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  • Anne Hope

Bent Pages in Life...Bumps in the Road (and Other Words of Inspiration and Humor)

Welcome to My Blog!

I am humbled that my friend, Elizabeth Jarvis, allowed me to feature her recent “bump in the road” in my first article. Many of you reading this know Elizabeth, and have been supporting her with prayer, thoughtful deeds and messages. I’d like to share her recent story with all of you, for even though we may not experience exactly the same tragedies, we are all familiar with despair in one form or another. We all experience fear, worry, doubt, confusion, anger, and change.

Life can change in the blink of an eye which, by the way, only takes literally about one third of a second. We just never imagine those changes, cloaked in tragedy and heartbreak, happening to us. With little or no warning, often when we least expect it, tragedy can strike, and our lives are turned upside down. Sometimes, literally.

Elizabeth and her husband were on vacation in Key West on August 5, 2021 celebrating her husband’s well-deserved sabbatical he had earned after 27 years of service at his engineering firm. It was a beautiful night. They were returning from a wonderful dinner at Blue Heaven Restaurant in a golf cart. The air was full of laughter, smiles, happiness, and joy. Elizabeth was giggling while taking a Snapchat video as the golf cart rounded a corner and alarmingly flipped on its side. The first thing that hit the concrete was Elizabeth’s head and neck.

Strangely enough, Elizabeth remembered almost every detail of the accident. The details, the sounds, the smells were vivid from the moment of impact. With her face feeling oddly connected to the cool, dry concrete, she felt as if she was being lifted (if only for a moment) to a different plane of consciousness. She was jolted back by the panicked sound of her husband’s voice. His fear was palpable as he screamed at her to get up. With as much calm as possible, Elizabeth informed him she could not…that she couldn’t move her arms or legs. As people ran over to help, they pulled the cart back to its upright position, but wisely did not move her. They asked her what she needed, and she simply told them to call 911. At this point, Elizabeth could move no other part of her body, other than her mouth and eyes.

The ambulance took her to the nearest hospital where she was diagnosed with a serious fracture of the vertebrae in her neck. Emergency surgery was performed to fuse C4 and C5 and to remove the disc between those two vertebrae. She was admitted to ICU after the surgery and remained there for the next several days while friends and family waited for updates. Her husband couldn’t be in the room with her due to COVID restrictions. So, she endured that first night alone with only her caregivers as her body shook ferociously during the night from a high fever. Elizabeth recalled the ice blankets that covered her whole body in continuous attempts to cool her core. And, although she could not voluntarily move any part of her extremities, she was intensely aware of the violent spasms that were occurring from the tips of her toes to her still blood-caked hair. Her hands and fingers felt like the ends of sparklers that are lit on the Fourth of July.

But these were just the physical effects of those first few days. Even as her body was fighting a vicious battle to heal, emotionally she was in a war. The second night in ICU was perhaps the lowest, scariest, and most fearful night since the accident. Alone, with only her nursing care, she found herself partially propped up in the hospital bed, only to slowly slide further down the bed as the minutes passed. Unable to move herself, unable to hit a call button, unable to wipe the tears as they streamed from her eyes or the snot from her nose, bit by bit, everything was sliding down into a lonesome abyss. She feared she would never be able to walk again, never hug her husband, never run her fingers through her children’s hair. For a brief time, she questioned her desire to fight for life as she pondered the potential burden she might be to her family. But courage doesn’t always roar like a lion. Sometimes courage is the smallest of voices that breaks through in the wee hours of the night and says, “I’ll try again tomorrow.” And this is the Elizabeth that I know!

It’s odd to think that the same boiling water that softens potatoes will also harden eggs. It’s all in what you’re made of. And Elizabeth was never one to back down from a challenge. So, the next day when her doctors came to do their rounds, she flatly stated, “I’m ready to fight!” No one could guarantee how much movement she would recover. No one was willing to predict how her body would respond to a severe central spinal cord injury, the ensuing medications administered, or the rehab process. But after a few days, limited movement began to return to her fingers and toes. Hope soared even amidst the ambiguity of the future!

