JFBelieve – A Long Winter

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Julia’s grandmother and her saying the rosary.  November 2018

The following is an update on Julia’s progress this winter, 11-14 months post-accident.

She has continued her 3 day/wk schedule of aggressive Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech (cognitive) Therapy. Julia works hard and is conscientious about the hours of homework she has every day that she’s not in therapy. Her dad and I both work her hard. She calls the days she’s not in formal therapy, “Motherapy” or “Fatherapy”.

She continues to take a class 4x/wk at her boarding school. Last semester was World Religions. This semester is Environmental Justice. In March she will begin her first on-line college course at St. Joes.

“THANK YOU FOR SEEING IT THAT WAY”

I’ve referenced before Victor Frankl’s quote: “The last of human freedoms is one’s ability to choose one’s attitude in any given situation.” Julia continues to demonstrate this in spades. Everytime I thank her for something – her stamina, her optimism, her lack of frustration, she answers the same way: “Thank you for seeing it that way.” Thank you for seeing it that way. And she means it. Giving me credit for crediting her. I say, Thank you for reminding me I have the choice on how to see it! Gratitude boomerang. It goes on all day.

Her dad and I have found our lanes. He works tirelessly on her independence. Scheduling her dutifully and developing strict routines. 10,000 steps on her Fit Bit is the expectation. On the mornings she isn’t at therapy by 8, they’re at morning mass.

My emphasis is on cognitive rehabilitation. We were told upon discharge that the first 2 years were the most critical in terms of cognitive recovery. As her Neuropsychologist Aunt Claire explains: Biological recovery of the brain occurs over the first 18-24 months. Functional recovery continues after that through routine, and it is possible, through new ways to evaluate the brain, that biological recovery can also occur longer than 2 years.

Maybe it’s because I needed a goal I could see, but I committed myself to focusing on nothing but that for this window of 2 years. We make everything a cognitive exercise. Everything has a therapeutic approach, even our recreation. Even if we are driving, we make everything a metaphor. I keep her synapses firing non-stop. When she retires at night, we are spent. Especially after bathing which is a 2-person aerobic activity.

As we approached the 1st year anniversary of her accident on 12/13, I had to face that I was probably expecting she’d be a little farther along at this point. In some ways, she’s the exact same person – even better with her enhanced peacefulness, patience and wit. Physically, she still walks with a significant limp. She manages her compromised coordination by extending her left arm behind her for balance. She needs a hand on unsteady surfaces. Her memory is improving, ever so slowly.

Because a year of PT failed to render significant gains, we resorted to surgery on Nov 27th.  Due to the right-brain injury, she walks on the side of her left foot which is inverted.  Her toes are cramped, slightly mangled.  She needs the structure of orthopedic sneakers constantly.  She puts them on before she gets out of the shower, or on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night. The impairment on her left side not only effects her gait and her balance… it hurts.  Because she was an athlete and learned to “play hurt” she toughs it out.  But after 15 minutes at Target, she’s had it.

PAIN

In the 4 months Julia was hospitalized, through many invasive procedures, I only saw her cry twice.

Once when they pulled the feeding tube out of her stomach with no anesthesia.  Once at the first of those medieval nerve-blocker treatments on her legs.

The night after the surgery there were more tears than sleep.  A logical, but unfortunate result of the Opioid epidemic in our country are more conservative controls on pain meds.  Add to that, Julia’s reluctance to “annoy” staff (and since she is 21 she has to demand herself) it was hard to relieve her.  By 1 AM she was begging me to remove the cast.  “Just for a few minutes.”  No, Sweetie, we can’t. Through this, her main concern was me. “I’m sorry you have to see me cry, This must be hard.”

“Are you kidding me, you know I love tears. Let’s hold hands and cry, and breathe and pray together and not be afraid.” It was a long night. At one point an aide accidentally bumped her bed and you’d have thought she was tazed.

It took my sister’s text, “Please gently remind Julia that when she’s in pain, we are too” and my encouragement, “Just like you speak up for marginalized groups on campus, you must speak up for yourself now” to get through to her.  They finally upped her meds and by 5 AM she fell off.  They woke her again at 6 to check vitals and administer meds.  That 1 hour was an oasis in the desert.

3 months later, she is still in the boot that replaced her hard cast so we’re not sure of the outcome. When they removed the cast initially to transfer her to the boot, her PT asked if it was upsetting to her to see the scars from her surgery as they had severed, spliced and reattached several tendons. (I smiled to myself because I know Julia thinks of them as symbolic, like a tattoo) “I don’t mind my scars,” she told her PT. “They’re like a road map of where I’ve been.”

THE DRIVER

You will hear from Julia about meeting the driver who hit her, Malchijah Gibbons, at his status hearing in December. After which he submitted a lengthy commentary on all 12 of the JFBelieve blog posts as well as answering the 4 Restorative Justice questions: What were you thinking when you did it? What are you thinking now? Who are all who were impacted by your actions? How can you make amends?

Pouring over Malchijah’s many words took weeks for Julia and I. It was like reading a book where you read a chapter of events from one person’s experience, then read the same chapter from another’s.


