When I reflect on the year, there’s one day I can’t escape. May 10, 2017. I was leaving a meeting around 11 AM when a text came through. My mom, Elise Young, was in a serious car accident. Few details were available.
Over the next few hours we started to learn what serious car accident meant. The roller-coaster of emotions is hard to explain, but if you’ve had your own experience with trauma you understand. It’s an outer-body experience. Like a dream. While I tossed some clothes into a suitcase, I remember thinking maybe it’s not as bad as it sounds. The next minute, I saw Brent’s face as he spoke to my family and I knew it was worse than we had thought. The doctors thought she wasn’t going to make it.
While walked through SFO, I kept my sunglasses on. I wanted to hide, and didn’t want to talk about it. I watched people laughing. Mothers holding children. People rushing through daily business. I’m typically a very independent person, and yet I could barely get one foot in front of the other as we traveled through security to our gate. All I could do was stare at everyone around me thinking about the ordinary day they could be having. I was happy for them, envious of them.
Even though it was only a little over five hours, it was the longest flight of my life. Brent held me while I cried and prayed. I prayed to reduce her suffering. I was tempted to pray that she live, but instead I prayed that God honor her wishes and that she live if she wanted to live.
We reached Norwalk Hospital around midnight. And there she was. She had received 39 units of blood, had 12+ hours of surgery repairing every major organ (aside from her heart), and endured countless broken bones (including 11 out of 12 ribs on her left side). I held her hand. I sang to her. I told her stories. And we waited, and we prayed.
The next day, the first nursing team that had worked on her came back for their shift. Steve, one of her nurses, was shocked to be assigned to her. He thought it was a mistake. He didn’t think it was possible for her to have lived. He called my mom’s survival the miracle of his career.
I could continue, for pages, because we are still on this journey. She is still on her journey of recovery. Her broken bones have healed, and her organs are working again. She can breathe on her own, and she regained consciousness. She has some words back. She’s getting therapy everyday with the goal that she’ll be able to live an independent life. We don’t know where this journey ends, but we’re all grateful for the time we have with her. I am awed by her strength.
Traumas come in all shapes and sizes. So do their repercussions, and what you take away from them. For us, I’m walking away with two themes: the power of faith, and the power of choice.
Faith: firm belief in something for which there is no proof
Looking back, I realize how bleak things were. But in the moment, my faith was unshakable. Brent said watching me showed him that there can be power in faith.
Faith in people. I have so much gratitude for the family, friends, and supporters who stepped up to support my parents. Calls from our friends, emails, Facebook messages, cards, each piece helped more than you can imagine. Brent’s and my colleagues supporting us being gone for weeks. To everyone on the Facebook group cheering my mom on in her recovery.
Faith in doctors and nurses and the many people who make our health system work. While not every moment has been a highlight, the nurses, doctors, nurse’s aids, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, techs, ambulance drives, administrative staff, and janitors we have met through this journey have been incredible. The care they provide, the passion they have for their work, and their overall attitude helped us stay focused and stay hopeful on each step of the journey.
Faith in symbols. My mom’s blood wasn’t coagulating, and so my sister Kelly made red Jell-O. My mom’s good friend Sue brought my parent’s church community together. Collectively the congregation made a healing scarf for my mom, and it’s stayed by her side. We will never know if those actions helped, but we do know she coagulated and survived the night.
Choice: care (and power) in selecting
There’s a saying, “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits. Be careful of your habits, for your habits become your character. Be careful of your character, for your character becomes your destiny.”
It all starts with choice. The choice to be aware, and the power of selecting your thoughts. While you can’t control when — or, if — tragedy strikes, you can make choices about your own behavior and actions.
Choice of actions. My mom was struck by an elderly man driving on a suspended license. He was speeding, running a red light, and driving in the wrong lane. In a word, he was reckless. He chose to drive even though he had been told by the state he was not a safe driver. His choices bore catastrophic consequences.
Choice of orientation. Dave Young, my dad by marriage, has been a role model. He leads with love. It comes pouring out of him. And you can see it when they’re together. It’s in everything he does with her every day.
Choice of thoughts. My mom and I had had a strained relationship the past few years. When she started to talk again, she brought up our disagreements. She apologized. I told her that no apology was necessary. I told her I wanted to live toward the future, and not the past. We haven’t looked back.
There’s been more to this year than one event. Brent gained a new mother-in-law and I gained a new step-mother in Lisa daCosta Price. We love seeing her light up my dad, Stephen’s, life! We were honored to be part of their wedding and look forward to future adventures and more laughter.
We were thrilled to welcome many little people into our lives this year as friends and family members had new babies. We are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our first nephew in early 2018.
I’m continuing my work in Executive Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Business leading the Stanford Executive Program. I learn every day, and it’s an honor to be in the Stanford community. Brent continued to work on energy and technology policy at Redstone. While much of his prior work on climate has been threatened under the Trump administration, he counted a quiet victory when the new White House chose to support the HFC amendment to the Montreal Protocol. Next year, he’s taking a leave from Redstone to join Facebook’s public policy team.
We had some incredible trips this year. Our adventures in India included wildlife safari’s looking for tigers, Indian cooking lessons, treks temples, and much, much more. Brent and I enjoyed time with friends and family in Wyoming, New York, Amherst, and Connecticut. And we took a weekend away in Brent’s favorite city: LA.
We are leaving on our yearly adventure tonight. This year, we’re headed to Cambodia and Vietnam. We’re excited for the trip, and look forward to sharing our photos and stories with you.
We send you love. Cheers to 2018!