Some time back, I said that I was reading a book written by a high-school classmate, and that I would blog about it when I was finished. I've since reread it several times. It's ...well, it's quite a story. Quite an autobiography. It's called "The Glass Between Us."
I wonder if the phrase 'life-changing event' has been cheapened through overuse, because if ever it applied, it would seem to me it applies to Eileen and what she's gone through.
Nearly ten years ago, my old friend was in a horrendous car accident, hit almost head-on by a driver whose attention wandered. Eileen was alone in her car - and so badly injured the Shock-Trauma team weren't sure she'd survive.
In a coma, her life hanging in the balance, she had a vision: her mother, who had died years before, came to her and told Eileen she had to 'go back; you still have too much work to do.' And so began a journey from the deepest abyss, eventually reaching a summit built on hope and love.
Eileen lost her life that day, but not physically. Her body recovered, for the most part. She can walk, she swims, she regained the use of an arm that was nearly severed, has achieved near-total recovery of her senses. But the brain injury she received as a result of the accident took away much of her memory and severely affected her mental faculties. Her 'old' life is gone forever.
With the help of her loving husband and the support of their two children (then in their 20s) - and her abiding faith in God - she has been able to put many of the pieces back together. Her courage is inestimable. So many times she could have given up, but didn't.
Before the accident, Eileen was a brilliant accountant, skilled, insightful, hard-working in the extreme. She struggles now to do complex mathematics; she hasn't been able to return to her old profession - another part of the life she lost.
You know the saying 'God never closes a door but what He opens a window'? The 'window' opened in Eileen's life gave her another chance. Ultimately, she has gone back to school, attending classes at a local community college, and currently maintains a 4.0 GPA as she works toward a degree in English.
Early on in her recovery she began to record what she was going through. She struggled to recapture memories, outlining flashes of recall and filling in details recounted by her husband and family as well as the medical staff who attended her. She has spent the last several years making her story into the book.
When Eileen told me she was working on this I didn't know what to expect. Perhaps it was good that I didn't have any preconceived notions. There are parts that are so disturbing they are difficult to read. There are other events - especially during the time she was 're-learning' navigating in public - that made me laugh out loud.
I'm not sure she realizes how incredible she is, how remarkable her strength, her courage, her resolute determination to fulfill her responsibility - the mission her mother gave her, that she still had 'too much work to do.'
Eileen has a large heart, filled with gratitude: in an effort to give back to a community that gave her so much, she now co-manages a brain-injury support group. All her hard work culminated in an invitation to address an annual educational conference of the Brain Injury Association of Maryland.
An honor in itself, it was something Eileen said during her presentation that remains my abiding image of how she sees herself:
"I listed for my audience all the gifts with injury that I have received. That was how I illustrated that I am better with a brain injury than without and that I would not trade my disability for anything."
She concludes her book by writing "If success is measured in self-confidence, happiness, and satisfaction, then I have achieved it. I began my journey to healing over nine years ago, full of anger, resentment, and grief. Today, the many blessings that are mine because of the brain injury bring me incredible joy."
It's so easy to talk about challenges
Hers is a resilient spirit, bending, but not breaking, under what could have been crushing adversity. I admire her not just for what she has overcome, but because she has had the fortitude to record it, and share it, and let others experience vicariously the incredible journey she's been on.
[When I wrote this, I had omitted the picture of the cover and even the title of her book, as I don't want to seem as though I'm trying to 'advertise' it in some way. But to delete it seems a disservice to Eileen, who has so openly shared her story, so - I included it, after all.]