I remember talking to myself driving on the highway trying to find the right song that would understand and keep me company through this trip, trying to keep it together and be focused. Hours earlier I received a call from my mom that her and my dad were in Palm Springs as my sister, Ana, had been in a severe car accident(jaws of life to get her out, life flight helicopter, etc.),had to have both of her legs amputated and was in ICU sustaining other injuries. How in shock I was at work when I tried to get the words out of my mouth to my supervisor and co-workers. I felt disoriented, it couldn’t process, “MY sister? My little sister?! Both legs amputated?! This can’t be right.”. Here I was hours later, making the drive from Sacramento to Palm Springs(that I would eventually become pretty familiar with)still trying process this concept. Of course, like we do so much in so many different events in our lives, I turned to my music library for a soundtrack that I could relate to and help me make this long solo drive. Like pulling different outfits out of the closet and holding it up to yourself real quick, I shuffled through artists/songs on the ipod and cds in the stereo, trying to find the right fit.
Then it came. Patty Griffin-When it Don’t Come Easy. I don’t what her inspiration was to write the song but that voice and those lines, “If you break down, I’ll drive out and find you. If you forget my love, I’ll try to remind you. Stay by you, when it don’t come easy…”. I could finally let out a cry. The whole song is about someone you love being lost(in whatever way), the outlook dismal and undying unconditional loyalty and commitment. Of course I knew that this would all not come easy but had no idea how much was to come and the unknown weighed heavy on my mind, ICU? BOTH legs amputated? Broken arm? Major blood loss? Was she even going to live?
I can easily replay the scenes of being at the hospital, it will never leave me. Meeting my parents, getting up the brevity to go through those ICU doors and seeing those long legs gone, the beautiful face bruised, the arm broke, teeth gone, the chest scarred, her levels varying and feeling helpless. Both of my parents came out from their bay area home immediately and did not leave. Eventually(after weeks), Ana stabilized a bit and was sent upstairs to a room but it would still be months. My parents were always there. I had to go back and forth to home a lot. They were always there. I tried to be of help and support when I was there to be a part the round the clock watch, that someone would always be there with her in case, well, just in case. It could be a little heavy to witness things like Phantom Pains(where you feel, like, your feet or toes hurting), especially at three in the morning, or see her subconsciously going through the motions of typing in orders(she had previously worked as a server in a restaurant.)for up to 40 minutes. But there we were, filling up a notebook with a record of her behavior, what meds they gave, what nurses, what specialists, who said what, etc., around the clock. My parents kept a dutiful steadfast determination the whole time but it wasn’t easy, long days away from home, their daughter in such crisis, the Palm Springs summer heat and of course, our worry and care of Ana’s beautiful daughter, Josephina.
All the while, from the start support came pouring in from family and friends from all over, calls, cards, flowers, visitors, all sending out the same message,”Stay by you, when it don’t come easy…”. She would be in Palm Springs for months before she could be stabilized enough to be released, not to home but, to a rehabilitation hospital. My little family took my niece on a summer vacation and all did our best to make the best of it for her, she would also stay with us for a short while and go to school with her cousin. My parents continued their commitment of care, support, watch, networking with family and friends, coordinating and planning many arrangements as she sustained many varied injuries that were being attended to at once. The small town of Idyllwild where she lived rallied their support with a benefit for Ana at the restaurant that she worked at, with a dinner and auctions and treated my parents like the royalty that they were, my dad reporting it as,”The Mountain Of LOVE”.
Towards the end of summer, she was able to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility in San Francisco close to my parents home. Transportation was hard to figure out as this would basically be her first time out and a long drive at that but my parents made it happen. Ana’s amputations had to happen with one leg being removed below the knee and the other above the knee which made it virtually impossible to be able to walk independently with prosthetics. It was time to learn so much all over. So much had fallen out of her life, her body, her work, her boyfriend, how to be a mother in this capacity and here she was, where to go from here? Our family had a big family reunion planned in the mountains of Nevada City and Ana was determined to make an appearance. She worked very hard with her therapists and did her best to keep a good attitude even though obviously there were very discouraging days. Even with her determination, she wasn’t ready to be released, it just wasn’t time. Still, the support kept flowing(sometimes coming in the form of my brother auctioning off his long hair(“shave it off!”)or a uncle dressed as a clown honking a horn in the hospital), sending the message, “If you forget my love, I’ll try to remind you. Stay by you, when it don’t come easy…”.
Sometimes on my visits there, we would just be and hang out, eat burritos, read books, share music, talk. I remember then she was saying she wanted to go back to school, maybe be a writer, the seed was planted. After her eventual release, she relocated to the Sacramento area where she grew up, specifically Fair Oaks then Citrus Heights and found a strong network of support in the old friends that she grew up with ready to embrace and help her rebuild a life. It would not come easy, there was so much to do and coordinate in a lot of areas of her life and transportation was an issue. Still she got it done getting rides and putting in long days of public transportation. Slowly and surely she kept her resolve and confidence to keep going and make a new life. She enrolled and started school at American River and threw herself into studies, contributing to the school newspaper and exploring new opportunities. After a long while, she was able to learn to drive with modified controls and earned a Drivers License. Semester after semester, she was at it, taking loads of credits and graduating from there and right back into it at Sac State where she would find her passion evolve in to environmental studies and being an activist on issues such as Genetically Modified Organisms, Fracking and Monsanto, balancing this full load with a home life and making sure to have some fun(She is a Punk Rock Princess, after all).
And now, we all gather and rally again this time to celebrate as on the 25th of May, Ana walked in the ceremony with the graduating class of Sac State 2013. It was a long road and it would be fake to act as if wasn’t tough at times for her family/friends support system as well, my core family had our boat rocked and there were some times our relations with each other were tested but we knew our investment was obviously worth it and were proven right. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention what a strong spirit my niece, Josephina, was and is through this whole journey with her life being changed and having to start again in her own way. So much resilience in someone so young, amazing.
So yes, we celebrate Ana’s accomplishments and this weekend I see how proud everyone is because they witnessed how she put herself in a better place and the excitement at what new opportunities await as the momentum continues….even when it don’t come easy.