When the Unimaginable Happens and You Come to the End of Yourself
Finally, after five tumultuous years, it finally felt like we were standing on level ground.
My husband and I had already faced more challenges than we could’ve imagined. We suffered the loss of twin girls when I was five months pregnant – a complete shock and an utterly devastating loss.
A year after that loss, we had our beautiful healthy firstborn, Farrell. Pregnant with my second, one month before her birth, my tween stepdaughter moved in basically overnight. I adore my stepdaughter. At 32, however, I was ill prepared to raise a tween right in the middle of raising babies.
We were bursting at the seams and sold our house, moving from the city to the suburbs to raise our growing family. My husband had also just taken a new job.
When it came to top stressors in life, we checked a lot of boxes.
We were living in our new home just about a year. Thankfully, our lives had settled down.
Though we had suffered a lot of heartbreak, we truly came from the depths of despair strengthened. Our faith, though tested, had been sharpened.
Things were so good, we decided to go on a romantic weekend getaway to the beach. I can still feel the heat on my face as we lay in the sun, water lapping at the shore, marveling at what we had been through, how far we had come, and grateful we were together – relaxed and happy. Aaaahhhhh…
A week later, I was in my bed, still half asleep, slowly rising, as my husband came into our room to kiss me goodbye. “The kids are watching Sesame Street.” “K…thanks,” I replied still drowsy.
Once upright, I glanced out my bedroom windows. It was one of those spectacular June days – birds chirping, sun dazzling, blue sky breathtaking.
I was just about to head down to the girls when I heard the screech of wheels. Seconds later, “Call an ambulance!” Fumbling, I dialed the police. Wrong number. I dialed again and got the right one, “Yes, Mam. We’ve received a call. The ambulance is on the way.” We had no cell phones and not even 911. It was 1992.
Our house was two doors from the corner where my husband caught the bus into the city.
Where is Chris?
He would be the first one to call the ambulance.
I didn’t hear the bus go by.
Could it be him?
I went to the front door and looked through the screen. There was a small crowd gathered around someone lying in the street right at the corner. I cried out, “It is a man?” An older man looked up at me and shook his head yes. “Does he have a mustache?” Another yes.
I ran from the house, knowing. It was Chris. Curled in a fetal position, blood coming from his ears, he was barely conscious.
I knelt down next to him, pleading, “Chris, Chris, it’s me. It’s Elise, your wife. You’re going to be okay. Hold on, honey. We need you to hold on.”
The squealing ambulance arrived. Young EMT’s gathered around Chris. “Everyone move back.”
Within minutes, Chris was in the ambulance, and I was in a medical transport truck following behind to the nearest trauma center.
I remember crying out to God, “Please don’t let it be his mind.”
Chris had a Masters in Fine Arts in Poetry from Columbia University. Though he worked as a marketing director for a large accounting firm, he had taught college English and was part of our statewide Poets in the School program. He loved all things writing and words. What would it be like for Chris if he couldn’t use the full capacity of his brain?
As a result of the impact from a delivery van hitting him, flying through the air, and landing in a way that caused bruising on his brain, Chris needed emergency open-head surgery.
When Chris made it through the first night, the medical team was fairly certain he would live. The extent of his brain injury was a mystery. He was in a coma for three days and as he slowly regained consciousness, it was clear Chris had severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). He couldn’t talk, feed or dress himself. He couldn’t walk and he didn’t know who he was, who I was, or what had happened.
My life was a blur for the week Chris stayed in the hospital. Others watched my kids, while I traveled back and forth to be with Chris in his terrible state of confusion. I remember coming into his room and his name was scrawled childlike, barely discernible on the blackboard. The occupational therapist had helped him write.
Chris was then transferred to a rehab facility where he received physical, occupational, speech, cognitive, and social therapy. His days were long and challenging. But he was in amazingly good spirits considering what he was going through. He was determined, faith-filled, courageous, focused on getting well.
As I write this story, I realize how much I have to leave out. There is just too much to tell about the journey – the support we received – food, flowers, babysitting, prayers from around the world – the miracles we experienced, the agony of Chris losing his job, social displacement, financial strain. The road to recovery was paved with deep joy and sorrow, great tragedy and greater still triumphs.
We would never choose our experience. But because of what we had already navigated, we had grown closer to a very real God who carried us through.
When we lost the twins, I came to know God, not just as an “up there” kind of God but as my very near and real Savior. When my stepdaughter Lauren came to live with us full-time as I was about to give birth to my second baby, I did not know what I was doing. I came to rely on God. And when Chris was hit by a car, the foundation of faith had been laid firm. Did I sail through? No! It was beyond challenging to forge a new way together, for us and our family.
But I felt as though God was walking with me. He went before. He walked beside. I was covered by Him, making it possible for me to keep going when I had nothing left.
One day, about five years after Chris was hit, he told me he was going to go up to the nearby university and see if they had a job for him. I was terrified that he would be rejected. Instead, he was hired as an adjunct professor to teach English. That was 25 years ago. Chris got a full scholarship to a doctoral program. It was extremely difficult. But he is now Dr. Christopher Parker and just recently, he taught seven courses at three universities.
No, we never could’ve imagined what lay ahead of us when we said, “I do!” And we also never would’ve believed how God grew us strong enough to overcome heartbreak after heartbreak with Him totally by our side.
“You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.” Psalm 139:5 (NLT)
Elise Daly Parker is a certified life coach, writer, and speaker. She co-authored a new devotional journal Unshakable Peace in an Unsteady World. She’s also the creator of the MomVision podcast – helping moms savor not just survive seasons of motherhood with clarity, confidence, and calm. When Elise got married and had kids, she found it more challenging than she imagined. Now she shares life lessons with transparency to give moms help and hope on their motherhood journey. Download Elise’s 5 Scriptures to Help You Savor Not Just Survive Motherhood.
Elise has been married to Chris for 37 years, has four daughters and two sons-in-love, as well as two grandchildren. She lives in New Jersey, where she can see NYC on the horizon. You can connect with Elise on her website or find her on Instagram and Facebook @elisedalyparker.
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