The holidays are always tough for those of us who have lost loved ones too soon. With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, I find myself tearing up without notice, or a specific incidence. In the back of my mind constantly is how will I spend another year without my son Paul? Sleep doesn’t come easy, it’s hard to go to sleep or even stay asleep. The pressure of what to do for the holidays, who to spend it with and how will I get through all of those days; Thanksgiving, shopping for gifts, sending out holiday cards (okay, I was never very good at this task 😆), Christmas work parties, Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and New Years?
I really just want to work, help people, just skip it all and pretend tomorrow is January 2, 2018.
Life doesn’t work that way.
I also know I am not alone. While not everyone has lost their only son, or share all of the variables that sew into my quilt of grief, people who have lived a few years or more, have difficulties and situations that make up their own grief quilt. And if I have learned anything in the 3 plus years since Paul died, you can’t compare your grief to anyone else’s. It’s not a game. There is no score. There is no winner. No one gets the “my grief is bigger than yours” award. If a situation has occurred in one’s life that weighs on them and it’s categorized by them as grief, than it is what it is.
For my brain injury survivor friends who grieve who they once were, their grief counts too. It matters. It matters as much as my grief for my son’s death does. It all counts.
As a traumatic brain injury survivor, and once a caregiver to my daughter, Janaye, when she had Stage IV cancer, I learned a few life lessons during the peaks and valleys of those experiences that I carry over to face Paul’s untimely death.
Live life to the fullest. Just do it, do it and do it and do it, until the job is done.
Some days, like today I need a little help living my life to the fullest. A shot in the arm, a pick me up as they say.
So I pulled out one of my old tools in my live life to the fullest toolbox, that I call the, “why did you start in the first place?”
I spent an hour or so thinking about how ten years ago come January 2, 2018 my daughter Tiffani and I sat at our kitchen table and made a conscious choice to take on the Goliath of all Goliath’s; the sport industry. I let it just soak in how we got started, why we chose to do it, what our first goals were and what motivated us to take such a huge leap of faith.
I vividly remembered the words Tiffani said as a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, sitting across our kitchen table in a small apartment in a Southern California city just outside of Los Angeles at the wise, old age of 19. She said, “mom, we were lucky. My injuries weren’t catastrophic like other kids we have met. Janaye lived unlike other families we have met. Those families who have lost their kids on the playing field or have to care for them around the clock, they’re exhausted. We can do it for them. We have energy to do it and we should.”
So we did.
Tiffani and worked around the clock building a website, designing marketing materials, reaching out to people, logging injuries and talking to the media. In a few short weeks, we launched the National Cheer Safety Foundation, and the rest is history as they say.
Looking back I can not believe what we did, and what we continue to do. The goals and landmark achievements are too many to list but in honor of remembering why we started, as well as our ten year anniversary being around the corner. Here is a list of the “Top Ten Things” we have accomplished since we started at the kitchen table in 2008, that helped me remember why we started.
- The recent federal court ruling in Archie et al v. Pop Warner.
- The settlement in 2011 of a lawsuit for a young, brain injured, cheerleader named Lizzie Nicks with one the of the best trial lawyers in California, Gary Dordick. This breakthrough legal research has been used over and over again in dozens of lawsuits for injured athletes all across the country.
- Helping State lawmaker Lorena Gonzalez to make cheerleading a Title IX sport in California.
- Writing the first catastrophic emergency plan for youth sports in 2008 and making available for free on the internet.
- Participating in the inaugural year of Acrobatics & Tumbling including being an official for meets, as well as seeing USA Gymnastics become their governing body.
- Finding the 1969 research by the National Academies of Science on football injuries while working on the NFL brain injury case on behalf of former NFL players for the well known law firm Girardi | Keese, made famous in the Erin Brockovich movie. The most important single piece of evidence in landmark case.
- Being named an official research partner of the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injuries Research at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill in 2008, along with our cheerleading injuries being added to their database setting off a media blitz from People magazine to the Washington Post.
- Developed the legal strategies used to mediate the landmark US Soccer case settlement to remove headers for athletes 10 and under, as well as count headers for athletes 11-13.
- Orchestrating more than 20,000 hours of hundreds of volunteers and experts over ten years to do pro-bono work for athletes from kids to the pros.
- Launching the awareness campaign “Faces of CTE” with dozens of sport families who lost loved ones too soon to the mind robbing disease of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
So even staring at another difficult holiday season, when I look at this list and remember why we started. I can conquer another year without Paul because we have a lot of work to do still to make a difference in the world, and leave a family legacy in law and sports, that our beloved Paul will forever be the face of.