A week after the accident, Elizabeth was moved to inpatient rehab and the real work began. With the help of her therapists, she was regaining limited movement bit by tiny bit. But the process was frustratingly slow. She was struggling with blood pressure issues and passed out whenever they attempted to stand her upright. An injury that took less than a second would require a recovery that would be measured in months and perhaps years. But Elizabeth was willing to fight.

A month after the accident she was able to walk a bit and was ultimately discharged, heading home to Kansas City. Excitement was mixed with anxiety and concern, but she was ready for phase two of recovery. The tedious process of learning to do even the simple tasks again has changed her life dramatically. There was so much joy in being able to do even the simplest of tasks: brush her hair, floss her teeth, put on socks, write her name, walk on her own, open a jar, or simply hold someone’s hand. Each week brings a new normal. Each month brings excitement for whatever changes and improvements will unfold.

There are no guarantees in life. And, as the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs!” We never know what the next moment will bring. We can only be in THIS moment. We don’t know if our health will change, if we will lose a job, or if a spouse will leave. We don’t know if a friend will alienate us, or if a parent or child will be lost. Nothing stays the same forever. Sometimes everything changes slowly. Sometimes it changes suddenly, with no warning, when we least expect it. It’s at times like these when we cry out, “Why?” Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does life seem so profoundly unfair at times? The truth is none of us know. We may never know in this lifetime. But there is a vast majority of us that believe our lives have purpose, and there is a plan…even if we don’t understand it currently.

One of the most interesting revelations that Elizabeth shared was what she referred to as her “bipolar emotions.” On the one hand, she feels this extreme nervousness and anxiety about what the future holds. But on the other hand, she is extremely grateful for everything that has happened so far. One’s outlook on life is certainly altered.

Since we all experience some measure of change, tragedy, sorrow, and loss, I asked Elizabeth if she would share some of the insights and lessons she learned during this process that might also serve as words of wisdom for us in this journey called life. Her honest and poignant answers touched my heart. I mention these in no particular order of significance, as all played an important role in her healing process. She spoke of each of these at length and with intense passion. Sharing them took great introspection, great courage, and great strength.

First, love is a great healer. And love involves people. People make a difference. We all can make a difference in someone’s life. Elizabeth spoke with tears of joy and gratitude about her family and the community of people who have supported her during this healing process…people who have walked alongside her and encouraged her by serving as caregivers, cheerleaders, and prayer warriors. Her deep gratitude for all the notes, flowers, visits, and care received was obvious and absolute. Sometimes just being there is the greatest gift we can give, and the actual words take on less meaning. The extreme thoughtfulness of people, sometimes even those who begin as strangers, can give such great hope to one in need of searching for strength. For instance, Elizabeth had been in the ICU for about 3 days post-surgery. She was separated from her family. She hadn’t had a bath or been able to brush her teeth. Unbelievably, blood was still caked in her hair and smeared on her face from where it had pooled while she was lying helplessly on the cement. Her eyes, blackened from the accident, still contained her contact lenses. Her days-old makeup now looking ghoulish. During the depths of her despair is when small-statured Sandy bebopped into her room with her pink nurse’s uniform, eyeglasses, and brown ponytail wearing a gigantic smile. Sandy gently washed Elizabeth’s face and body, brushed her hair, removing the clumps of blood, brushed her teeth, and removed her contacts. Sometimes, we all need a little of God in skin form…and Sandy was just the skin she needed. Sandy set up Elizabeth’s phone so that it would automatically answer since she could not use her hands, allowing her to finally communicate with her husband, family and friends. Helping fulfill basic human needs is a gift we all can give, and Sandy was a master at it. Tears streamed down Elizabeth’s face as she recalled the three separate gifts of precious time given by friends who made the trip down to spend days with her in Miami while she was in the hospital when her husband could not be there. Sometimes it’s not what we say (and everyone knows how hard it can be to find the right words to say at these times); sometimes it’s just being there. It’s at times like these we can all be “surprised by love” …and Elizabeth’s gratefulness for every person who contacted her, prayed for her, and encouraged her was immensely apparent.

