I was in the crash that claimed the lives of my husband and daughter, but thankfully I don't remember it now. When the emergency crew arrived, they found me strapped into my seat, my breath gurgling out my throat in a death rattle. I had suffered a severe traumatic brain injury and a lung, kidney, liver, and bladder contusion. I had fractures in my arm, neck, nose, and my hand. Due to respiratory failure, I had to be intubated. I was weak, immobile, and my weight dropped to only 90 lbs. For three weeks I was in a coma, my family and friends grieving for the loss of Shawn and Sage, waiting in agony to see what my future held.
I do not remember what happened during the time I was unconscious in a coma or when I first awakened from my coma. What I have been told is that it was a gradual and painful process. At first, I was mostly unresponsive and motionless, with short bursts of confused thoughts and restless movements that increased as the days progressed. My family and doctors rejoiced when, while I was being attended to, I said, "Ouch...that hurts!"
Eventually, I was fully conscious and stopped drifting off into a comatose state. I became very talkative and it was then that the severity of the damage to my brain was revealed. When I tried to talk, what I said came out as gibberish, and I could tell no one could understand. Frustrated I started counting out loud in sequences but would eventually get to a number I couldn't remember and (full of frustration) would have to start all over again. Severe headaches were a daily occurrence and the pounding would quickly end my therapy sessions. Despite the set backs, my family watched me mentally grow up again as I had to relearn things I knew as a child. They rejoiced when I was able to follow simple commands like squeezing someone’s hand when asked, and with the help of my physical therapist, I gradually learned how to walk again.
Everyday saw improvement and soon I was speaking normally. My doctors quickly learned I had two forms of amnesia. The first kind is called retrograde amnesia and meant I would have trouble recalling my life before the crash. I recognized my family members, but I couldn't remember their names, ages, or other information regarding them. The second kind of amnesia is called anterograde amnesia which meant I also could not create new memories after the crash. This was evident everyday when my rehab doctor would tell me his name and then the following day would ask me if I remembered him. The answer was always "No." I couldn't even remember that we had met the day earlier. I struggled with this until the day I left the hospital.
Because everyday was a reboot, where I forgot everything that had happened since the crash, they decided to wait to tell me the agonizing news of Shawn and Sage. If they were to tell me now, I would just forget about it, and there was no reason to put me through that emotional trauma until I was able to remember it. My family and friends were instructed to not talk about them to me, and if I were to bring them up, they would need to change the subject. Earlier on, it was easy to distract me off the topic of Shawn and Sage, but soon my attention could not be diverted. One day, I intuitively knew something was wrong and yelled at my mother, "Where is Shawn? I know something has happened. I know you are keeping something from me!"
The doctors heard me yelling at my mother, demanding an answer. My doctor came in the room and talked with my mother about what happened. He said, "I think its time to tell her."
My neuropsychologist had my mom, dad, and sister Gina all gather together with me in the room to deliver the bad news. My doctor addressed me, "Natalie, you know you are in the hospital because you were in a car crash right?"
"Yes." I said quietly, feeling the anxiety growing inside as I perceived where his questioning was going to lead.
Softly my neuropsychologist said, "Well you weren't alone in the car, Shawn and Sage were with you...and now they are in heaven."
My head dropped to my chest, I reached out for my sisters hand, and tears quickly streamed down my face. I cried a little, and my family and doctors grieved with me. Finally when I was able to speak, I said nodding, "I already know they are. I just needed to hear someone say it."
With my deepest fear confirmed, I never forgot after that discussion that Shawn had died. The same was not true for my daughter. I could not remember that Sage had died in the crash too. I felt extreme anxiety thinking about raising her as a single parent and would ask questions of my doctor such as, "How old should Sage be before I tell her how her father died?" Sympathetically, he would always remind me that they had both died in the crash. Every time this happened, it was like experiencing the news for the first time.
Soon, with the blessings of a healing brain and body, came the struggle of the persistent realization of my sad condition. One night I had been grieving for some time, plagued by the reality of my new life, and was on the edge of falling asleep. I was reminiscing about my family and craving the comfort of Shawn's touch and the gentle movements of Sage in my arms. In the darkness of my hospital room, I heard a man's voice question me, "Why are you sad?...You are the one responsible for their deaths?" I didn't answer. I couldn't believe what he had asked. I ignored it, hoping he would leave. The presence questioned me repeatedly throughout the night, interrupting my sleep, every accusation aimed for the most vulnerable parts of my soul. I wrestled for hours against this shadow in the darkness, grieving heavily at the horrific revelation that I had been responsible, disbelieving at first, and then finally convinced it was speaking the truth. When morning finally came, and light reentered the room, I was exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically.
My mother made her daily visit to the hospital and after entering my room and seeing my condition asked, "How was your night?"
Exasperated, I told her, "I didn’t sleep one bit. I can’t believe I am the reason for Shawn and Sage’s death. This is all my fault!”
My mom, confused and concerned asked, “What are you talking about? You are not at fault; you were hit by a drunk driver. He is the one at fault. Natalie, you did nothing to make this happen.” I listened to my mother, hoping she was speaking the truth, but silently denying what she said. Everything the voice had told me, made her words seem false. It wasn't until later, when another visitor explained the details of what had happened in the crash, that I began to believe the truth.
Whoever had visited me during the night, through lies and deception, had made me sink to a level of misery I had never experienced before. He had sought me out in my weakest of moments, when my fragile mind was most susceptible and primed to believe the lies he told, and unrelentingly assaulted me through the night with his damning questions and accusations. It was clear that he had one objective in visiting me—my misery and total destruction.