June 1st, 1990 I was on the cusp of turning 13 years old and I was super excited to turn 13 years old. 13 on the 13th was my personal mantra at the time. I remember June 1st, 1990 with better recollection then I remember days last week; it was the day my mother and I were in a car accident, totaling the vehicle we were in, and breaking the top two vertebrae of my mother’s spine. Yes, my mom broke her neck. By all accounts my mother was lucky to be alive after the car accident – lucky to have survived the accident and lucky that the paramedics first on the scene did not sever her spine when trying to remove her from the truck or while moving her to the hospital. She was so very close to becoming a quadriplegic but miraculously did not. Amazing might be a better word.
The weeks and months that followed might not be my finest hour. Everything became about my mom, rightfully so, but I was a nearly/newly teenage girl in the throes of finishing school, having a big birthday, and starting summer, I wanted things to be a little bit (maybe a lot) about me. To my parents credit they never acknowledged my childish behavior, they simply went on with the necessities of healing and day-to-day life. I don’t remember exactly how long my mother was in the halo contraption for her neck with screws anchored directly into her skull, or the neck brace that followed, or exactly when life in our house went back to normal but it all did. We all got over the battle scars of my mom breaking her neck.
Then May 1991 arrived and my mom declared a new holiday to celebrate in our family – June 1st became “I’m alive day.” From 1991 forward, June 1st was “I’m alive day” a holiday for our family to celebrate life. We generally went out to a nice dinner, enjoying good food and good company. In hindsight I marvel at my mother’s ability to turn a traumatic event in our family into a day of merriment and good cheer. It was truly a day of celebration year after year.
As June 1st passed this year I realized I’ve stopped observing “I’m alive day.” You see, the last week of May 2010 my mother was declared terminal and given 6 to 12 months to live. She was in the hospital on June 1st of that year and then she didn’t see 2011. Now, almost 5 years after her death, I find myself wondering why I no longer celebrate “I’m alive day.” I’ve written in the past about finding joy in the little things, a rainbow or a run, but I’ve been missing my mother’s lesson these last five years that we need to celebrate just because we can. We need to rejoice about life not just on our birthdays but remember the beauty of surviving another year and take celebration in that simple fact. “I’m alive day” was never just about my mother living through June 1st 1990, it was always about all of us being alive and together another year. It was about the big picture! I see that now and I need to bring “I’m alive day” back as an annual family holiday. My mom may no longer be with us but I can still honor the lessons she taught me. There is great wisdom in celebrating life just because you can, just as there is great wisdom in getting out and running just because you can.
I hope I make her proud with this decision.
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