He begins with a disturbing dream he had 6 months prior to the accident of his son hitting a young woman with his car. It shook him enough for him to have a sit-down with his son about careful driving.

On December 13, the night of the accident, he was on his way to a choir rehearsal, at a church where he was the organist. He was late. He had taken this route down City Line Ave many times. He saw the light change. He watched the sedan ahead of him in the outer lane slow to a stop. He told himself he could still beat it and gunned the engine. Next thing he knew something flew into his windshield, projected into the air and landed on the pavement. Oh God, oh God, oh God… He talks about standing over Julia’s near-lifeless body, digesting the horror, praying she’d live. This continued long into the 1st of his nights in his jail cell. While we were at the hospital begging God for the same.

Even though our appeal to the judge for a different form of justice in his sentencing, that would spare him significant jail time, was a relief, he said Julia’s graciousness and forgiveness tore the hole in his heart deeper.

When someone offers a benevolence to you that you don’t deserve, it can steel (not steal) your resolve to be deserving. Tom Hanks told his charge in Saving Private Ryan to “Earn this.” He went on to do just that. Hopefully Malchijah will do the same.

He says that 1 of the parishes he played for “dropped him like a bad habbit.” The second surrounded him and prayed for Julia at every mass.

Maichijah was particularly moved by Julia’s brother Bo’s college essay which gave him a tsunami of a gut check. “I’m so sorry Bo for what I put your family through.” He speaks of Julia’s dad and I and the 4 daughters he has and can’t imagine not being hell bent on vengeance.

Julia with her brother Bo’s doppelganger (It’s a cardboard cut-out)




To Julia, he said, “You are truly a rarity. I will never forget your impact statement: ‘I was a Sophmore in college when you hit me. Learning is my greatest passion. Now it is my greatest challenge. This is tragic to me. That is what you took from me when you hit me.’ How can you ever make amends for that?” He had a few ideas and so do we. It seemed apparent that, like Private Ryan, he would spend the rest of his life trying.I am sensitive to those among you who do not support the idea of restorative justice and prefer punitive justice instead. It’s natural. Julia is certainly not the only one who lost something. My sister put it plainly months back by saying, “I’m sorry, I’m pissed.” I loved for saying that. I know it’s heavy. Her interest, like many of yours, is accountability.

“Thank you for holding that for me then,” is all I could say.

“Thank you for seeing it that way,” she replied.

RELATIONSHIPS

The last thing I’ll say, for anyone who is travelling a similar path of unchartered waters: When a person changes, their relationships change, too. It has been a wonder and a journey to watch the relationships around Julia ebb, flow and evolve. You will hear her speak about the delicate evolution with her longtime, dutiful boyfriend. With his permission, we speak about it only as an honest testament to her journey and how it spins out effecting others. We’re all intricately connected.

Some weeks ago, I saw a movie called The Theory of Everything. I immediately saw Julia’s boyfriend in the stalwart devotion of the Protagonist, Stephen Hawking’s girlfriend then wife. I texted him and asked if he had seen the movie. Ironically, he responded that he and Julia had “seen it in the theatres together… Winter break 2014.” Just then I remembered the length of their tenure.

Suffice to say, that started a conversation that culminated in what you will read from her own account. I feel broadened and deepened for having been apart of such an honest, human experience.

JULIA…

Hi Everyone and thanks for your continued prayers!

On October 21’st, my cousin Maria got married in Tennessee. I didn’t know how traveling was going to be with my casted, hurting foot. We had to use a wheel chair so I could transport between gates without being in too much pain. At the wedding, I was surprised to hear the petitions my cousin Maria wrote that my Uncle Billy read. For the life of our beloved Julia, whom we are blessed to have with us today. May all those who are enduring sufferring and hardships be filled with your peace and hope.  I was so touched!

On November 28th, I had surgery done on my left leg because after 6 months of out patient therapy, I’m not getting much better. Rather than endless months of trying to rehab, strengthen, and rewire the circuitry, the doctor’s next move was to cut the tendons and rewire them internally.

December 18th was the probationary status hearing for the driver who hit me. At the sentencing 6 months ago, the judge asked my mom if I could be there that day so he could meet me.  On my way to the hearing, I honestly didn’t know how I would feel upon meeting Malchijah, Would I feel angry? Sad? I was anxious, but I knew if I was worried at all, he would be feeling so, tenfold. I was hoping my feelings of peace would be seen so we could have an open, honest conversation. I was heartened to see my friend Emily and her mom waiting for us at the courthouse!

When I met him and looked at his face, it seemed to confirm his deep remorse. We had to wait for awhile for the judge to call us. My mom was reading from a book of prayers by a Buddhist nun named Pema Chodron. I read over her shoulder the one she was reading. After reading, I took the book from her and passed it behind me, where Malchijah sat. He said thank you and that he had to read it a couple times to absorb it.


