Friday, May 25, 2012

'Mother's Day heartache' brings closure - and a new friend

Published on KSL.com (click HERE for the link)
Published for Deseret News (click HERE for the link)
My grandparents' car the day of the accident -- April 19, 1989


"Student in critical condition after being hit by car"

That was the headline in the newspaper the day after the accident. The driver was my grandfather. He had suffered a heart attack, and in the process of dying had lost complete control of his vehicle. This tragedy also resulted in my grandmother’s death, a story I wrote about in my last column titled, “My Mother’s Day heartache.” 

The college student lived, and I heard that she eventually recovered. But I never knew the full details, as contact with her family had long since been lost in the 23 years since the accident.

And then, a few days after my story published, I received an email with the subject line, “Your Mother’s Day article — I’m that college student.”

Apprehensive and more than a little scared, I opened the email and read the following letter (shared with permission):

Susie,

First, my hands are shaking as I write this. My mom sent me the link to your Mother's Day article you ran about the death of your Grandma and the circumstances leading up to it, and I knew I needed to contact you. I enjoyed reading the bits about her life and seeing the pictures. To me they were always "the couple who hit me." So it was nice to see faces and make them real. It was good to read about the other half of the story.

First, I have no hard feelings. On the other hand, my life was forever changed after I left the hospital. I have two lives — the one before the accident and the one after. A brain once injured never fully repairs itself. However, I've learned where one part is damaged, another part takes over, and with the miracle of medicine I can live a normal life.

I want to tell you my story, because I feel we are already connected. We have that experience in common.

I was one month shy of my 19th birthday and just finishing my freshman year. It was the few days before finals when classes were done. I was wearing my favorite (and only) Jessica McClintock dress. My memories of that day were getting ready to go with my roommates to the LDS Temple and later meet one of my best friends for lunch. I remember walking through the parking lot of the Temple with my roommates and turning around. I then have a vague memory of a car coming over flowers.

That is it.

The next thing I remember was being in a dark room, seeing a nurse walk out and my mom sitting next to me. All I could think was, "What is she doing here?" She would have had to fly in and I knew she wasn't supposed to be there. I had a tube coming out of my head collecting the blood so it wouldn't put pressure on my brain. I remember people coming to talk to me. Some I knew, some I didn't. I don't know how many days I was in the hospital. Then I was on an airplane with a shaved head and the biggest black eye I had ever seen.

I spent the summer healing physically and trying to retrain my brain.

I had to relearn how to read. I could read the words but could not comprehend what I was reading. I had to relearn how to spell. Left side brain injuries cause one to spell phonetically. Math was gone. Writing was gone. Eventually reading comprehension returned, and my doctor encouraged me to go back to school.

When I returned in the fall, it was the first time in my life I had ever failed a class. I was failing English, what had been my strongest subject. My English professor told me that I couldn't write and asked how I got into college. I met with him later, told him my story and produced a paper I had written a few months before the accident. It was an 'A' paper. "You can write," he remarked, and told me where to go for help. That was my turning point.

I began to learn that once I was reminded, it all would come back. I got extra help, and after a year or so, became better than what I had been before.

Then there was the emotional toll. It wasn't until two years later that I realized I was mentally unwell. The accident damaged the area of my brain that produces the chemicals that control emotion. My anger would fly off the handle and I would cry over the smallest thing. A rush of emotion would come like a wave and I couldn't contain it. I'm not sure how my roommates dealt with me.

I had no comprehension of how I was supposed to feel because I had no memory of it. Only what I was feeling now. My aunt recognized that I might need medication and convinced me to see a doctor. If it didn't work, I could always stop. I was glad I listened — those are my "Happy Pills."

That was my outward experience. My inward was more incredible.

First, the surgeon in Provo told my mom he had never performed that particular head surgery before because usually the person is dead. Second, other than my head, I only received a minor scratch on my left shoulder and another on one ankle. Nothing else. My back wasn't broken and it should have been. My left ear drum was destroyed when I was hit. By the time a specialist looked at it back home, it was perfect. My eyesight improved.

After I left the hospital and into the summer, I had a presence with me I can't describe. It was like you knew someone is in the room with you but you can't see them. You only feel them. I have had so many spiritual experiences related to this one incident and many of them are too personal to write. But I will say that because of this I now know that God lives — the greatest blessing of all. The pros outweigh the cons. My mom still keeps the dress I wore that day, bloodied and torn, to remind her of the miracle that was her daughter.

God was there that day. Only He knows the entire reason. It's an incredible story. I don't tell many, but sometimes I feel like I have to — like right now. I am very sorry you lost your Grandparents that day. I couldn't wish for anyone to lose a loved one that way, but I believe there was a reason. It sounds like your grandmother was a great lady. I hope I get to meet her someday, but not too soon.

Feel free to contact me. I would love to get to know you.

Smiles, Lisa B. Brown

I didn’t stop crying for a long time. I had braced myself for hatred or bitterness, but found only acceptance and understanding in her amazing narrative. Reading Lisa’s story of faith, resilience and perseverance in the face of life-altering tragedy was another defining moment for me.

“Overwhelmed” and “grateful” only begin to describe my feelings about the letter I received from this extraordinary woman named Lisa. I look forward to building our new friendship — a friendship based on the experience that forever connected us and transformed both of our lives.

Especially Lisa’s.


