by Brittney Chan
“Remember them that are in bonds…and them which suffer adversity…”
My eyes darted across the tables and chairs of Perkin’s darkened dining room for the woman I was meeting. I didn’t know much about her yet.
I was a college student and I needed to write a paper. Was it better to use the archaic, stiff words shoved in some researcher’s book for reference…or…find real-life survivors and listen to their stories? I went for the latter. And that led me to Laura*.
After just a few minutes of conversation, I knew I had chosen the right interviewee. This lady had a story that demanded my full attention. A local brain injury support group had connected the two of us and Laura graciously agreed to meet with me. She self-identified as a survivor. But that is an understatement.
She was the mother of four girls. She’d spent a large part of her life traveling the globe with her husband due to his commitment to the U.S. military. Her life was rich with experience, to say the least. Those kinds of people are the best ones to talk to, in my opinion.
When it came time to settle down, they chose the Hostess City of the South: Savannah, Georgia. Her girls became women and each one embarked on a journey of making a life for themselves.
[Buckle up. This isn’t for the faint of heart.]
In 1990, one of her daughters received a cancer diagnosis. It was back for the third time. Laura began noticing a major change in her daughter. She had once been a very happy-go-lucky, against-all-odds, kind-of-girl, but this news had been debilitating for her. She was tired of fighting. She became quiet, isolated, and depressed. As any mother would, Laura reached out in an effort to support her child. She planned to meet her for lunch the following day.
I’ll try to spare you some of the details - that day’s hopeful meeting turned into a horrible murder/suicide attempt that Laura barely recovered from. She was shot three times before her daughter turned the gun on herself.
The bullets entered Laura’s neck and head. And as you can imagine, the years that followed were extremely difficult. Rehab for her traumatic brain injury was slow; full of ups and downs. She had so much healing to do…mentally, physically, emotionally… But her tragedy didn’t stop there.
In 1994, her second daughter was brutally murdered by a stepson, who was looking for drug money.
In 2008, Laura’s youngest child lost her battle with a long, drawn out addiction to methamphetamine.
When I sat down to share this story with you, I hesitated. I know it’s not pretty. It is gory. It is the ugly, heart-wrenching evidence of the enemy’s attempts to steal, kill, and destroy anything good in our lives.
As she finished talking, Laura wiped a fallen tear from the packet of newspaper clippings she’d brought for me. I realized that I was sitting across from a modern-day Job. She looked up at me and said, “Surviving is hard.”
I left the restaurant feeling incredibly blessed to have heard her story. I thought about all she’d been through and who she was now. She was older, and she’d spent the last few decades making a name for herself amongst the brain injury community. She had been a featured speaker at numerous events. She had created art from her deepest wounds that was featured at the Jepsen Center, a museum in downtown Savannah.
If I would have met Laura in passing…under different circumstances…would I have seen the courage it took for her to survive? Would I have recognized the strength it took to wake up and face another day without being able to hear the voices of her loved ones?
What about the people in your life now? The coworker who hides their pain everyday. The teenager we mentor who faces the staunch influences of a liberal culture? The man sitting across from us at church who continually wakes up to another day of struggle? The people we know who have suffered great losses - in one way or another - who are coming to terms with the idea that surviving might be all they may ever do?
How can God use our relationships to comfort them? When He opens our eyes to the hurting and broken around us, will we be audacious enough to reach out? When He puts a certain person on our minds throughout the day, will we remember to check in and see how they’re doing? Can we slow our lives down long enough to have face-to-face conversations and show that we care?
When we let God use us in His healing process for other people, the truth is that we’ll become more whole along the way, too.
*Name has been changed for respect of privacy.