I didn’t think that I would feel much anger upon meeting Malchijah because that was never a feeling I had. I think I was expecting maybe I would feel angry for what he had done, but also empathetic for the fact he had to carry the weight of those actions.  My feelings somewhat matched what I was expecting. I honestly did not feel the anger that I was anticipating was possible. I think this was because of how apologetic he was and how palpable his regret seemed.

He was someone I felt worthy of forgiveness. If he had meant to hurt me, I don’t think I’d feel the same way. His action, however, was definitely not intended and his regret was very clear.

Upon reading Malchijah’s responses to the questions we had given him to answer, I had an overwhelming amount of gratitude for my mother’s idea of sentencing for him, and the fact that it was unfolding as we had hoped it would. Malchijah repeatedly reflects back on his faith, which makes me feel connected to him, as I also pray frequently. Like he does, I believe it is through his and so many other’s prayers that I am here today.

I also felt a sense of empathy for him after reading about his then pregnant wife and other young daughters. Making a mistake like this with that many of your loved ones vulnerable to being impacted as a result must have been terrifying. I am so grateful that he is with them today, and not in a jail cell.

You may not agree with my mother and me, and that’s okay too. I need every ounce of my head and heart space open for hope. My mother has told me in the past, ‘If you’re bent on revenge, dig two graves.’ I don’t want to dig any graves! It is increasingly more apparent to me how connected I am with others. I now understand that, through faith, I am incredibly connected to Malchijah.

He is not a person I knew before the accident, and I still don’t really know him well at all, but he did seem like a changed man. I think what he did would change any person, but upon talking with him, I think that reading what my mom and I have written on our blog has also changed his views on justice, forgiveness, and the power of them both.

I hope I get to know him and his family better.

A BEAUTIFUL CHRISTMAS SURPRISE

This is my beloved Teachers Kevin and Jennifer from Westtown. Teacher Jennifer and I went on the Israel/Palestine trip together 3 years ago. There, we came upon this beautiful rendition of the Blessed Mother. She says she remembers me coming to get her to view it because it made such an impression on me!

3 years later when she returned to Israel with another class, she took this picture for me and had it framed. She said the grace and strength of this rendition of Mary reminded her of me. What a compliment! My Westtown community is incredibly uplifting. I pass this picture everyday now when I walk down the stairs and feel strength and gratitude.

Julia with beloved teachers at her boarding school where she takes a World Religions class

A strong, powerful, beautiful depiction of the Blessed Mother

DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF DISABLED?

I had lunch with my boarding school friend, Marissa, recently. She and I are close. I can count on her candor and honesty. She is pre-med and taking a class on disabilities; specifically how people live with them. She asked me, did I consider myself disabled? And if so, how does that make me feel?

I never really thought if I was disabled before that. Maybe because my parents and therapists emphasize I’m a work in progress and that’s what I focus on. The question made me think that others may see me that way. That she may see me that way. It made me look at my life and the lunch we were having from a bird’s eye view.

My honest answer was, “I guess that depends on your definition of disabled.”

She said, “I knew you would say that!”

When it comes to the future, I know the “why”, I just don’t know the “how”. And that’s okay with me.

RELATIONSHIPS

This past Sunday, I met my boyfriend for dinner. It was just two of us, which was nice because it gave us the space to talk about our relationship. He and I have been more friends than bf/gf for over a year now. In previous years, even if we weren’t together that way, we would talk and text pretty constantly.  Over the last 5 years we were always mature about letting each other go when we went back to school. I brought this up to him by stating what was obvious but unspoken, while I’m busy working on my recovery for at least the next year, I wasn’t much available to be anyone’s girlfriend. I love him too much to hold him back.

I mentioned how he and I had been through so many different settings of our relationship over the years. He called them “seasons.” This, I said, would just be another season. We then kind of just looked at each other with a shared feeling of understanding.  He then, all of a sudden, got teary eyed, an quickly wiped his face while smiling, looking a bit embarrassed. I can’t remember ever seeing him get choked up before, much less over me, so it was touching to say the least. It made me feel very loved by him.

My dad picked me up from the restaurant and asked about the dinner. I told him how nice it was to be with him, and what a meaningful conversation we shared. When I told him more specifically about the conversation, HE started to get choked up too! This is another person who I have only seen a number of times cry over something like this.

Because I was raised knowing the power and courage of tears, I felt a deep sense of pride over the men in my life and their courage and sensitivity. 

The journey of working, thinking, loving, laughing, learning and healing continues… Thank you so much for being a part of it! Love, Julia

12 thoughts on “JFBelieve – A Long Winter

  1. LOVE this Julia! Keep up the great work you’re doing, you look so happy and peaceful! I love the choices you’ve made throughout this whole life-changing event, you inspire us all. xxoo

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  2. Thank you so much for updating! Your ability to forgive makes it easier for me to forgive. Thanks for easing that burden. We keep you all in our prayers!

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    1. Thanks for the beautiful and touching update! You are so amazing- strong and brave! I love you starshine! Xoxo

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    1. Aunt Jen, thank you for saying that my words touched you and brought you to tears. You don’t know how much that means to me coming from a soul like yours. I hope you are well and that we see each other very soon.

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