Lisa sporting her black eye -- one month after the accident.

Lisa at BYU graduation, August 1994 -- 5 years after the accident.

Lisa today -- 23 years after the accident.

Monday, May 14, 2012

2012 Summer Writing Prompt #1 - Get Ready, Get Set...

Writing Prompt #1 is simply about GETTING READY.....


#1:  Buy the coolest writing stuff (notebook, pens, journal....) ever.  Let your kids help pick them out, decorate them, make them personal. Make them big enough so the kids can glue things like pics and brochures and leaves and sticks in them.  If you can afford it, spend a little more money than you are normally inclined to so your kids will know that this isn't a small deal.  It's huge.


#2:  Make and decorate (if you or your kids feel so inclined) a box dedicated to writing notebook supplies, i.e. markers, crayons, stencils, stickers, old digital cameras (am I the only one who has these?) or disposable cameras -- and anything else that fits the bill.


#3:  Set the summer writing expectation bar high.  Start talking about the fun things you have planned for this summer (if you don't have anything fun planned yet, here's a great incentive!) and how much more awesome they will be because they will be chronicling them in their notebooks.  So the fun can be re-visited and re-lived long after summer ends.


#4:  If you or any adult your kids know (grandparent, aunt or uncle, family friend) kept any sort of a journal or saved any stories from when you were kids, pull them out and read a few to your kids .  First off, it will remind your kids that old people were once young.  And secondly, it can give them a vision and help them get excited about embarking on this awesome summer adventure.......


#5:  I'm the bribe kind of mom (if you're not, skip this step).  Think of incentives and rewards and start talking about them NOW.  A few ideas:
  • Money.  A penny per word (which could get expensive), so much per sentence, page, whatever your budget might allow.
  • Treats
  • Outings
  • Hugs and kisses (some kids will be fine with yours, other kids will respond to Hershey's)
  • Any more ideas, send them my way & I'll post them
Adaptation for Pre-Teens & Teens:
In this case, you know your kids and whether or not they'd be tolerant of a decorated notebook.  I have one (and probably two) who I am 100% positive would be fairly intolerant of such nonsense.  Be creative -- maybe they'll be writing on the computer.  But at least set the expectations.......


Next Week:  
Summer Writing Prompt: #2 -   ...Go!  Where are you going and what are you doing this summer?  Time to make a Top 10 List and set some fun and some challenging goals.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Momsensical: My Mother's Day heartache

Published on KSL.com (Click HERE for the link)

I sat alone on the couch in the ICU waiting room, eyes red and swollen, waiting for family members who were still en route from out of town and out of state. Several distraught members of another family walked in and sat directly across from me. After realizing who they were, I did the only thing that a 19-year-old college sophomore could possibly manage in that situation: curled up on the couch, closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Earlier that day, I had been at work when two of my roommates came looking for me. A vice president of our university had just knocked on our apartment door to personally deliver the news, which my friends in turn delivered to me.

It wasn’t the kind of news one delivers over the phone.

My grandparents (who lived nearby) had been involved in a devastating car accident resulting in my grandfather’s death and my grandmother’s life hanging in the balance. To make the situation infinitely worse, my grandfather had been driving and had struck a university student, causing multiple head injuries.

That poor girl shared the ICU unit with my grandmother while I shared the waiting room with her family. Thankfully, the student eventually made a full recovery.

A few weeks later, on the second Sunday in May, I held my dear grandmother’s hand as she took her last breath before passing over to the other side to join my grandfather. Mother’s Day will forever be linked to that defining moment for me.

I vividly remember sitting in my grandparents' garage a few days later, trying to decide what to keep and what to give away. In the middle of this impossible task, I came across a meticulously typed booklet titled “THE STORY OF MY LIFE BY ECHO BERRY BOYCE.”

It had never seemed important for me to read it. After all, I had known my grandmother all my life and had even lived with my grandparents during my freshman year of college. Why read her life story?

It was because of all the things I didn’t know, and even more things I didn’t know enough about.

Once I read about my grandmother’s life, there were so many questions I longed to ask. My heartache was that, just a few weeks prior, I would have been able to ask.

I would have asked her about loss. Within the period of a few years, she lost her mother in childbirth and two siblings to the flu epidemic of 1918.

I would have wanted to understand the conflicting emotions she must have felt being raised by step-grandparents from the time she was 10 years old — while her dad and stepmom lived out of state, eventually adopting three children of their own.

I would have dug deeper into my grandmother’s professional life, especially after learning that she chose to become an obstetrics nurse because of these words her mother said shortly before her death, “I hope you will be a nurse when you grow up so you can learn to take care of yourself.”

The details of her courtship and marriage in her early 30s would have been so fun to learn, and what it was like to become a mom at what was considered at the time to be quite an advanced age.

I would have asked how she navigated the shock, pain, recovery and readjustment to losing her leg in a car accident at the age of 73.

Those questions would have been just the beginning. Someday, I’ll ask them all.

How I yearn to have possessed the foresight at age 19 to understand how remarkable my grandmother truly was. I had always loved her, yet I had never really known her. As grateful as I am for every moment I spent with her, I ache for the conversations we never had.

I have since vowed to ask the questions, have the conversations, spend the time — do whatever it takes — so that my life story includes only one such heartache.

Only one.



I'm in the red dress sitting in front of Grandma Boyce

Grandma Boyce holding me at 2 months old