A Misfortune—Not a Tragedy

A Misfortune—Not a Tragedy

From Chicken Soup for Every Mom's Soul

A Misfortune—Not a Tragedy

A lone we can do so little; together we can do so much.

Helen Keller

I was an ecstatically happy thirteen-year-old riding home for dinner on my new birthday present—a Fleet bicycle made by Schwinn, and it was a dandy. It even had a spring knee-action suspension in front. Better yet, it was the only one of its kind in the neighborhood.

I polished its blue and white frame and fenders to a shiny brightness that could be seen for blocks away. I had been on cloud nine ever since I received it as a gift a few days before. One’s first bike is a milestone in any child’s life. Like any thirteen-year-old boy there was only one thing on my mind as I pedaled home around four-thirty that afternoon—dinner.

I skidded my bike up to the front porch in a spectacular wheelie and bounded up the steps. As I ran through the hallway toward the kitchen I began to wonder. I didn’t smell any tantalizing aroma coming from Mom’s spic-and-span kitchen. Oh well, I thought, smiling to myself, maybe we are having cold cuts with pork and beans—my summer favorite.

I opened the swinging doors to the kitchen expecting to hear, “Jimmy, wash your hands and help me set the table.” Instead, my young eyes focused on my mother, ghostly white, lying in a crumpled heap on the kitchen floor— blood oozing from a deep wound on her forehead. I tried to rouse her but to no avail. All I got were moans. Beginning to cry, I knelt beside her quiet form on the floor and asked soberly, “Mom, are you okay?” She answered in an almost unintelligible whisper, “Please help me, Jimmy.”

Realizing we were alone, like most children would do, I ran to the phone. This was 1944 and there was no such thing as 911, only the operator’s friendly voice asking, “Number please.” I blurted out my grandmother’s phone number between sobs and said, “It’s an emergency, operator, please hurry.”

I called Grandma because Dad was still at work, and I couldn’t remember his office number. The first words out of Grandma’s mouth were, “Jimmy why are you crying?” I could hardly speak through the tears by this time. Between sobs I explained to Grandma about Mom on the floor needing help. All she said was, “I’ll call the fire department, and I’ll be right there. Hang on.”

Grandma didn’t own a car but lived nearby. True to her word, her running feet hit the porch at the same time the firemen arrived from the neighborhood station. We all converged on the kitchen to help Mom. She was still lying on the floor, not moving or making a sound. As the firemen worked over her in a huddled mass I heard one of the firemen say, “Get a gurney. She has to go to the hospital now.

” Once more I began to cry. Grandma immediately swept me into her massive, comforting grandma arms and said soothingly, “Hush child. Your mother is in good hands; she’ll be okay. God and the firemen are with her.” Grandma always knew just what to say.

Little did we know as we watched the firemen wheel Mom out of the house, our family’s life would never be the same. We found out later Mom had slipped on the slick kitchen floor she was mopping. As she fell she hit her head on the sharp edge of the kitchen table, causing severe brain damage—resulting in paralysis to the left side of her body. This misfortune, not a tragedy, changed our lives and lifestyle in a matter of seconds.

After weeks of convalescence in the hospital and extensive therapy she was still unable to use her left arm or left leg normally. She never would again, and she was only in her late thirties.

I never will forget the day Mom came home. Dad got her settled in a makeshift bedroom downstairs in our two-story house. He then asked all of us children to gather in the living room. Dad, his usual strong voice filled with emotion, said, “Your Mother will never be the same. The fall damaged the right side of her brain. It is like a light-bulb that shatters and cannot be put back together—this caused the paralysis. She will never again be like the mom you have known. But she will still be your mom—don’t ever forget that.” We all nodded our heads in agreement.

There were four of us children, myself, thirteen years old; an older sister, fifteen; a younger brother, eight; and a baby sister, three years old. Struggling with Dad’s words we all reached out and grasped each other’s hands as we gathered around him in prayer. We knew then that our family would not be the same, but it would survive—we were all very confident of that fact—Mom and God were still with us.

After more physical therapy Mom soon was able to shuffle about and once again commence her household duties. She only had the use of her right hand and arm. Her left arm hung limply to her side. Her partially paralyzed left leg only allowed her to walk stiff legged.

All of us children, and of course Dad, had increased work to do at home, but none of us really minded. After all, Mom was still with us, along with her happy, perky personality. In spite of this life-changing experience our family unit soon knitted. If anything, it was stronger than before. Yes, life was good once more for our family.

Dad never faltered in his role as father, husband and part-time mom. They remained together as Mom and Dad, husband and wife for their forty-six remaining years until Mom—who was in a wheelchair by this time—passed away. We children in the family actually benefited immensely from this misfortune—I won’t say tragedy—in many ways for the rest of our lives.

We learned compassion and how to look out for each other. We became a bonded team, working together for the good of the family and, most of all, we learned how to love one another.

At seventy years old I can attest to this fact: No matter how bleak your future can look to you as a child when faced with a family misfortune—I still won’t say tragedy— life does get better. Our family found out quickly that even a shattered lightbulb can bring brightness to the end of a long, dark tunnel—all we had to do was reach out together, along with God, and turn it on.

James A. Nelson

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