“It was September 28th, 1993. I was 10 years old and the school bus I was riding on had turned over on its side, throwing the right side of my body out the window and trapping me underneath when it finally came to a stop. It was a traumatic accident resulting in the amputation of my right arm. Little did I know, the parts of it that would haunt me for years were also what would make me the fighter I am today.
I remember this day very well. I remember the feeling of my arm literally being torn to shreds as the bus was dragging me along the interstate. I remember the feeling of being stuck underneath and the sudden panic of not being able to move my upper body. I also remember the feeling of being carried out of there, with a sense of relief and uncertainty at the same time. Even after 27 years, I still remember the taste of the dirt and blood in my mouth.
After the bus was lifted off the ground just enough to pull me out, I was taken to the side of the road, where they assessed my injuries and tied a tourniquet to what was left of my right arm.
I remember there being so much commotion and noise. There were so many people surrounding me, yet no one was making eye contact with me. So many voices surrounded me that I was unable to match them to actual bodies. A voice here, a voice there, and all I knew was I didn’t recognize any of them. None of them were my parents or my friends, only strangers. The voices of the medics kept repeating to one another, ‘Keep your head to the left.’ ‘What is your mom’s name?’ ‘Do you know her phone number?’ ‘Keep your head to the left, Samantha.’ ‘Stay with us, keep those eyes open.’ ‘Keep looking to the left.’ ‘What is your mom’s name?’ ‘Do you know her phone number?’ ‘Keep your head to the left.’ ‘Don’t look this way.’
Those words would stay with me for the rest of my life, ‘Keep your head to the left.’
A few days later, when I started to wake up in ICU, I noticed every time I opened my eyes, my mom (and any visitors) were on my left side. Every time I woke up, my head was already turned to the left. The right side of my body was in so much pain. In between the comfort my mom provided and the smiles she desperately tried to muster up, I could still hear those voices. And they were so frequent and convincing at this point, I had no desire to do anything BUT keep my head to the left. I didn’t need to look right, nor did I want to.
When it came time to graduate from ICU to the main floor, the doctors and nurses came in like a parade, ready to move me. The excitement in their voices was there, and they were ready to cheer me on. In order to move me out of ICU though, they had to put me in a different bed. They wheeled in the new bed. It had shiny bedside rails and fresh, crisp white sheets, ready for its new patient. They asked me to sit up in my current bed and get ready to ‘scoot over to the new bed.’ Imagine sitting up for the first time in days, thinking you’ll use your hands to give you a boost, only to find out you don’t have both your hands anymore.
The reality of it was even more devastating than it sounds.
It had been the doctor’s plan for me to just ‘discover’ I was missing an arm rather than try to talk to me about it. When I sat up in that bed and felt the missing weight of my right arm, I looked over and saw nothing but a swollen stump, wrapped up in a thick layer of bandages. It was the most horrific and ugly thing I had seen in my ten short years. And from that day on, I never wanted to look anywhere but ‘to the left’ again.
My hospital stay didn’t last too long. There were no other major injuries to my body, so I was released to go home fairly quickly. It was 6 weeks before I went back to school. I was right handed prior to the accident, so there I was, a 5th grader, learning to write my ABC’s all over again – this time left-handed. I carried on with middle school, high school, and college like any other kid. I had some normal kid struggles here and there, but I tried my hardest to fit in and be like every other kid. I went to prom, I went to homecoming, I even had a boyfriend here and there. But there was always one thing that I carried with me, close to my heart, but hidden from the rest of the world – I hated the way I looked with 1 arm. I refused to wear anything sleeveless and I prayed that I’d always be able to hide it from crowds. I was almost obsessed with hating the sight of it. I let it define me. I let it label me. I was the girl from the bus accident with one arm. Even in college, away from my hometown, surrounded by complete strangers, I let it be my only definition. I was no less, and I sure as hell was no more than the girl with one arm.
But life moves on, and in 2009, I got married to a man who loved me dearly. He never saw my arm. He saw me for me. Slowly I gained a sense of new purpose. I was a working woman with a ring on my finger and had a man who saw so much more in me than just a missing arm. In fact, I even wore a sleeveless gown on my wedding day. That’s how far I had come. I didn’t just have one label anymore, I had several new ones that I was proud of.
After we had been married for 2 years, I gave birth to our perfect 8-pound son. We were over-the-moon in love with him. Having kids was always something we both wanted and we were so thankful God had blessed us with our Kaleb.
Becoming a mother opened up yet another path to healing for me, even more so than getting married had. Finally, I was something other than an amputee. NOW I WAS A MOM. I had been given the greatest gift of all time, someone who depended on me entirely. Someone who didn’t care if I had one arm or seven arms. Someone who didn’t care if I was tall or short, fat or skinny, white or purple. He was someone that just counted on me for love and nurturing, and that I could do! When Kaleb was about 18 months old, I had taken some time to reflect back on my accident. I was brought to tears as I realized how far I had come, and I had motherhood to thank. I was free from the idea that I couldn’t bear to look at my missing arm, I was free from the belief I was ugly as an amputee, and I was free from the way it had defined me all those years. I wept at that moment, but they were happy tears. I was proud of who I had become and I was damn proud of who I had let go.
