I’ve learned that it’s hard to find the words to describe exactly how it felt when you received horrible news.
That lump in your throat.
The butterflies in your stomach.
The heat rush that flows through your body.
The darkness that strips away the light from around you.
But all of those things happened when my dad told me that my sister was paralyzed.
My 22-year-old sister.
My baby sister.
My beautiful sister with gorgeous red hair, freckles, and a contagious smile.
The mother of a boy who shares the same birthday as me.
It hits you hard.
That news almost knocks you to your feet.
It takes away your breath.
I’ll never forget what I did that day. Where I was when my dad called me.
I was pulling into the driveway.
The news distracted me and I missed the turning toward the garage. The Bluetooth was connected, so Cooper heard my dad’s trembling voice.
“They just took her back for surgery,” my dad said. “It’s not good.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. “What did they say?”
I could sense he didn’t want to talk about it. He seemed sad. He seemed distracted. He seemed destroyed.
“The surgeon said she’s never going to walk again,” dad said and he started crying.
I can only think of my dad crying a handful of times. And every single time, it’s rocked me.
I didn’t know what to say.
To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what I said.
My mind went blank.
“Can you do me a favor and call everyone to update them?” Dad asked. “I’m not sure I can repeat those words out loud again. I am not sure I can say…this is just devastating.”
I promised to call grandma and my sister, Sarah.
I tried to stay calm.
I tried to hold in the tears that wanted to burst from my eyes.
I tried to look straight ahead when my entire body felt weak and I wanted to crumble into fetal position.
“Why is papaw Ron sad, mommy?” Cooper asked.
“Aunt Brittney is hurt, buddy,” I said. “That’s his daughter. And he’s really sad too.”
“Is Hayden sad that his mommy is hurt?” Cooper asked.
My heart burst into a million pieces to know that my son, at such a young age, understood compassion. That he heard sadness. Related to it. And asked about it.
I didn’t see Brittney in the hospital the day of the accident. I made plans to visit her the next day.
When I walked into the hospital, I didn’t know what to do.
What to say.
What to expect.
I went into the gift shop. I found a single flower for about $7. Then I found a bouquet for about $40. I went for the expensive ones. They looked pretty. They reminded me of her.
I hit the button for the fourth floor. Maybe it was the fifth floor. I don’t remember.
I was still in a daze; trying to sort through how I could be a good sister.
How I could support her.
How I could motivate her.
When I got to the floor, the receptionist told me that floor didn’t let flowers back. The patients on this floor couldn’t risk being exposed to any outside elements, such as flowers.
I knew I should have bought the inspirational necklace or coloring books.
“Well,” I said, “What should I do with these? Should I just – like – and them to someone in the lobby? Or can I keep them here? I really don’t know what to do.”
She smiled, “I’ll keep them for you. And you can take them home until she comes home.”
Until she comes home…when would that be? How would she look? What would she say? Was she awake? My mind was racing.
The hallway seemed a mile long. The rooms were quiet. Most of the doors were closed.
No one else was there when I arrived. It was just me and Brittney.
She looked swollen. Likely from the gases used during surgery.
She was sleeping. I didn’t want to wake her.
I held back the tears again. I couldn’t believe this was actually happening.
She opened her eyes and tried to move her head, but it was hard.
I walked over to her.
“Hi, Britt!” I said. “It’s me, Ashley! I am here if you need me. You can rest.”
I put my hand on her belly.
“I am here,” I said. “But please don’t feel like you need to talk to me. Just signal if you need me.”
She barely opened her eyes.
She closed them again, and tried to open them again.
“I am alive,” she said.
“Yes, you are,” I said. “And I am so thankful for that.”
“But I am paralyzed,” she said.
I didn’t know if she knew, but she knew.
“I knew right away,” she said.
“I am so sorry,” I said. “I believe in you. I believe you’ll get better and get through this.”
The lump in my throat came back.
My hands were sweaty again.
The butterflies came back.
I had to sign paperwork for insurance and liability to move Brittney. They needed to measure her for a back brace. I felt such responsibility- and for the first time, I really placed myself in my parents’ shoes. The paperwork. The consents. The worry. The anxiety. The stress of making the right decision and speaking up for her needs.
Over the weeks, it was amazing to see Brittney’s personality come back. Her sassy attitude. Just like her older sisters. Her jokes. Her smile. Her hope.
We all knew it would be a long road, but we were extremely thankful to have our girl back.
She was sitting on the ATV – with her son Hayden on her lap – when the throttle was hit. The ATV propelled up at a high speed. Brittney leaned in to grab Hayden on her lap, and hit the ground hard. The entire impact. The angle. The force. All of it aligned in the worst way possible. The easiest thing to say is that it doesn’t seem fair.
She knew instantly that she couldn’t feel her legs. She knew it was bad. She knew she was paralyzed.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t have all the details. I know an EMS drove her from Ohio to Fort Wayne.
I know she shattered her L1 bone, and had surgery and a rod placed in her spine. I know some nerve damage was done.
This is simply my perspective on the tragic story. My view. My emotions. My perspective. I can’t even imagine her take on the story, but it’s not my place to tell.
I can tell you this, though.
Life is short.
Your entire life, as you know it, can change in an instant.
Simple aspects of your life are the most important ones.
Family and love bond us together and keeps us going.
You find out who someone really is when something devastating happens.
You see their true colors. You see their areas of strength. You see their areas of struggle. And you’ll experience these emotions and situations too.
I am proud of who my sister is; I am proud of her courage and strength. I recently read in “Option B” that resiliency is a muscle.
You must work on it.
The key to becoming stronger and better is being tested – and pulling yourself up – even during the darkest of hours.
The other day, my pastor gave a sermon and said, “Don’t forget – rock bottom is still a good foundation.”
Brittney, you amaze me.
You are more resilient than you realize.
You are testing boundaries and growing every single day.
You are a fighter.
You have a foundation – and entire community – here to support you.
My sister’s accident has changed me. It’s changed my perspective and my focus. It’s made me realize what really matters in life; and what should be brushed off. I am still working on finding that balance and learning to let things go. But when I think about Britt – her story and strength – everything changes.
She is the reason I pushed the final 5 miles of my 70.3 Half IronMan in July. I thought of her strength and determination – and applied it to myself. I would keep fighting because I can. And she would want me to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
I’ll leave you with a final story. A few weeks ago, Brittney did her first 5K. She pushed the entire time and had family by her side all of those 3.1 miles.
As we crossed the finish line, nearly 40 people were clapping and cheering for us. The energy was inspiring. I started crying. Thank you to everyone who stayed to cheer us on. I will truly never forget that moment.
I held Cooper and crossed the finish line.
I looked at Brittney and caught a smile on her face. A big one.
She was probably relieved that the race was over, but I was amazed by her grit and grind. She pushed the entire time.
That our mental strength can outperform our physical strength most days.
And that a positive attitude can change any situation.
I also believe you can’t keep a Bedwell girl down. We will fight and dig deep until the very end.
PS If you are free on Friday, November 3 at 5 pm in Decatur, Indiana – join us for a Halloween Themed Benefit to celebrate my sister and raise money for her mobility fund: https://www.facebook.com/events/383296568756439
THANK YOU to everyone who has helped plan the benefit, donated financially or through silent auction, offered to cook chili or bring baked goods, or made plans to attend the FUN event. I obviously want to raise money for her mobility fund, but I also want to see the smile on her face when a room is filled with people rooting for her; encouraging her and giving her even more inspiration to keep fighting.