Conquering fear after Dad’s accident
Understanding the Fear and Growing Through It
Our girl started second grade today. She told me last night as I was putting her to bed that she was excited and a little scared … but mostly excited.
She was up at 6:45 this morning with wide eyes and a smile, ready to take on the world. In the last few days I swear she’s grown a couple inches.
Sometimes the growth and change in our children seems to happen so suddenly. One day they are playing dressup, and the next day they’re asking questions parents aren’t yet ready to answer.
I recently got to witness one of these developmental leaps in Evie.
It centered around the events of Jeff’s injury.
She and I were in her room talking about fear. The subject came up because she had been playing out front earlier that day, and I’d been watching her like a hawk. I tried to explain why I keep such a close eye on her – that I’m not necessarily watching her. But rather, I’m watching out for her.
I fully believe that because of Jeff’s injury, I now have a deep-seeded, almost constant fear that something else bad will happen. My fear then manifests itself into the completely irrational thinking that if I keep my eye on Evie, nothing bad will happen to her. If I can see her, she’ll be fine. And I think my mind follows this completely irrational path because I didn’t actually see Jeff’s accident happen. It’s one of those, “Maybe if I’d been watching him he wouldn’t have been hurt” nonesense things my brain sometimes does.
And so the conversation I was having with Evie turned to the day of Jeff’s injury.
Evie was at the beach when Jeff was hurt. She had turned four just a couple months before, and as she stood in the sand that day, she couldn’t possibly understand that she was witnessing an abrupt change in the course of her family’s life.
She’s asked me so many questions about that day. Things her four-year-old-mind doesn’t remember: “What bathing suit was I wearing the day Daddy got hurt?” “What was I doing right when Daddy hit his head?” “How did I get home from the hospital that day?”
But the questions she asked me now were different. They were deeper and showed a surprising level of empathy that, frankly, I didn’t expect yet.
“Did you cry when you first ran up to Daddy when he was laying in the sand?” I didn’t cry right away, I told her. I was really scared and was trying to figure out what had happened to Daddy. And sometimes when you’re scared and confused, you don’t cry right away.
“What was Daddy feeling when he was laying there?” Then she clarified – showing that she was talking about his emotional state rather than physical sensation because she knows that was something that was already gone for him. “I think he was probably really freaked out!” she continued. And on the words “freaked out” she opened her hands and thrust them downward with each syllable to emphasize the emotion. Yes, Daddy was really freaked out. He was very, very scared.
“When they took Daddy in the ambulance, did you ride next to him?” No, I wasn’t allowed to ride next to him because the paramedics had to work on him during the ambulance ride. I rode up front with the driver.”
“When you got to the hospital, did you stay with Daddy?” The nurses and doctors took Daddy into the hospital to do X-rays on him to find out what happened to his neck. I had to go with a woman to the waiting room and give her all of Daddy’s information. After that, I got to go back into the room with Daddy.
“Was he sleeping when you got there?” No, the doctors and nurses were just getting ready to sedate him.
“Was he still really freaked out?”
With that one question, the images of being in that room with Jeff came flooding back to me. It was a tiny room. Hospital staff whizzed around Jeff hooking him up to every machine they could cram into that tiny space. I floated in a trance to Jeff’s side. His brown eyes wide with sheer panic met mine, but I could tell that he couldn’t really see me. His voice was weak and hoarse, and his shouted words came out as a whisper – “I can’t breathe!” – and they left a breath mark on the oxygen mask over his mouth.
The doctors made me leave Jeff’s side, but they didn’t make me leave the room. I stood down by Jeff’s motionless feet as they prepared to intubate him. I looked away as they put the breathing tube in his mouth and down into his lungs. I could see numbers and flashing lights on all of the monitors, but I didn’t know what any of them meant. Then slowly, as each staff member finished their job, they ensured their patient was stable, and they began leaving the room, one by one. Until it was just me and Jeff, and the beep, beep, beeping of the monitors.
I was numb and gripped with fear.
I shook the memory away and came back to the present. I quickly decided all those details were probably a little too much for this particular conversation, so I simply answered, Yes sweetie, he was still really freaked out.
She nodded, satisfied with what she’d learned from our conversation.
And I realized that I was witnessing a growing moment. Her questions about that day were no longer centered around her. Today she was interested in learning about the experiences of others. She showed me that she understands that it was a really scary day for all of us – for her, for me, especially for Jeff. And she showed me that she isn’t afraid to talk about it.
This morning, the first day of second grade, just before Evie and I headed out the door to walk to the bus stop, Jeff needed suctioning. We always need to make sure there’s no obstructions in his lungs before I leave the house, even for just a few minutes. Jeff not being able to breathe is one of our biggest fears. I stood to the left of his bed and made quick work of clearing his lungs. Evie stood to the right of his bed, and as I finished up the suction work, she expertly grabbed the vent tubing, attached it back to his trach, and secured it on both sides with rubber bands, her fingers moving deftly and confidently.
She looked at us and smiled her yeah, I just did that smile. This is one fear she’s definitely conquered.
Still, this life is filled with all kinds of fear. And everyday we interact with it.
We face it.
We re-experience it.
We overcome it.
We learn to live with it.
But mostly, we grow through it.