On 13 December 1998, my life changed irreversibly. I lay immobilised in a hospital bed with my thoughts as my constant companions. We all know what overthinking can do and in my case, it was no different: Not Good! Initially, I was upbeat and positive, until a group of teenagers visited the ICU to sing Christmas carols. Their faces and the pitying looks changed my perspective and catapulted me into spiralling thought patterns. Positive thoughts and gratitude were the furthermost from my mind at the time.
At first, I didn’t grasp that my situation could very well be permanent. I was an occupational therapist and should undoubtedly have realised it instantly, but I didn’t. Not until the night of the Christmas carols. It was at that moment that I saw the rest of my life play out like a movie I didn’t want to watch and for some reason, the very first scene that played out was my daughter’s wedding.
Let me put it into perspective. My daughter was seven years old at the time. We were nowhere near planning a wedding for goodness sake, but for some reason, my flash forward took me to that day. The realisation hit that I would probably not be able to dance at her wedding or help her to prepare as any other “walking” mother would. It tore me apart.
Getting on with life
Fast forward almost twenty years. I am still a paraplegic but my life, for the most part, has been great. Our family has shared incredible adventures, and we have done many things most non-disabled families don’t even do! We have travelled to beautiful destinations, and we have seen breathtaking sights together.
Over the years, I always endeavoured to be an example of strength, independence and above all, perseverance, especially to my two kids. There were many challenges, but we faced them and usually overcame them together. In general, I believed that I had excelled in the department of ‘getting on with life”, until earlier this year…
That glorious day
Conflicted feelings have taken on a whole new meaning for me. Let me explain.
Earlier this year, my daughter shared the most exciting, blessed news that she would be getting married in December. Little else could make me happier. She had met an incredible guy, and she was thrilled. As her mother, I could not wish for more.
So what's the problem?
Rewind to the ICU in December 1998 and my thoughts about her wedding. The glorious, yet hugely anticipated day is fast becoming a reality, and my thoughts are spiralling once again. On 13 December 2018, it will be the twenty year anniversary of my accident and my changed life and the wedding will be two days later. Little has changed as far as mobility goes, and I won’t be dancing at her wedding. Not like a walking, upright person.
I thought I had processed and accepted my reality, but somehow the upcoming nuptials had proven me wrong.
Okay, so I can already hear all the comments and the feedback about gratitude and ability, perception and attitude! I have listened to, read about it and told myself those very same things countless times over the past decades. What I have also realised over the years though, is that I can allow myself to rant every once in a while, to be angry, upset and sad. More importantly, I know that I can recognise and feel all of the negatives but only to a point. Then it becomes time to have a thorough reality check!
I know I am blessed, and I am indescribably happy and excited about the wedding. Undoubtedly, it will be one of the highlights of my life. I feel so incredibly grateful that I can plan my daughter’s day with her and that I get to watch her walk down the aisle in a breathtaking wedding dress towards the man she loves and with whom she will be sharing her life.
Wherein lies the reality check then?
It’s about challenging my fears and checking my thoughts about that day. For twenty years, it’s been the one day I have most looked forward to and feared at the same time. What am I afraid of you may ask. Let me make a list!
- Have you ever been around someone in a wheelchair, especially on a wet and rainy day or in the morning when the grass is moist? Have you experienced first hand how quickly the most beautifully clean outfit can be ruined instantaneously because of a muddy tire that brushes against the fabric to leave a horrible stain? I worry that my chair will destroy my daughter’s wedding dress even before her special day begins!
- Wheelchairs and dance floors have become more synonymous than ever before. Some wheelchair-users even compete in wheelchair-dancing, and they love every moment! Believe me; I adored dancing, and I know I need to challenge my existing beliefs and perceptions about dancing in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, I still have hang-ups about it. It’s the one activity I haven’t been able to wrap my head around in twenty years. It just feels wrong, and I am afraid of looking silly and spoiling their pictures!
- Wedding photos are forever and making sure that they look incredible is a given. Organising and arranging a family photo with a wheelchair is challenging at best – we have done it a couple of times before. I worry about the pictures, what they will look like – with me in the wheelchair in them – and how we will ensure that they are as incredible as possible!
- The wedding will be at an outdoor venue at a vineyard. It’s gorgeous. I have been there a couple of times before, and I have managed to navigate across the grass and most of the areas independently. I worry though that it may rain turning the soil into a muddy mess or that we forget to take my portable ramps to enable me to get to the bathroom independently!
- UTI’s are part and parcel of paraplegia. It’s no secret that incontinence is part of the deal. Medication usually keeps it all in check, but from time-to-time, an unwelcome UTI upsets the apple cart. It is during those times that incontinence is uncontrollable and accidents happen. I worry about that unexpected, unwelcome UTI rearing it’s ugly head at the time of the wedding, ruining my outfit and causing embarrassment!
Positive thoughts and Gratitude will save the day
My daughter has always been the most accepting person of my disability, my wheelchair and most importantly of me. She has never, ever judged me or made me feel less than a mother than any other, walking moms out there.
For that, I am eternally grateful, and it will be my gratitude that will carry me through her special day.
A potentially challenging time to look forward to in December 2018 has indeed turned into a glorious time for us all! I am incredibly grateful that I can focus on all of the positives of 15 December instead of the sadness and hurt associated with 13 December. Walking down the aisle may not be my reality, but my gorgeous son will accompany me alongside my wheelchair to take my seat. I get to share that moment with him! I get to see my daughter walk down the aisle and I get to share her special day with her, my family and our friends. Does it get any better?!
If I allow myself to wallow, I know I will be the only one that cares about the chair, the photos and every item on my worry list. So I won’t. I’ll get out of my chair for some of the pictures, and we will have a plan to keep the outfits as clean and tyre-streak free as possible. We will work it all out!
From this moment on, positive thoughts and gratitude will save the day. I can’t wait. Eighty-one days and counting! I will keep you posted, but I am sure it is going to be a day to remember!