Day 15 – A Day Of Thanksgiving

Caleb's Dad ~ 25th November 2010

Today is Thanksgiving.  It feels strange waking up to a day that we have always celebrated at home with family.  However, this year we get to celebrate it at Scottish Rite Children’s Rehabilitation Center…not the place that we had expected, but nevertheless still with family, still with our kids, and so much more to be thankful for than we could have ever imagined.

Caleb had a bit of a laid back day today.  It wasn’t that Caleb was tired; it’s that he simply did not want to do anything! For the first hour and a half both in Caleb’s language and movement group therapies Caleb simply chilled out, sitting on his bottom in the therapist’s lap rather than wanting to participate in the exercises. There really isn’t much you can do when a child refuses to participate.  So we did the best we could and tried to encourage him to play and engage, but wound up hanging out with him on the mat for the most part instead. Perhaps he knew it was Thanksgiving and just wanted to eat!

Thanksgiving dinner was being provided by a nearby college and was being catered and served by a number of the students.  Before our meal however we attended a special Thanksgiving Service in chapel.

Tiffany and I had been asked the day before whether or not we would like to participate in the service and we both jumped at the chance to help out.  The chaplain asked Tiffany if she would like to lead a few children’s songs (knowing that she had an extensive background with kids and knew how to lead in children’s worship), and she asked me if I would like to speak, reading a children’s version of the story of Thanksgiving.

We entered the chapel area and I had the same feeling as before.  All around me I could see families of people who all looked normal as myself—people of all walks of life from all kinds of different backgrounds.  And in the midst of these families would be the patients–the children—the ones who had suffered car wrecks, brain aneurisms, burns by fire, even one who had been shot in the head…and of course our own, injury from a falling rock.

Some were sitting in chairs, some on the laps of moms and dads, and some in wheelchairs. Again the sheer humanity–the pain of tragedy and the dawning of hope filled my mind and heart with every emotion imaginable.  It was a day to celebrate God, celebrate victory over ailment and disease, and celebrate the fact that all of us have learned that the most important lesson in life is the lesson of hope in Christ, and love of each other.

And love each other we did.  We sang praises together, Tiffany got up and led in some children’s songs, I read the story of Thanksgiving, and most of all God was glorified, even in the midst of so many people’s tragedies.

After chapel we made our way upstairs to the gym, the usual location of so much hard work by these kids—a place of pain experienced…goals accomplished…freedom regained. Today chairs lined the raised floor mats and table cloths greeted the hundreds of plates filled with Turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes, mac n’ cheese, green beans, casseroles of every kind, and desserts galore!

It was really neat to see the many families of the kids that we have come to know on a first name basis here at the hospital.  We heard so many stories like ours…people simply living their lives going about their daily routine as usual, and in one fail swoop their lives changed forever.

We had so much to be thankful for—thankful for those who had been at the bottom who helped us to the top, thankful to Michael Tagert and his heroism in running Caleb to the top, the many others who were at the top helping keep our son alive, the women who drove with us in the car to the helicopter landing area, the people who flew him to T.C. Thompson, Jamie Walling who drove us to T.C. Thompson, the many doctors, nurses, and personnel that nursed our son back to health at Erlanger, the many numerous family and friends, and friends on Facebook and abroad who have prayed and continue to pray for Caleb daily, the staff of nurses, doctors, and therapists here who picked up where T.C. Thompson left off and who have brought life and vitality back to our son, our own family, and our own boys….so so thankful for so many things.

After our Thanksgiving meal we went down to a playroom at the end of the hallway, and just wanted to relax and have a little family time together. I sat on the floor with Caleb and let Colby come up and talk to Caleb.  Caleb looked at him with a much more animated look on his face than usual. You could tell that he was excited to see his brother. Colby spoke to him lovingly and Caleb in turn tried to speak back! Colby was so happy to see his brother try to talk to him and even commented on Caleb’s laughter.  “Caleb is so silly isn’t he dada,” he chuckled.  I laughed along with them and agreed. “Sooooo, silly” I said with a smile.

Connor too was brought near and Caleb was just as interested in seeing his baby brother.  He acts much different with Connor than he does Colby, just as before the accident.  With Colby, Caleb always had a bit of completion (who got mom and dad’s attention, who got to do this or that, or play with this or that toy, etc).

With Connor, Caleb treated him as his own baby.  I remember after Caleb began speaking the first time, when he was younger, among the first words that he said was his baby brother’s name..”Con—ner” he would say, always breaking his name into two long drawn out syllables!

Connor looked at Caleb with a look of familiarity on his face.  Caleb, on the other hand, immediately wanted to touch Connor.  So he lifted his hand, feeling the neck, then the face of Connor.  Connor as before, didn’t care for the sometimes overly aggressive touching from his brother, but nevertheless he tolerated him, even touching him back a few times.

You could tell from the fond look on Caleb’s face that he was happy.  And even though he could not see Connor that well, he still reached up with his hands and gently pulled Connor into himself, wanting to give him a hug and a kiss.

It was about that time that we got a call from home.  My family was gathered in my grandmother’s living room—a long standing Thanksgiving tradition in my family.  And they all wanted to see Caleb.  We connected via Skype to do a video call, and as soon as the family saw Caleb they erupted in cheers.

