Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy – Part II

Continuation from June 15, 2014, Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy.

Written by, Katie Wilson Ferguson

1997 – Katie & Mark in Jamestown, VA.

Age fourteen was an especially rough year for me. Dad had been in a wheelchair for half my life due to a traumatic brain injury from a car accident. He started having seizures, which always scared me. His memory was getting worse. I felt frustrated when he couldn’t remember the name of the school play I’d been rehearsing for and talking about, but he could describe the swing he had as a child in detail.

My parents always talked and acted as if Dad would regain all his abilities, but at age fourteen I started realizing life wouldn’t go back to the way it was before the car accident. I was angry with God and felt He abandoned us. I was grateful He spared my dad’s life, but I didn’t understand why He didn’t make Dad all better. He was working hard to regain all the abilities he once enjoyed. I felt my dad deserved more.

Mark  Katie in Zions National Park

1998 – Mark &  Katie in Zions National Park

About this same year, my family was driving to my cousins wedding reception and got lost. The stress of trying to find the venue and running late led us to argue. We finally arrived at the destination feeling tired and ornery. We were just in time to join the other guests in watching the bride dance with her dad. I looked at my dad sitting in his wheelchair and was overcome with jealousy. My heart broke as I thought I wouldn’t be dancing with my dad at my wedding. Emotion flooded my eyes with tears and I ran out of the room and into an empty elevator. As soon as the elevator doors closed, I lost all control and sobbed. I escaped back to my family’s van and hid there for the rest of the reception.

I regularly babysat two neighbor girls ages seven and ten. While babysitting one summer afternoon, we walked to my house to get something and they met my dad for the first time. While walking back to their house, the girls asked me the same questions I often heard. “What happened to your dad?” they asked. I thought back to when I was seven, and explained my dad’s brain injury the same way adults had explained it to me back then. “My parents were in a car accident, and now his brain has a hard time telling his muscles what to do. That’s why it’s difficult for him to walk and talk and do the things most of us get to do without much effort.”

The girls asked how old I was when the car accident happened. The seven-year-old became especially intrigued when she realized I was her age when it happened. She asked, “What happened to you?”

“I wasn’t in the car accident. I was home with my brother and babysitter.”

“No. I mean what happened to you after?” She wanted to know how the car accident affected me.

I don’t remember how I responded, but her question caused me to reflect on how my family had been served by so many people. I thought of how my brother and I stayed with our grandparents and extended family often while my dad was in the hospital. I had my own toothbrush at Grandma and Grandpa’s house and at my aunt and uncle’s house. My toothbrushes at both houses had my name written on with nail polish. This was a small thing which helped me feel at home in someone else’s house. When we stayed with my aunt and uncle, my cousins read to me from the book “Charlotte’s Webb.” This also helped me feel at home since I was use to my dad reading me bedtime stories.

I have seen so much goodness in people because of my family’s experience. Some of my parents’ neighbors have generously given their time to help my dad with exercises on a regular basis – some of which have been doing it for more than seventeen years.

Twenty-three years after their car accident, we are still blessed to have love and support from family and friends. I’ve been surrounded by angels my entire life, many are disguised as human beings.

The biggest angel of all is my Mom. She has been my dad’s full-time caregiver and his biggest advocate. At one point during my childhood, she had three jobs to support our family while raising two kids and caring for my dad. I’m so proud of my mom. I used to say I wanted to be like her when I grew up. If I ever do grow up, I can only hope to have the strength and determination she has. I am grateful for all the years she has served and loved my dad. I don’t think any person can truly understand all the sacrifices she has made over the years. She has prayerfully fought her battles with grace and wisdom. I think my parents’ relationship is far more impressive than anything I’ve heard from a fairytale or seen in a movie.

2003-Katie  Eldin with Mark and I

2003 – Katie & Eldin’s Wedding Reception with Mark and I

After I had been married for about a year, my parents met me for lunch at a restaurant. We were quietly eating when I looked around the crowded room and realized my dad was the only person there in a wheelchair. I wondered if that ever bothered him. My thoughts were interrupted when my dad sat up in his chair with a big smile on his face and declared, “I’m the luckiest guy here!”

“Why?” I asked.

He replied, “Because I’m sitting next to the two most beautiful women in this room.” Dad’s so busy looking for the good in every situation he doesn’t have time to notice the bad.

DadAndMe 2013

2013 – Katie and Mark

My dad has taught me the keys to happiness through his example. He chooses to be happy by having a sense of humor, being productive, forgiving, grateful and maintaining hope. My dad once said, “Adversity is the exercise that strengthens the muscle of character.” I think my dad’s muscle of character has Hercules strength.

Thank you Katie for sharing more of your story. Teenage years are hard under the best circumstances. I’m sure your dad’s health and your mom being overwhelmed with responsibilities added to your stress. I’m grateful we all survived those hard years. From this article I learned a lot about your feelings and appreciated your honesty. I am proud of the resilient person you are and the sunshine you bring into my life as well as others. I’m so lucky you’re my daughter!

My Father Didn’t Tell Me

MyFather (2) Our daughter, Katie is a graphic designer and owns Graphic Forte. She designed this saying along with many others shared on Thursday Thoughts. She shared her story last Sunday, Dad Creating Beauty After Tragedy. I appreciated her story and that she realizes not only did the scene of her life drastically change by the car accident, but so had her dad’s. He is a survivor of a traumatic brain injury and she has learned much from him. I’m so grateful she has memories of her dad before the accident. I use to worry the kids would not remember their dad as I did because of their young age.

Katie states, “As a seven-year-old child through adulthood I saw my dad use his tragic and life-changing disturbance to create a new kind of beauty.” She learned important lessons from him, not because he told her, but through his example.

She learned, “the value of perseverance as he pushed through strenuous therapy as he learned to feed himself and speak again.”

He showed her “how burdens can be lightened by having a sense of humor. He often told people the scar on his stomach from the feeding tube he had was really a second bellybutton, which made him ‘twice the man.’”

I now understand the benefits of taking our children daily to the rehab center. Not only did the kids grow from Mark’s example, but the kids encouraged him and gave him reason to work hard at regaining every ability. Mark’s rehabilitation was a family affair and in an unusual way, or at least one we wouldn’t have chosen, it made our family closer than we might have been otherwise.

I know we continue to benefit from Mark’s example—actions do speak louder than words.

We’re looking forward to the next Sunday Story and reading how the transformation affected Katie’s life throughout her teen years and as an adult.