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How the Trauma of Nearly Losing Our Son Prepared Us for a Global Pandemic. 5 Lessons to Share

Updated: Apr 10

Written by Meghan Walsh-Farrell, Project GreenHeart Foundation

Sidewalk Chalk Art by Arden Sayegh


In Pennsylvania today, Governor Wolf announced that PA schools will be closed for the duration of the school year. Our kids are devastated--they never got to say goodbye to their friends or their teachers, go to their spring dances and events or even clean out their lockers. Seniors aren’t getting the right of passage experience that they have looked forward to for years. Parents are juggling work with new homeschooling curriculums and some people are concerned for their livelihood and financial well-being.

Weddings, bat mitzvahs, christenings, graduation parties, birthday parties, Easter & Passover dinners have been canceled indefinitely. We can’t see or hug our parents, grandparents, grandchildren or friends.

We’ve been told to stay at home and bimonthly trips to the grocery store for supplies feels like living in sci-fi movie, complete with suffocating masks and gloves and a steady stream of instructions to stay away from one another and follow the arrows over the speaker system. There is wariness & fear in the eyes of people above their masks as they navigate the produce section and try to stay 6 feet away from other shoppers. It's difficult to find paper & cleaning products. Who could ever have imagined this reality even a few short months ago??

On top of all of these surreal new world experiences, we are scared. We're scared that we’re going to get coronavirus. We’re scared that our parents and grandparents and loved ones may die. We’re scared for our immunocompromised children & friends. We’re scared about who will take care of our children if we catch the virus and need to be hospitalized.

We are terrified for the economy and jobs and livelihoods. The polarization happening in our country is also terrifying and confusing. Who do we listen to? Where and what is the truth?

These are extremely traumatic times. We are suspended in limbo forced to watch as this horrific pandemic plays out around us. Aside from washing our hands, not touching our faces, staying home and doing what the health experts recommend, it can feel utterly helpless. The future is unknown. What will the new normal look like after all of this passes? When will it pass? Will we be ok?

Most of our readers know that our son suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and that we lived at the hospital and the Ronald McDonald House with him for over a year. We lived a rollercoaster of medical ups and downs, not knowing if he would live for many weeks. With brain injury, it is hard to predict outcome and the healing process can be excruciatingly slow. We have been learning acceptance of our new normal and how to take things day by day for the last 3.5 years.


In a way, having gone through that experience with our son and our extended time in the hospital has prepared us for this. Almost like an emotional guerrilla warfare training. We’ve known the feeling of limbo and suspended reality, of the unknown, of all-encompassing despair and eventually acceptance. We know what it feels like to want to believe in the complete healing of something that may never be completely healed and we've experienced the slow dawning of clarity and acceptance.

We know what it’s like to live day by day. To live in fear and to carry-on despite it. Even to find happiness despite it.

We are almost four years out now from the event that changed our lives and for what it’s worth, I’d like to share some lessons that we have learned that can be applied to the current world health crisis and the uncertainty of our future.

One: There will be Grief.

We're losing life as we knew it right before our eyes. We're losing jobs, financial security, loved ones, and freedoms that we took for granted and for some of us living alone, even physical touch. The scope of everyone's loss is different but we are all experiencing it to some degree.

Whether you’re experiencing it now, or whether it creeps in later as we are reconciling to the new normal in our lives, grief will come.

It's ok to feel sadness & loss and we need to let this happen. In order to get to the other side, we need to let ourselves feel it and try to understand where it is coming from. I can tell you from experiencing it, that acknowledging it and in some ways embracing it, is the only way forward.

Grief is a beast that demands it’s due time. We need to look it in directly in the eye for it to be at all tamed and manageable.


Two: We only need to take things Day by Day.

This is all hard. It’s new. It’s scary & stressful. We need to make clearheaded decisions to protect our families and ourselves, but we only need to do it one day at a time.

At the end of each day we need to accept that whatever we were able to do was enough. We’re all doing the best we can. Putting extra pressure on ourselves to accomplish amazing things during this quarantine, to be perfect homeschool parents or to achieve the perfect balance of working from home while taking care of home bound children, is unfair and counterproductive. It will break some of us. Unless it helps your process, you don’t need to learn a new language or execute Instagram worthy Pinterest crafts with your kids or organize your house from top to bottom.

In these times of crisis, just getting through the day is enough.

Three: Look for the Beauty.

This helped me more than I can explain. Even in the darkest days of Ronan‘s accident, it helped me to seek out something of beauty in the world. Whether it was sunlight streaming through the atrium windows at the hospital or a warm summer breeze while I was having coffee outside or a peaceful few minutes in the healing garden, it grounded me to intentionally notice the gift of life surrounding us. I’m not sure why...

Maybe It gave me hope and reminded me of my humanity and that there was life outside of my own grief and despair.

One of the most beautiful gifts that I was given a year after Ronan‘s accident, when the reality of his probably lifelong disabilities and a serious depression was setting in, was a hummingbird feeder. A friend who didn’t know how else to help me said she was bringing me the beauty of birds. The tranquility and beauty of watching those little hummingbirds soothed my aching heart that summer.

There is a lot of ugliness and sadness out there right now, no doubt about it.

But.

If we look, we will see the beauty and the good. There is beauty all around us right now. Beauty in the spring, in the sidewalk chalk drawings of rainbows by children wishing us hope, in the smell of baking bread or in a friend's smile over a zoom call.

I see beauty in watching news coverage of the healthcare workers and first responders that are risking their lives for the good of humanity. There is so much goodness to see & find.

FOUR: Love and Live for Today.

There is so much reason to hope but the future is unknown. Life can truly change in an instant.

Love your people. Tell your friends & family what they mean to you. Hug your kids, play that long 3 hour monopoly game with them and drink in their faces and their laughter. Cook the fancy meal and use the good china, break out that good bottle of wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion. Don’t wait to connect with friends (zoom calls, FaceTime, phone calls emails- whatever).

When we get back to some semblance of normal keep doing this!

Take every opportunity enrich your life and connect with others that is presented.

FIVE: There will be Growth

It will come down the line and it’s not easy to wrap our heads around right now but it’s important to know this —There will come a point when we will have a choice to grow from this experience.

I often say that I would trade anything if I could go back in time and undo Ronan’s accident but I would never want to give up the gradual growth & profound life perspective that our whole family has gained.


When all of this settles down life will be different. We will be different. You will not be the same person that you were in the winter of 2020. This pandemic and what it means and the vulnerability and fragility of life that it has shown us is going to change the fabric of who we are. That is OK... Actually...it can be more than OK.

Maybe we will be kinder and slower and more purposeful.

Maybe we will enjoy our families more and be more loving and authentic with our friends. Some superfluous things that seemed important to us before all this will not be important anymore.

Hugging loved ones will feel like a gift. We will appreciate all of the little freedoms in life.

I feel confident that there are bright days ahead and that our best times can still be in front of us. Having lived through our family tragedy and come out the other end, I know that this is possible.

Hang in there friends. Stay safe. Be Kind. Look for beauty. Allow yourself to have an emotional reaction to this.

There are beautiful things ahead for all of us.



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