Last month I had a skin biopsy done at the corner of my left eye. Nothing to be concerned about, just routine. However, the area around my eye did not enjoy being frozen, cut open and sewn back up again and thus I came home with a shiner Mohammad Ali would have been proud of. I hadn’t checked after I left the hospital parking lot, had three appointments afterwards not realizing that I looked like I’d taken a sucker-punch. When I walked in the kitchen door later that afternoon, the kids were horrified. “Mom! What happened to your face?” I took a look in the mirror and was amazed. It looked…bad!
The bruising spread and then began turning some brilliant colours. It lasted four weeks (I have just a smudge of a bruise left that I can finally cover up with makeup). For the first three weeks, everyone I saw had the same reaction: an immediate look of shock and then the voicing of heart-felt concern until I could assure them that although it was very tender, it really was nothing, just a bruise. The first Sunday I stayed home from church. I was a little embarrassed and hated that I was making everyone so concerned. The second week I made myself go after unsuccessfully trying to arrange my hair to fall over my left eye.
I keep thinking about that bruise, how visible it was, how meaningless it was, and how much of a reaction it kept getting. I would have reacted the exact same way had I seen someone I cared about with a swollen eye. But it got me thinking about how easy it is to get distracted by what we see, and forget that much of what is really going on can be invisible to the sight.
I walk around with a bleeding heart that most of the time is unnoticeable. The cashier doesn’t see it. The parking attendant didn’t. The person standing in line in front of me and the one behind had no idea of the road I am travelling, of the sorrow that still engulfs me, the feeling of instability, the sleeplessness. How could they? Why would they?
And what do I not see? Those same people could be battling an entire world of pain invisible to the naked eye, just as I am. Many are. It changes the way I look at people. I get distracted by the black eyes when what I should be aware of are the wounded spirits. And not being so quick to judge the actions of those who bear them.
I have written little of my Taeryn’s brain injury. It has been a source of intense pain and fear for me, wondering what this will mean for her long-term, longing to be told nothing is different, that there is no damage. But there is.
When we were in the hospital I kept noticing little changes that grew to be larger ones. Her behaviour was different. She had forgotten all the phonics she had been taught, couldn’t remember what words like “opposite” meant, had frequent short-term memory loss, became incredibly impulsive and sometimes behaviourally had me confused. It could just be the trauma, I was told, or the grief. But something wasn’t right, I was sure of it.
As time went on I became more convinced that something was wrong and as I brought it up to other medical professionals, red-flags began popping up until finally it was investigated. A specialized MRI revealed 15 axonal tears in her frontal lobe from where she had most likely hit the windshield. And thus began a whole new path of specialists and appointments.
Recently we began her on an ADD drug to help with the lack of focus and the attention deficit. I quickly did 180 degree turn from poo-pooing the use of such medications to getting on my knees and thanking God for them. Suddenly, there was more of the Taeryn I knew. They don’t change everything but what they did do is remarkable. On the outside, Taeryn is still Taeryn. She is sweet, kind, energetic, loving. I am so grateful for this, for the fact that with just a little more force, she might have lost the ability to move or speak as so many people have.
There is a lot going on in the places we cannot see. Circumstances can make more of a difference than we know. I remember comments earlier on in the year about her behaviour, comments that although not unkind, made me cringe because they represented a little girl who was struggling with something she could not control. Made me cringe because I wanted to somehow show people who she really was, not just what her brain was making her do. Made me cringe because I feared that my parenting would be put into question, that I wasn’t doing “a good enough job”. I wonder how many kids I’ve judged, how many parents I’ve raised my eyebrows at over the years in criticism. Granted, there is probably a lot of bad parenting in the world. I’m sure I’ve added my share. But I’m staring at the reality that for years I’ve reverted to judging on what I’ve seen on the outside. I’ve looked at the black eye. I’ve dismissed the possibility of a hidden world that is not visible to me, whether physical, chemical or emotional. And I feel convicted.
Last March, fresh out of the hospital, I took the kids out to celebrate Karson’s 6th birthday. We were driving a friend’s Chevy Tahoe. Our van that was in the crash had sliding doors that didn’t swing open. The Tahoe’s door open outwardly and Taeryn wasn’t used to that so when we got out in the parking lot, she swung the door open not realizing that it could ding the side of the car parked next to us. Which it did.
It was just a dime-sized ding, but it was a nice enough car (although the back had a huge dent from an obvious fender-bender). Taeryn was mortified. I was trying to decide whether to leave a note or hang around until the owners got back, when I realized that a couple and their child were approaching. Sure enough, it was their car. I explained what had happened and then stood in shock while they had a conniption. Taeryn was crying, I was trying to explain that it wasn’t our vehicle, that I could give them the insurance information and my driver’s licence and I was floored at the way they were handling the situation. Rudely. Like it was a massive deal. I will break my “no judgement” conviction revelation here for a moment to say that they were looking at the black eye.
I remember standing there, holding my driver’s licence out after she snorted that I would purposely read it out incorrectly to her, feeling the anger and sorrow rising within. I looked at my four children, casted, in pain, having just gone through the worst of the worst, fresh out of the hospital, and wanted to scream at this couple with all my might, “You think THIS is bad? You think THIS makes a difference? Would you like to know what a REALLY bad situation is? Let me tell you. Let me just describe the hell we’ve been through the past three months and then you can let me know if this tiny scratch on your hunk of metal warrants this incredibly arrogant and cynical behaviour.”
But I didn’t. I let her write down the information and swallowed the desire to put things into perspective for them. Maybe they had just come from a funeral. Maybe they had just lost a loved-one. Or maybe they hadn’t.
I don’t know if it would have made a difference. What I do know is that they saw only what was visible. I suspect that they didn’t take a moment to consider that there was an entirely different world existing beneath the surface, a world we were drowning in, one we left only to take a gulp of air out of this one before sinking down into it again. They never knew.
I wonder how often I’ve never known.