Most of my family has not seen Caleb since he was at T.C. Thompson, except for the pictures that we post on Facebook from time to time, or the pics that we put here on the web site. So, needless to say when they saw Caleb “live” it was a whole new experience.  Now they could see him moving on his own, holding his head up, moving both arms, and even vocalizing and making loud noises.

The big surprise of the evening happened when all the family was at first saying hi to Caleb.  They spoke in near unison, “Hi Caleb.” Out of nowhere Caleb shouted back “Hi!” Everyone nearly fell out of their chair! “What?!!!” Sure enough Caleb decided he wanted to talk, and in that moment he wanted to say “hi” to his family. Yet again, we saw Caleb trying to speak today.  Whoo Hoo!

Now, I have to say I am a bit saddened as I write this part of the post.  Later on after we spoke to our family back in Nashville over Skype, we laid Caleb down for a nap.  I went back to the playroom to play with our other two boys.

Chassi brought Connor over to where I was and she said,  “Hey Tim, watch this!”

She  placed Connor at my feet. He rocked forward, got on his hands and knees, and  crawled away! “Oh my goodness,” I said. “He actually crawls now!” It hit me like a ton of bricks. We had been gone so long now that I missed one of the greatest milestones of having a little one—when they first learn how to crawl.

Inside, I was overjoyed at seeing my little man making this great step in his little life. But on the other hand, I felt a pain inside; a realization, a moment of clarity of how much that has impacted us and changed us.  As much as I would love for things to be exactly the same and for us to not miss a beat when we go home, I have to realize that when this is all said and done, we will have missed out on nearly three months of our kids lives.

Things are different now, and they will always be.  Connor naturally doesn’t choose us when in the same room with his aunts, as he has been mothered by them for quite a while now. Colby has had to grow up literally over night.  And though he still has a lot of little kid in him, he too is also different, forever affected by the events that he witnessed at the falls.

And he too, I noticed, when wanting permission to do this or that, he at first, naturally, asked his aunts and uncles instead of us—all reminders of the fact that we have not been there.

I inwardly long to go home, to have all this behind us, and for us to get our lives back to normal as much as we possibly can. For now, we played on the floor and we loved every minute of it.

One thing that stood out as I was playing with my children earlier is, once when Colby and I were playing with the Lego blocks over in the corner of the play room. Now, in the code of honorable playtime rules, us Browns have a general rule of thumb that there is only one thing more fun than building an extremely high tower with Lego blocks…and that is taking a bulldozer and knocking it down!

So off we went, placing the multi colored blocks one on top of the other.  It started small, and then become a few inches high, then it was about to the height of Colby’s waist, and then it was as high as it could possibly go. We had used up every single possible Lego block in this room to build this record breaking tower.

And then in the midst of this feat of engineering I got a glimpse of what was going on in Colby’s mind. He said, “Dada…Caleb is not here to knock this tower down.  He can’t do it because he’s sick.” He had reason to think about Caleb at this moment.

One of the regular things that would happen back at home when we would play Lego blocks and especially when we would build high towers so we could pretend we were a demolition crew, was that often, Caleb would never let Colby build his tower very high.

Caleb would often come in with hands clapping, a huge smile on his face, and with every intent to knock down and crash anything that Colby had built.  To Caleb it was just more fun to destroy it than it was to build it.  To Colby, Caleb was just being annoying, and he would often make his feelings about his brother known!

It saddened me again as I thought about Colby and his sensitive little heart and how, as we were playing this very familiar game together, didn’t have his normal play buddy to come and knock over his tower.  I suppose the old saying, “You never know what you have until its gone,” is true even for four year olds.  Before, Colby would get quite frustrated, raising his voice and telling his brother to not even get near his Lego creations.  This time I could tell that he wished his brother was there with him.

I said “Colby, you know what? If Caleb was here he could knock down this tower!” “He could?” Colby said, in a puzzled tone of voice. He had not seen Caleb really interact and play—at least not on the level of moving around enough to knock down a tower.

I assured him that Caleb was getting better and that he could play, and even knock down a tower if he wanted to, but that he was just tired right now and was now taking a nap.  Colby seemed pleased with my answer and kept on playing. I could tell that he certainly had a change of heart about his brother since the times we would play this game before.  He finally commented, “Dada, I wish Caleb was here so he could knock down my tower.” I chuckled as my own heart was deeply warmed by the love I could tell he was feeling for his brother.

To summarize the rest of the evening, Caleb decided that he was done for the night, and his small nap quickly turned into going to bed early for the night.  He never wanted to wake up, so tonight was an early bed time for him. We let family and friends stay with Caleb and Connor while Tiffany and I took Colby to see a movie—the new Disney movie Entangled (not a bad movie by the way).

We ended the night spending some good quality time talking with our best friends Todd and Emily Jacobs. Tiffany and I, as you can imagine ,don’t have a lot of personal one on one time to be with each other.  It was great talking with another couple and to speak about things that are mutually meaningful, things about life, family, children, faith, etc.

And so we ended another day…a very special day…a day of Thanksgiving.

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