Back in early spring of 2013, we decided to spruce up our backyard. We bought heavy bags of wood chips that Jeff heaved in from the garage and spread underneath the trees lining our little enclosed backyard patio. We also bought two wooden planters that we filled with soil. And I can remember kneeling down with little Evie, who was still in preschool and going to turn 4 soon, and we planted sunflower seeds.
We'd never planted anything before, so we were very excited to watch the sunflowers grow. Evie's patience waned, but I was diligent in checking on those flowers. When the buds started to peek through the soil, I called Evie out so we could ooh and aah at nature sprouting right before our eyes. Within a couple months, we had pretty good size stalks, and by summer, we could see that the flowers would be opening soon.
I would check them every single morning.
Then one day, July 25th to be exact, one of our sunflowers burst forth. It was almost entirely open, with just a few petals that still needed to stretch out. I snapped a photo before I left for work that day, and I posted the image on Instagram with the caption: "Our sunflowers are starting to bloom!" I was so excited.
Two days later, we went to the beach with friends, and Jeff was paralyzed diving into the ocean.
And just like that, I never thought about those sunflowers again.
In the blink of an eye, everything, every-thing changed. What used to be important to us, what used to make us happy, no longer mattered. We were handed a new set of responsibilities to prioritize that day, and that list definitely didn't include growing sunflowers.
I remember going out in the backyard a couple weeks after Jeff's injury, when I was home briefly with just enough time to shower, pack new clothes and grab some food before heading back to spend another impossible night with my husband in the hospital. I walked out the back step and looked around. Everything seemed so bleak in the waning light of the evening. It was like all the joy had been sucked out of what used to be a place filled with life. Our life. A place where just a week prior, we'd hung twinkling lights on the canopy. Where Jeff had meticulously run a cable from our bedroom out to the patio and connected it to a TV in preparation for watching football while he grilled us dinner. A place where Evie chalked sweet figures on the concrete and ran through the sprinkler giggling.
I turned to see the sunflowers, and they were all wilted, bent over, dry. Completely dead. I didn't even try to salvage them, which would have been impossible anyway. But more than that I remember thinking what's the point? I'd already learned that we'd need to move as soon as possible. The condo we rented wasn't anywhere near accessible for the wheelchair Jeff would need to get around. All of this - all the stuff in our backyard - would need to be stored or sold. It was too much for me to mentally wrap my mind around in the moment. I stepped back in the house and closed the door on our old life.
Because that's what that sunflower was - our old life. Days before everything changed, it was all going so good. Jeff and I had great jobs, we had a happy, healthy daughter, we had friends we hung out with on evenings and weekends, we had everything.
But now that life was gone.
Yet somehow, through all the difficulty and challenge, we've managed to grow a whole new life.
Year eight hasn't been easy, which has honestly been a surprise for me. You'd think that having eight years of SCI life under our belts, we'd be pretty good at it. And we are. But this year presented quite a few speed bumps. Last summer Jeff developed a pressure sore which kept him in bed for seven months, and turned me into a wound nurse. Those months of bed rest and constant wound monitoring were very difficult for us both. Jeff missed every holiday last year, just like he had the first year. Evie and I decorated for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, and he didn't see any of it in person. And the stress of the wound and so much of the healing responsibility belonging to me almost broke me. It certainly caused me to hit an all time low as a caregiver, which I'm just now climbing out of with the help of some self-care and self-reflection on the stresses I've had to carry the last eight years.
Through all of the ups and downs, the one thing I can honestly say that hasn't disappeared from our old life - the one thing that has actually grown stronger - is the love between me and Jeff. I am so thankful for who he and I are together. How we have pushed through even the darkest of days to find light again. How we've refused to let a shitty situation destroy us.
Sometimes I think about our old life - that sunflower - how beautiful it was, and how we'll never have that again. But I'm quickly reminded that there's still beauty to be found in our new life as well.
Just this past spring, Evie and I tried planting seeds again. We'd picked a spent flower from a barrel cactus and opened it up to find hundreds of seeds inside. We planted several in the front yard and in the back yard. And even a few in little pots that we put on the windowsill in the kitchen. And just like the sunflowers, I checked those seeds every day. For so long I didn't see anything. Then something happened. Jeff was hospitalized, and of course I was by his side the whole time. And I forgot all about those seeds. So imagine my complete surprise when after 11 days' absence, we came home to find that one of those seeds had sprouted. And a tiny little barrel cactus bud was pushing up out of the dry soil, resilient and strong.
Just a little reminder that life still finds a way even through the harshest of conditions.