Six months after that beautiful, God-given moment, I received a call from my husband, telling me he was going to kill himself that day. Our perfect son that we tried so hard for had just turned 2, and I had just turned the big 3-0 and here I was, trying to convince my husband to stay alive. I stayed on the phone with him for nearly 2 hours, sharing every memory I could think of, along with trying to describe a future he couldn’t say no to. Even with my greatest attempts, he still ended that phone call and ended his life in the same breath.
The day he died was the day I let all those old labels come back to haunt me, except now we added one to the list. I was a 30-year-old, one-armed widow…with a 2-year-old. Talk about some hard titles that felt too scary to even look at.
The next year of my life is a complete blur. I carried on because I didn’t have a choice. I had my son who had opened my eyes to a whole new world simply by existing. There were SO many nights though, I’m not sure how we even made it through. I’d sit and cry for hours, or I’d take really long showers just so I could ‘escape’ the reality of everything. Many evenings after work, we’d even sit at different restaurants until it was bedtime, simply because I didn’t want to come home alone and be a widow. It was undoubtedly the hardest time I’ve experienced as an adult.
As the years passed and Kaleb got older, naturally he started asking more questions about his dad. Since he was only 2 at the time of his death, he didn’t fully understand what happened. He just knew one day he had a dad, and the next day he didn’t. Not only did he have questions, he started having anxiety as well. Bedtime was a struggle for him. He didn’t want me to leave him for fear I wouldn’t be there when he woke up. At this point in my own grief journey, I had made enough progress to not only recognize he needed help, but I was strong enough now to help him through whatever his grief was going to look like. I set him up with a counselor and with time, we were able to explain to him what suicide even was. Six-year-olds should not have to know what it means to ‘kill yourself,’ but, unfortunately, that is the world we live in.
At this point, he still had not put two and two together. He knew suicide meant ‘dying on purpose,’ but he hadn’t asked more. The counselor had warned me it would probably happen out of the blue; when I least expect it, he will ask if his dad killed himself, and I needed to be ready to answer. Gosh. I definitely wanted to not just look away from this, but I wanted to run far, far away. And fast. But I stayed strong and said my prayers, asking God to guide me to the exact words Kaleb needed to hear at the exact moment. And He did.
One night when I was putting Kaleb to bed, I could see the wheels turning in his head, processing. He looked up at me and said, ‘My dad killed himself, didn’t he?’ I said, ‘Yes, buddy, he did.’ He said, ‘So that’s why you cried so much in the bathroom when I was a baby?’ I said, ‘Yes, that’s why.’ He said, ‘Has your brain ever been that sad? Has it ever told you to kill yourself?’ I said, ‘No, never.’ And then he said the thing that broke my heart into a million pieces, but it was also the reminder I needed: ‘Okay, good, because you’re my only parent I have left, and I need you.’
Talk about a kick in the gut.
I have never wanted to not look at something so bad. I wanted to ‘keep my head to the left’ because what was facing me on the right was more excruciating than I could have ever imagined. To my right was heartbreak, and deception, and fear, and uncertainty, and unfairness, and just plain ol’ UGLY tears. Everything to the right was ugly, but everything to my right was also my son. The one who made me face my ugly just by being born. How could I not look there? How could I not face it dead on?
I held and kissed my precious 6-year-old that night until he told me I was suffocating him. I took in that time as much as I could because I knew it was momentous. After he fell asleep, I walked out of his room with my focus set exactly where it needed to be. On us. On our healing. On our future.
At that moment, I was reminded yet again of all the things God has shown me through my son. I am more than the label of ‘amputee’ or ‘widow,’ AND I am strong enough to stare the ugly in its face. For the past year, I have worked really hard on all of this. I have worked on my self-worth; my self-esteem; my relationship with God; and my relationship with my son, as he grows older and more mature every day. We definitely still have our ups and downs. Just last week, he cried about not having what he calls an ‘Earth Dad.’ He fairly pleaded his case that having a Heaven Dad was fine, but he wants an Earth Dad like all the other kids have. I get it. It’s so hard to see everyone else around you have the one thing you long for most.
We talk a lot. We go on dates and we talk. We go for ice cream and we talk. He sleeps with me one night a week and we talk. Sometimes we cry, but mostly we talk. I remind him he isn’t ever alone in this sadness. We both experienced a loss and went through that shock together. I’ll always be the one person who understands his grief, because I was there too. But what he doesn’t know just yet, and possibly won’t understand until he’s a parent, is that he actually helped me probably more than I helped him. God made him part of my story when I was just a kid.
I don’t have to look only left anymore. There is beauty to be seen on each side.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Samantha Amidon from Texas. You can follow her journey on her website or on Instagram. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories and YouTube for our best videos.
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