When I was 14, my parents were in a horrible head on collision with a drunk driver. Seat belts weren’t in use in those days and many cars did not even have them. My father’s legs were both crushed into hundreds of fragments. My mother suffered a total facial smash. My oldest brother was 20 and came home to help with the family business in our small town. A mature family friend came to stay with us and help in the business too. My second oldest brother was 18 and was finishing high school in another town and we told him to stay there and finish. My sister was 6. I became the house cleaner, cook, surrogate mother, shopper… I took my mother’s role plus went to school during the day. My parents were hospitalized for 3 months continuously and then intermittently for follow-up care and surgeries for years afterwards. The extended family wanted to split us up and take my little sister and me to their homes. I told the entire adult community there was no way that was happening.
How did we cope? We all handled it differently, but for me, I talked my sadness and pain out with friends, but the biggest thing was that I knew we needed to maintain a routine: one foot in front of the other. Keep things as close to what Mom and Dad would have done. How did we turn out? My oldest brother is a tax lawyer. The next brother is a surgeon. My sister was a stay-at-home mom who segued into an HR career after her kids were grown. Me? I am an RN who worked a little in the evenings and Saturdays until my kids were grown. Are we ok? You bet we are. We’re tough as nails, but softies too. Hardship reveals character. We have character in spades.