28 years ago this weekend, I was quite literally a heartbeat away from joining the grieving siblings club 22 years before I got my official membership card. 28 years ago, a beautiful, fall Sunday quickly turned into a watershed day for my family. In the last 6 years, I have learned that siblings are the most annoying and irritating people that you can’t live without. On October 25, 1987, I came too close to not having a big brother to pick on me, to laugh with, to tell on, to tell on me. I almost didn’t get the opportunity to know that when push comes to shove, a big brother takes full liberty to give you hell, but will crush anyone else who dares to treat you poorly. If miracle upon miracle had not happened that Sunday, I don’t know that Molly would have been ours. If she had, I would have had nobody to navigate the decisions that had to be made in the hours, days, and months following Molly’s death. I would have had no nephew born five months later to prove that our family was going to survive. Thankfully, a series of miracles on that day once again changed the landscape of my family forever. It helped solidify my parents’ strength. It added to the foundation of values that my family has been grounded in.
For those of you who do not know the story, my then 10 year-old brother had a severe head injury. (Now, they have the fancy Traumatic Brain Injury term.) He and his best friend, Cade, hopped on his go-cart after church one Sunday after church. Our street was short, maybe one tenth of a mile long. Halfway up the street, Cade’s hat flew off, Griffin looked back to see where it went and his head introduced itself to a stucco mailbox. [Sidebar: I know what you’re thinking, “Why wasn’t he wearing a helmet?” All I can say is that it was the 80s. Shortly after, Dad introduced and passed a bill that required children to wear helmets on anything with wheels. The Garner kids had helmets on when they walked to check the mail after that.]
The first miracle that occurred that Sunday was that Cade, a 9 year-old kid, had the wherewithal to run to doors to find a phone to call 911 even though his best friend’s brains were spilled out on to the concrete. By the time Tara, another kid, saw the accident and ran down to tell my parents, the ambulance was on its way. Another miracle? The owner of the ambulance company happened to take the call. His EMT skills are unparalleled and I think my parents would donate all of their internal organs to him if he needed them for the emergency medical care he provided on that street.
My parents fled the house as soon as they heard about the wreck. My mom had stayed home with a sickly me from church that day. She might have been in her pajamas. My dad had just changed into a camouflage ensemble to travel to the city of Villa Rica to look for gold. (Yes, is was 1987, not 1897. It’s best to not try and explain my dad’s thoughts sometimes.) At some point, I distinctly remember my 6 year-old self looking around and realizing that I was home alone. It might have been 10 minutes, it might have been an hour, but miraculously, I did not burn the house down.
Miracles continued when they arrived at the ER in Carrollton. Dr. Bobby Mitchell and the nurses at Tanner revived my brother’s heart when it stopped. They got him stable enough to transfer him to a helicopter to get him to Atlanta. Mom was put into a state patrol car, while Daddy pulled his car down to the ambulance bay. I don’t know if it was one of the LifeFlight nurses or Dr. Mitchell, but someone told my dad not to drive fast. As a funeral director, he knew what that meant. Miraculously, he made it safely to Egleston from Carrollton. He spent the drive on his car phone calling his employees at our funeral home to prepare to come get Griffin. While Mom and Dad were separately getting to Egleston, more miracles were happening in the sky. Dr. Mitchell’s wife just happened to be one of the nurses on the helicopter with Griffin. He died more than once on the flight there, and each time they revived him. Mary Mitchell still says that Griffin is one of the greatest miracles she has ever witnessed.
If you have spent time in the hospital, you know that weekends can sometimes be more difficult to have certain doctors and staff on site. Since fate was on our side that day, it just so happened that one of the country’s best neurosurgeons happened to be at the hospital when Griffin arrived. They immediately took Griffin down for surgery. The doctor told my parents that Griffin’s chances of survival were slim, and his quality of life if he survived was certain to be dismal. Based on the location of the injury and the brain matter that had been lost, there was no scientific reason that he should be able to walk, hear, or see again. In those days before the Internet, miraculously, my parents did not sit alone in the waiting room. From their accounts, the halls of Egleston were filled with dear friends from all over the state. It was not the last time that our friends would carry us through a tragedy.
Griffin survived surgery and was in a coma. Two days later he woke up. My mom asked him if he knew where he was. In the hallmark, sarcastic style of a Garner kid, he said, “Yeah. I’m right here.” Soon after he was asking about the Minnesota Twins race for the World Series pennant. This miracle ran counter to every scenario the medical team had laid out for my parents.
5 days after the accident, a doctor walked into my brother’s hospital room and said, “I have no medical explanation for this, but he can go home.” My parents said, “We don’t need one,” and immediately set plans in motion to get a hospital bed delivered to our home.
The road to recovery was long and hard. Griffin endured months of physical and occupational therapy and a scary bout with PTSD. He slept for months in a hospital bed in our den, and I was really jealous that when he was well enough to move to his bedroom, he got awesome bunk beds. I had to learn to share the medical miracle spotlight with him.
In the spirit of MollyROCK, let me be radical and open and tell you that in 2009, I was MAD at God. Why didn’t he perform a miracle with Molly? He had performed one with me. He had performed one with Griffin. Didn’t good things happen in threes? Perhaps, the miracle of Molly’s life was the 18 years we had her. Maybe the third miracle in our family’s life is that WE have survived her death. (so far) It’s possible that she is the only one who truly experienced the miracle when her faith became sight on that fateful morning. It’s RADICAL to think that we might not know what a miracle truly is. Maybe the small miracles that occurred in October 1987 were just small acts of God’s KINDNESS.
Whether it was a series of miracles or a series of acts of kindness kept my brother on Earth, I don’t really need the specifics. Either way, I am forever indebted to the individuals and the God who worked so hard to make it happen. My brother is truly one of my heroes. Before his accident, he was what we call, “Unibomber smart.” After, he was just normal smart. He’s funny. He’s a nice person. He is the best daddy to the two kids I love most in the world. We are in our thirties and we can still throw down in a sibling fight that would mimic a MMA fight. We know just what buttons to push to make steam come out of the other’s ears, and we push them as often as we can. At the same time, we are proud of each other and we tell each other, even if others can’t decipher our secret code of disguising compliments as insults. There is nobody on the planet who can make me laugh harder. We have the same sense of humor, and teasing is our love language. There is nobody else on Earth who knows the joy of having Molly as a little sister, just us. He is the only one on Earth who knows just how difficult it is to face each day without our little sister. If October 25, 1987 had been just a little different, then I would be all alone in this journey. The story of Griffin’s TBI is a chapter in the backstory of how MollyROCK came to be.
Friends, if you have burned bridges with your siblings, chop down a tree, get a hammer and nails, and rebuild them. In the end, NOTHING can replace the role that siblings play in our lives. The crazy truth of my life is that it’s a miracle that I am not an only child today. It could be a crazy truth of yours.
More than meat loves salt,