It was October 23, 2012, at around 8:15 a.m., when my daughter Cara, then 17 years old, had a terrible car accident. She was driving a different route to school because one of her friends, who had spent the night at our house, needed to stop home for her backpack. As she crested the little incline of the exit ramp, she noticed cars backed up below her but didn’t have time to stop and rear-ended the car in front of her.
Cara fractured five vertebrae in her back. She was lucky to be alive. She was lucky to be able to walk.
The orthopedic surgeon’s team built her a custom brace, a plastic shell that was created after a plaster cast was molded onto her body. She also had a neck piece screwed to the shell to hold her neck and head in one place. She had to wear this at all times — 24 hours a day. The slightest wrong touch or misstep could bring back the searing pain.
This was a scary time for everyone in our family.
The mindfulness techniques that Cara and I used during her convalescence recalibrated Cara. She became a different person. For me, these methods worked gorgeously, allowing me to move from a space of fear and frustration to one of grace and gratitude.
Loving Kindness Phrases
These phrases are like well-wishes for yourself and others. Traditional phrases include:
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
I like the idea of creating your own Loving Kindness phrases. Think about what you need to hear right now and use that. During Cara’s convalescence, I repeated Loving Kindness phrases to myself many times a day. “May we be safe; may we be happy; may we be healthy; may we live with ease.” I also repeated the phrase, “Whatever unfolds, I will be there to meet it.” And I made specific phrases that I said to myself just for Cara. “May you heal completely; may you be free of pain.”
I invited a Healing Touch practitioner out to do a session on Cara. Before she left, she gave Cara a beautiful red polished stone shaped like a heart. It became a stone that Cara used to focus her attention on if she felt pain or anxiety. That helped Cara feel and look more peaceful and relaxed than I had seen her in a long time.
Keep a journal dedicated to gratitude. Your ideas don’t need to be monumental. They could be as simple as gratitude for having some good friends in your life or clean sheets on your bed. Lower blood pressure and a stronger immune system are health benefits you may experience from a gratitude practice. Others are higher levels of positive emotions, such as joy, optimism and happiness; more compassion and generosity, both in giving and receiving; and the feeling of being less lonely and isolated.
This is a powerful Mindful Method for feeling safe. When I was taking care of Cara, I hud-dled up on my little cot in her room — trying to relax to go to sleep — and I used the body scan I learned in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. I warmed up by giving attention and a little love to each body part. By the time I got to my torso, I was usually asleep. Cara was usually asleep long before me. It was difficult for me to see her body in that big clamshell of a brace, with her head held in place by a neck piece that was screwed into her chest and the back of the clamshell by metal rods. The saving grace was that the pain meds made her drowsy. Otherwise, I know it would have been extremely difficult for her to sleep in that contraption. The body scan took my mind from how bad I felt for Cara and changed the focus of my attention. It was impossible to wallow in sadness and worry and fear for her and at the same time practice the body scan. This allowed me to change the channel of my thoughts and concerns long enough to fall asleep.
Thank God there is a happy ending to this story. Cara was able to witness a side of medicine, healing, and patience that very few other life situations would have provided her.
She is a living message of hope to her family and everyone who knows her.