The day of my release from the hospital arrived much sooner than the doctors predicted. The anticipated six months to a year in the hospital turned out to be only two. My doctors and family were amazed at the speed of my recovery, and eventually they felt that I didn't need the 24 hour care I had been receiving. I had many assessments to ensure releasing me from the hospital was a good idea.
Recalling my past before the crash, while having momentary difficulties, had improved, but I still was struggling with creating new memories after the crash. I had recovered many of the abilities I had before (talking, walking, reading, writing, etc.) and now, all that was required was therapy and time to allow my brain to heal and reconnect those broken neural pathways.
With the confidence of the many professionals and therapists, they recommended my release into the care of my parents with an aggressive out-patient therapy schedule for the next several months. Before I was released, the hospital held a luncheon in my honor, and there were many embraces and well wishes with my many doctors, nurses, and therapists who were all a huge part of my recovery. I left the hospital feeling extremely blessed, loved, and hopeful about facing the difficult times ahead. It was the last ray of sunlight before a dark storm.
My mom and dad were enthusiastic as they took me to their home where I grew up for the first 18 years of my life. The drive from the hospital to my parent's house was familiar and went by quickly. As we rounded the corner into my parent's neighborhood and neared the driveway, I could see brightly colored balloons attached to picketed signs in the front lawn. A huge banner was draped over the garage doors with bold letters stating, "Welcome Home Natalie!" Members of my parent's church group had made them, hoping when I saw them I would have felt of their love. Instead I was instantly filled with fear.
"He will know where I live!" I exclaimed, swiveling my head to look around for the man who had killed my family. "We need to take these down!" I urged, my brain convinced that the man who had killed Shawn and Sage was looking for me to kill me too. The prominent banner was like an enormous, fluorescent sign illuminating the house indicating that I was there, so he could come finish the job.
My mother spoke quickly to allay my fears, "He is not out to kill you. He is in jail. You are safe here." It took me a few minutes to be convinced that my life wasn't in danger, and that he was not out to kill me. My mother thought I had gotten the idea in my mind when I had overheard doctors talking about how the man responsible was also being treated at the same hospital as I was. My damaged brain took that conversation and created the story that if he was there at the hospital, he must be there to kill me. Tentatively, I stepped out of my parent's car, pushing aside my paranoia, and at my mother's urging, walked to the beginning of the driveway so I could read all the signs that had been made by the many concerned neighbors, family, and friends.
As I walked down the driveway, reading sign after sign welcoming me back home, I couldn't help but feel an odd sense of detachment. I knew this house was where I grew up, lost my first tooth, broke my arm doing a cartwheel, graduated high school from, and spent Christmas and summer breaks at—but it was no longer where I belonged. I was home when Shawn and Sage were in my arms. This wasn't my home anymore. My home was in heaven.
Just as I remembered Sage, I rushed into the house, intent on finding her. After searching the house and realizing she wasn't there, I frantically asked my mother,“Where is Sage?”
Not wanting to answer, she quietly and carefully replied, “You don’t remember?”
Her saddened face and question back to me triggered the memory of being told about Sage's death in the hospital. I grieved again, my body aching with each breath. Since the crash, my damaged brain had not been able to recall the fact that Sage had also died, and I had learned subconsciously to not mention her name because of the negative experience of being reminded of her death. I tried to keep the idea of holding and raising my sweet baby again to myself and kept my excitement for our reunion tucked away.
This was the last time I forgot that Sage had died and was the beginning of my dark journey through a deep depression. While it was a terrible thing to be reminded of this horrific fact multiple times due to my brain injury, I look back on this as a sublime blessing in disguise. The belief I had that Sage was still alive gave me a purpose and the will to live. In my most fragile conscious state, had I remembered both were lost to me, I wonder now if I would have given up on this painful life awaiting me and followed the much easier and peace-filled course of a heavenly reunion with my loving husband and daughter.