One More Stone

Louise used to think it was morose to celebrate the date of Bill’s accident. She said she wanted to forget it ever happened. Bury all the trauma in the past.

“He’s fine now, like it never happened…so why go back and re-live it?”

My response was, “He’s not fine. He will never be the same again, but I want to celebrate that he is alive.” Bill’s Alive Day was born and our family has celebrated it ever since.

The truth is, Bill doesn’t care one way or another. He is happy to have a special dinner out, or phone calls from the kids, but he says the celebration is more for us since he doesn’t even remember the accident or the year or so following it. Just snippets for him.

The question is why do any of us memorialize anniversaries of hard things? We know where we were when the space shuttle blew up, or when Kennedy was shot, or when 9-11 happened, or when Covid hit. Those days are etched in our collective memory because of the enormity of the event. Shared trauma. We remember and we comfort one another. We don’t want to forget for fear of losing the lessons learned and the people we lost. There are television specials every anniversary and even though we have seen them all, we gather round the screen to watch again. To take it all in, even the pain, so as to remember. Is it hard to think about it all year after year? Sure. It hurts, but it is important to feel the feelings. To take them out an examine them. To remember. Denying or stuffing them, only hurts ourselves.

There is such a thing as secondary trauma. It is the emotional stress resulting from hearing or seeing firsthand the trauma of another. Healthcare professionals know all about it. So, do first responders. Veterans. Teachers can have it. Missionaries. Caregivers. Anyone who sees or hears about trauma up close.

While the victim of trauma is likely affected physically, those around them are affected emotionally. There is more than one kind of scar. Secondary trauma can lead to a host of ailments. Memories, flashbacks, avoidance, moodiness, irritability, depression, emotional outbursts, sleep issues, exhaustion, sadness, or ongoing grief, just to name a few. Some call it ‘compassion fatigue’ and most don’t seek help because they are not the ones directly affected. They may not even recognize the connection between their exhaustion and the event that caused it. Yet, it is a very real and diagnosable condition.  

For me, going back to the day of the accident is allowing myself to acknowledge that something significant happened to me, as well as Bill that day. Neither of us will ever be the same. A part of me shattered, just like his brain. Our dreams of the future were forever altered; success redefined.

This day is part of my healing process. A day to remember. To go back to the girl I was then and to recognize her pain, which still lives inside of me. She is me and I am her. We cannot be separated; the girl I was and the woman I am now are forever intermingled. To ignore the former will cause issues for the latter. Instead, I allow the girl to breathe. To have her tears. To speak her experience. To grieve, for the life she lost. To feel the pain, and to acknowledge the impossible path she walked then and walks still.

I allow her to go to the kitchen of her newlywed house, where the call came in and to slide down the wall onto the floor in tears. I watch her, in my mind’s eye, driving through the rain to the hospital and into an unknown future and her own Groundhog Day. A nightmare. I feel her horror at seeing her young husband tied to the bed with his skull exposed, his eyes swollen shut, and his body black and blue. My gut churns to remember the contents of his stomach in a container on the wall and the blood all over his face. The confusion rises and tightens in my throat as he screams at her and everyone else. I allow tears. And feelings. I allow myself to gaze and to SEE her. Really see.

I allow the remembrance of every detail. Hers and his. The fists of enraged insanity plowing through walls and throwing everything not bolted down; as well as the scared little boy shaking with fear and begging for help. The incoherent ramblings of a madman or the sleep of a dead man. The funny moments and the hours of pain. Months in the hospital and years of wandering through recovery, trying to survive. Just to survive. Both of them, the boy and the girl, on this horrible journey. Woven together by hardship and faith in a God they cannot see. The vivid images roll through my mind as if they happened yesterday. The colors are vibrant. They have not muted over the 35 years since the phone call. It is a movie in my mind. I allow myself to watch it once a year, on this day.

Then, after the remembrance, a celebration of survival. For both Bill and myself. A celebration and a reminder to be tender to those kids from way back on that day. To allow them to shape us, even now, is a choice we still make. This celebration is so much more than a dinner out. It is a memorial, stacked one stone taller each year. It is an altar of thankfulness. It is a statement of faith. It is a marker. I do not find it morose, or morbid at all. The memories are still raw, even though they are no longer open wounds. Scars are still scars; reminders of pain suffered. Yet, we walk. We stand. We live. Much more than we ever believed we would, back on that day. Bill is alive, and today we celebrate that fact with one more stone on the memorial altar.  

6 thoughts on “One More Stone

  1. Wow! Wow!! Wow!!!

    Thank you so much again and again Michelle . This piece is so life-giving for me as I walk through some traumatic experiences in my life. I am seeing beyond the morbid feelings to the celebration of a God who answers even the most grueling experiences and questions of my life. It is so liberating.

    Thank you again my Sister 👧 and friend.
    Happy Bill’s Alive Day.


  2. Your faith and perseverance have kept you moving forward. May you always feel His presence in your life as God is walking with you daily. ❤️

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