In July 2016, my husband, Paul Sorensen, walked into the crosswalk at Sixth Avenue and Union Street in downtown Seattle and never made it to the other side.
A car running a red light hit him so hard he flew over the roof, and when he landed, he sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. On this fourth anniversary of his accident, I can’t help but think of the strong parallel between the trauma and adjustments a family faces after a loved one experiences a life-threatening, life-altering injury or sudden illness and the trauma we’ve all been going through since the arrival of COVID-19.
The coronavirus, like the speeding car that hit my husband, smashed into our lives and suddenly deprived us of the world we used to know. It has left us with an uncertain future: Will the economic hardships ruin us? Will things ever return to our old normal again? Will we lose loved ones to the virus?
These are scary, unsettling times, and just like a family impacted by a catastrophic brain injury, we’ve all been forced to change how we live and work and play. We have to carefully plan how we travel, how we shop and even how we walk down the street. We’ve all been unexpectedly called upon to become caregivers. We’re being asked to put someone else — in these coronavirus times, complete strangers — first so they may continue to thrive. Social distancing, forgoing parties and wearing masks in public are things we now do to care for others, not just to protect ourselves.
As we’ve seen, not everyone has the capacity, or the heart, to be a caregiver. Granted, caregiving is not easy, and on one level I understand the impulse to question the science and to want to run away from responsibilities being imposed upon us against our will. I didn’t want to believe the devastating prognosis they gave my husband, and I certainly didn’t want to change how I lived my life. I wanted to know better than the doctors, and I wanted to prove them wrong. But if you truly love someone, you stand by their side, hold their hand, and use the knowledge you gain from experts and evidence-based science to help them get better.
Some people, sadly, choose simply to not show up for others. Yet I think they’d find, as I did, that being a caregiver, and putting someone else’s needs ahead of your own, enriches you in ways you’d never expect.
Helping my husband has taught me perseverance and the healing power of gratitude. It has helped me focus on love and friendship and community. I had to ask for help, and the support and love that poured in sustained me in those dark early days and, I believe, is what made it possible for Paul to learn how to walk and talk and eat again. A ramp our friends and family built in our backyard for his wheelchair, a wheelchair he no longer has to use, is now our “boardwalk.” It reminds me every day that eventually you get to the other side of trauma. Your life will be different when you get there, and you’ll be different too, but if you’ve shown up for others, you’ll be grateful for the person you’ve become.