Secondly, Elizabeth’s faith was tested and revitalized. As humans, it is natural for us to want to understand everything…the whys, the whens, the wheres, the hows. And when we don’t get the answers, it’s common to get angry at God. Elizabeth was no different. Her anger was fierce in the beginning, and there are still days when she feels a bit cross with Him. And I think God understands our anger. He certainly seemed to understand Job’s. But then, there’s this marvelous gift of faith…and it is a gift. But we must decide to accept it. There are times we must choose to have faith, to have hope, and to believe. It’s easy to fall prey to misery based on our circumstances. Elizabeth made the decision not only to accept that gift of faith, but to exercise it as she daily made the choice to fight, not only for physical strength, but fight against the strongholds of depression, self-pity, and negativity. In addition, she expressed appreciation for the spirituality and prayers of others during this time, articulating that it was a magnificent force for good, greatly aiding in her healing process. That faith continues to give her hope during this long process, knowing that indeed, God does have his hand on her healing journey and on her future. Although we crave reasoning, order, logic, and fairness, we must choose to let go of these, knowing that we may not know the reason for a very long time, if at all. We find that our peace of mind comes not from reasoning or logic or fairness. It doesn’t come from understanding. It comes from hope and acceptance…from the gratefulness of realizing just how much we are loved and how much others care. Elizabeth continues to embrace the hope that faith brings, even on the darkest days. For it is hope that anchors the soul in difficult and seemingly impossible times.

When faced with adversity, people fold or they are transformed. Nothing in this seemingly brief world is as it was. Elizabeth learned, as should we, that our strength is limited, making it even more important to rest in God’s strength. She learned that there would be times when she didn’t have a lot to give physically or emotionally. But she continued to be amazed at the love and strength shown to her by others. From the depths of despair, she has learned to love deeper, care and be cared for, to reach out, to understand that our weakness can bring out the strength in others. She has learned what it means to be even a greater version of herself for the sake of others. She has seen selfishness obliterated by empathy and pride humbled willingly by a desire to serve and give. She has seen people at their best as she was experiencing the worst. Out of the depths of despair she experienced a renewed joy in the simple things of life. Desires and priorities were transformed and rearranged. Maintaining a spirit of optimism became a choice she made each and every day. That is a lesson from which all of us could benefit!

It would be disingenuous to imply that there are not still moments of depression and numbness that creep in. There are still days when she experiences meltdowns and misses parts of her old life. She often longs for the joy of just being out on the tennis court or just being able to do simple tasks all by herself. But she has found a safe haven to experience those times of despair and grief that bring uncontrollable sobbing…her family, friends, therapists, and counselors at Ability KC have been truly wonderful and life-giving.

Lastly, Elizabeth has become more conscientious of truly living life in the moment. We spend so much time worrying about tomorrow. Each day certainly has proven to have enough worries of its own. She has made a point of enjoying the moments spent with others. She has learned to love more deeply in the present. For truly, love is a choice made. It is an action, not a gooey feeling. It is appreciating others, forgiving others, leaning on others, asking for help, and allowing them to be strong. In order to live like that she has learned to feel the whole gamut of emotions connected to pain and recovery. But she never allows the fear, anxiety, or sadness to overshadow the joy, the hope, and excitement that small steps in life bring to each day. She has learned the truth…that life is fragile. And, although it can change in the blink of an eye, it’s really not about the changes. It’s about how you choose to respond to them.

Elizabeth’s story may differ from yours or mine, but the themes of persistence, resiliency, fear, health, wellness, and goal setting are applicable to all. She has become the hero of her own story. She now finds joy and gratitude in everyday blessings. She is learning to live life in the present and make the most of every opportunity. She loves with greater depth, never missing the opportunity to show gratitude. She realizes people can and do make a difference, one person and one moment at a time. She understands in a most prolific way that life is too short and too fragile to spend time chasing after unnecessary things or unneeded possessions. The greatest gifts were right there in front of her all along!

Closing Message

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