This nine month odyssey has taken our family to many strange and sometimes terrifying lands. It has alternately plunged us into physical, emotional and spiritual despair and catapulted us to unimaginable heights. We have been gradually stripped of all our defenses and are learning to live life fully in whatever the present moment brings us. Daily we continue to count our blessings. Some days, it has been a short, though powerful, list; Forest is alive, our family is intact and so there is still hope. This last week the list is bountiful. We have been blessed with a string of small triumphs, like a child's building blocks each accomplishment stacking one on another reaching to the sky. After months of waiting, praying and reaching out to Forrest, he is starting to respond to us, expressing his determination and revealing his own "unconquerable soul." After so many months of darkness, we are beginning to see Forrest Shine Again. Let me share a few of Forrest's triumphs this week.
On Monday, his speech therapist was trying to determine if Forrest could read. She took two items a Mercersburg lacrosse glove and a pen, wrote both words on the white board and placed the items on his wheel chair tray. Then she pointed to the word "glove" and asked Forrest to point to it. He obliged her, stretching his shaking hand toward the glove! After a couple of repeat trials with different items to confirm his ability to read, Forrest tired of the exercise and reached instead to take the marker from her hand. Previously, every time he has tried to get a marker to the whiteboard to make a mark, his hand shook so hard that he couldn't get the marker near the board. This time he had the strength to push through the tremors and drew a long green wavering line across the board. The therapist was ecstatic. She took another marker and printed "FORREST" across the top of the white board. "Come on Forrest, lets write your name." She shaped a dotted "F" for him to trace and placed her hand over his to help steady his hand and trace the letter. Forrest had his own plan. He slowly shifted his trembling hand to the right and began to shape his own "F"." Then he made two more squiggly "F"s. That's our Forrest!
On Thursday Austin came to visit his brother, having stayed away as long as he could to get over his cold. It warmed my Mother's Heart to see them together again. Over the past six months, Austin has spent endless hours coaching Forrest, holding his brother's hand in his to form the shapes of their secret Brother's handshake and pretending to thumb wrestle over and over again. At last, the memory surfaced AND Forrest was strong enough to reward all of Austin's efforts with an animated rendition of their brother's handshake and a genuine thumb wrestle. The love and trust which has grown even more powerful and true between our sons is a magical thing to witness.
On Friday, a group of 20 students came to watch Forrest work with his therapist. We gave permission with the understanding that if this large group seemed to add any additional stress to Forrest's effort's they would leave the gym. As Forrest approached the double glass doors into the gym, we could glimpse the large group gathered there. The therapist opened the doors and all eyes shifted to Forrest. There was the slightest hesitation, then slowly Forrest reached down for the first time and wrapped his trembling hands around the wheels and began to propel himself into the gym. His therapist face lit up and he waited patiently as Forrest wheeled himself forward inch by inch into the room. The set of his jaw clearly communicating, "Bring it on." It was exhilarating to watch this session and to see that Forrest can still command an audience.
Friday was a pivotal day for Forrest. With two therapists escorting us, Forrest made his first "outing," his first trip (that wasn't an ambulance transfer) outside of a hospital since March. We journeyed in an NRH wheelchair access van to the National Aquarium in DC. Austin has been volunteering there 2 Sundays a month and had all the logistics worked out for his brother's visit. We were graciously received by the Director and Curator and Forrest clearly enjoyed the marine life and the simple pleasure of breathing outside of a hospital for a couple of hours. It gave us all a greatly appreciated break from the hospital routines that have become our daily lives.
Friday night brought yet another first. With his Dad's coaching Forrest caught the nerf football. Though his left hand is still tightly clenched, he is gradually regaining more control of his right. With dogged determination and three tries, he was able to release the ball as his arm extended and toss it back to his Dad. The whooping and hollering that erupted in the room would have rivaled a Redskins touchdown! Today is Kent's Birthday, and I'm sure that throw was the best gift Forrest could have given his amazing "Pops."
Kent, Austin, and Maylin will be carrying the Team Forrest Flag this week, as I head out tonight for a business meeting. It's difficult to be away even for a few days, but I know you're in the best hands imaginable, Forrest. And your friends still keep you in their thoughts and prayers. Their visits, messages and videos are an increasingly critical link to your past and your future.
Thanks to the Woffords, Tom, Sally Pont, John & Jacob, Corina, and Jay for your visits. You added so much energy and enthusiasm to our week. And hugs to my family and Girlfriends who keep me afloat.