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Independence Day

My brother broke his neck fifteen years ago today.

A big anniversary, I suppose. Though every day is a reminder that, in many respects, our lives shattered.

There have been days, regular, seemingly random days, when the pain from July 4th, 1998 becomes intolerable. When I feel like I’m drowning along with my brother. When I cannot produce anything but shallow breaths pumping through my body, the slightest tinges of air. When I feel like the pain coursing through me could collapse everything I’ve built from that day on.

I hate, have hated, and will likely always hate the 4th of July. Independence Day brings the reminder that my quadriplegic brother’s life is anything but free.

And yet.

And yet.

Jeff is alive.

Jeff is still with us. My family, forever changed, is still intact.

My brother is still here.

He exists with us in a way we never expected, and I have never fully appreciated. But he is alive and smart and kind.

I remind anyone that knows the story of July 4th that he is by far the better child—he is far more intelligent, introspective, and brave than I could ever be.

And he is here.

I was at an event a few weeks ago when I found out James Gandolfini died. While everyone immediately began reminiscing about his richly deserved, epically lauded magnificence in The Sopranos, I thought of something else.

I remembered his documentary “Alive Day Memories,” a simple, spare, searing film where he spoke to returning soldiers about how they created a new life after suffering catastrophic injuries in battle.

Perhaps, today can be less of a funereal experience, as it has for the last fourteen years. Perhaps today is the day I thank Jeff for being alive. My parents for their sacrifices. Their friends for grace.

Today is Jeff’s Alive Day.

Thank god for that.

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7 thoughts on “Independence Day

  1. Your reflections on this 15th anniversary of Jeff’s accident resonate deeply. On each July 4th, Rebecca, Noah, Annie and I re-experience the pain of the accident and the days that followed, though of course we can’t come close to experiencing all the angst and tumult that Jeff, you and your mom and dad have experienced since that day. We, too, feel a sense of gratitude for having Jeff in our lives and also for the friendship and love that has continued to flow between our families. We look forward to seeing Jeff later today and will miss not being with you too. Thanks for all you are doing to highlight the needs of people with spinal cord injury and raise funds to support spinal cord injury research. Love, Michael

  2. CJ says:

    Your post resonated with me..my father was hit in a crosswalk by a drugged up driver on Good Friday, 1999. At 61 yrs of age, he had just sold his business and he and mom were finally going to think about moving to Arizona..going to get going enjoying those golden years of retirement they worked so very hard for. It was all changed in an instant. Dad was left severely brain-injured and almost completely paralyzed. Mom wanted him to come home to be cared for there as much as possible. It would be many months before he came out of the hospital after the accident. I was devastated at the ‘loss’ of the special Daddy I had always known before. He could only reply with the same phrase “what you get, what you get” to everything…he lay in the bed helpless like a baby for 12 years…in and out of complicated hospitalizations and multiple surgical procedures…he had told me when I was a little girl that there was no way that he’d ever want to become a burden or have to live life like that. My mother clung to him and his existence tightly. He died at home. I still mourn all that was robbed from them both, from us all that fateful night. I miss him terribly, but I was grateful we were still able to have him, broken as he was, for those final 12 years.

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