I have always thought the Niagara Power Project was the largest generator of power in New York State;
it wasn’t until this past November that I discovered I was wrong. Our family suffered a one-two punch
in the gut, a stunning setback to our seemingly carefree, blessed lives; my nephew was involved in a
devastating accident. The mere power of the words, “ coma, life support,” brought us to our knees, in
more ways than one. I say ‘our family’ because we all suffered; we struggled when we looked into each
others eyes, our pain seemed to be magnified by tears that never dried. There was such power in those
My favorite holiday arrived just days after the accident, without the usual happy anticipation.
Thanksgiving gets the ‘favorite’ label because there are no gifts, no parties, no months-long preparation,
just a very large turkey, a crowded table, and windows dripping with condensation that comes from
a hot oven and an abundance of breathing in a small house. This year it just meant a safe time to be
among family who shared the same uncertainty. It was as foreign as it was familiar, this new experience
of making our way through a tragedy. It was not unlike what we see every night on the news, but it
always happened to some one else’s family.
There was not nearly enough room to put us all around one table, so the girls and I tried to creatively
arrange three tables in the dining room and living room. In the end, we knew separate tables would
never do, they had to be touching. There was such power in being together, in having the privilege of
another day to hope.
Through the hollow days of December we visited the ICU at ECMC. It was a surreal experience. We
talked, we joked, we laughed, we told stories, we held his hands and kissed his head. His blonde curls,
now gone, were replaced by sutures and bandages, his huge smile replaced by tubes and tape, and all
around were monitors and beeps. The busy-ness of life was everywhere – heroic nurses and doctors
went about their duties of reading charts, checking levels and looking for signs of progress. I looked
around as I donned my gown and gloves, at a handful of patients hanging on by threads, and a handful
of families walking down the same terrifying path. There was such power in our numbers.
The days passed slowly. There was an ever present ache in the pit of my stomach. We went through
the motions – life in a vacuum, watching the world carry on without us. We rejoiced with daily reports
of hand squeezes and healing bones. We kept a stiff upper lip when the reports gave new meaning to –
one step forward and two steps back. But slowly, very slowly, tubes were replaced with triumphs, and
monitors were replaced with miracles. There was such power in knowing that he had turned the corner.
I once read the encouraging words, When it feels like the sky is falling, lift up your arms. We did, but his
mom and dad had the strongest arms of all. Simply getting past the “call” that every parent dreads was
their first hurdle, and they cleared it. The ones that followed were hurdles of varying heights, some were
easier to clear than others, but never, never did their arms fall. They held them straight up and defiant
in the face of that falling sky. Their grace under fire, and unfailing determination to be by his side every
step of the way, was nothing short of amazing.
Prayers flooded the heavens from sea to shining sea, and those prayers, combined with caring thoughts,
wishes and hope did indeed give us our miracle. The last weekend of January he walked into our house
with his huge smile and a hint of curls.
Just as the Niagara Power Project is fed by the mighty Niagara, this glorious tsunami of power was
fed by the unbridled hope and prayers of a shattered family, devoted friends and countless perfect
strangers. I will be forever in awe of caring souls and upstretched arms.
In February of 2013, an edited version of this essay appeared in the Buffalo News.