tomorrow.
***My daughter has a group of incredible friends. The love and support she received from them in the aftermath of her accident was amazing. She is deeply loved.
***Julia rediscovered her passion for music. Once her healing had reached a certain point, she pulled out her guitar and started singing again.
You have no doubt heard the saying that there are people who sing like angels. Julia does. Her voice is so achingly beautiful and every time I heard her sing, it brought tears to my eyes, and I praised God that her voice hadn’t been silenced.
She is working hard on her music and plans to share her gift with others in our area in the spring, performing at local Open Mic nights.
I am sure that I will embarrass her by being in the front row for every performance. :)
Alas for those who never sing
But die with the music still in them.
—Oliver Wendall Holmes
Julia did not die that awful night and for that, I will thank God for the rest of my days.
She is still here to share her music, her bright light, her contagious laughter, and her joy.
Sometimes I think the greatest beauty is born from pain.
In the next post, I will share the lessons I have learned over the past few months.
Thank you for reading.