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Earlier this year, my 18-year-old daughter, Holly, pulled in front of a Chevy Tahoe on a rainy, windswept night and got "T-boned" on the driver's side at about 50 mph. Holly was pulled unconscious from her Pontiac Sunfire. She had suffered a broken pelvis, a chipped tailbone, a cracked collarbone, extensive facial lacerations, and, most importantly, a "brain shearing" injury that left her with damage to her frontal lobe and other parts of her brain.

Everything changed for our family that night, as we were involuntarily ushered into a new community of those whose family members have experienced catastrophic injuries. More specifically, we joined the thousands of families that are affected by traumatic brain injury.

Thus began the harrowing of our family.

It is an old Middle English word, harrowing. Borrowed as a metaphor from agriculture, to harrow is to "disturb keenly or painfully; distress the mind, feelings, etc. … to become broken up by harrowing."

There is a kind of anguish known only to those who have kept vigil at the bedside of their suffering child. Their only near neighbors, I assume, are those whose vigil has taken them to the graveside.

When we first saw Holly and for three long days following, she lay unconscious—bloodied and bruised and deeply silent. Every step after that was a step forward. She opened her eyes after three days. For eleven more days, she drifted between wakefulness and sleep, a mute witness to the family and friends who rotated through her room, keeping watch.

And then, joy: On February 11, she rasped to her caretaker, "Could you rewind the movie, please?" By later that evening, she was talking happily with school friends. Three days later, she began inpatient neurological rehab at Shepherd ...

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Do Likewise
David P. Gushee serves as Distinguished University Professor of Christian Ethics and Director of the Center for Theology and Public Life at Mercer University, where he also chairs the Mercer Lyceum initiative on rebuilding democracy. His column ran from 2005 to 2007.
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May 2006

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