I sat across the table from him, staring blankly into space for a little while. Finally the question came, “How do you feel about seeing Kelsey today?” I had no words but they still came rolling down my cheeks. In an attempt to hide my emotions, I buried my face in my arms and then turned away. My face became flushed with every passing moment and finally, I succumbed to my personal defeat. It was time to share how I felt about the friend I had lost.
This Wednesday was the first anniversary of a horrific car accident which nearly took the life of my dear friend Kelsey. Some may recall this particular January day; it was the foggiest day I’ve ever seen in West Michigan. Truly, I could not see more than six houses down my street without them disappearing into the mist. That morning I got a text telling me that Kelsey had been in an accident and was barely holding on in the ICU at Spectrum Hospital. My lungs failed me in that moment and I gasped for so much more than air. “Please God, no” were the only words I could fumble out my mouth. The next several hours were the beginning of the most intense hours yet to come. Prayer lines formed, social media blew up with requests, phone calls and texts of all kinds flooded my phone. I was overwhelmed which was an understatement.
Kelsey experienced severe head trauma, multiple broken ribs, a punctured lung, a fractured pelvis and clavicle, and lost her spleen within the first hours of her assessment. She wasn’t supposed to make it alive to the hospital given the extent of her injuries. The next several days, followed by weeks, were a steady game of hour-by-hour updates on whether or not her brain swelling would stabilize and if so, would she make it to the next day. Her future hung in the balance on the tip of a pin.
Every moment I had when I wasn’t thinking about something I needed to do was spent saying Hail Mary’s and asking Jesus to pull her through all of this. It was the most intense and exhaustive praying I have ever done for anyone. I recall having texted her the day before her accident, and we talked about when we were getting together to go gluten-free shopping. She had recently decided to try it in the hopes of it helping her Lupus, an auto-immune disease that greatly affected her the prior summer, and I was her resource in getting this diet going. We were also going to talk about wedding plans, given that she was recently engaged and had begun planning for her June 2014 wedding. She was twenty one at the time of her accident and now everything was stopped in time.
Today, I sit at my desk thinking about the friend I love and terribly miss. When I think about this young woman’s life and everything she has accomplished since her accident, I am truly astounded. I also consider the pre-accident woman who would “never say never”, and fought for those who needed help fighting their own fight. Kelsey’s devotion to Mary through the rosary was inspirational. So much so that when the accident happened, the entire youth group at St. Pius X (some 60+ teens) would come together to pray a rosary for Kelsey every Sunday. But this woman, who had endured so much and given us so much hope, is now a very different person than before. Today Kelsey cannot talk, walk, or do much on her own. She has been in some form of therapy since she was discharged, and had a couple more surgeries since then, but she is still largely unable to communicate to the outside world. She is a profound woman with knowledge of everything a normal person her age is capable of knowing, but stuck inside a body that cannot express itself.
Many questions mill through my mind and I ask myself, “What does hope look like? What hope can I have for a friend who I don’t really know anymore? How do I get to know Kelsey in this time? How do I live in the present with her? Must I forget memories of her from the past?” These are all questions I ask whenever I see her or intimately pray for her. In the beginning I often prayed for her full recovery, but now, I feel hope has challenged me to pray for something else. Hope asks us to pray for God’s will to be shown, whatever it may be. Hope is not optimism. Kelsey may never walk or talk again, but we must cling to hope, in the truest sense of the word. We must have hope that Christ will renew us, in whatever form the Father chooses. Though limited in her human capabilities, Kelsey is living hope for us all to witness. God is rebuilding her and using her in ways we cannot yet fully understand. However, we must come to understand the greater message of unending hope that lies within each of us, so that we may remain in Christ. We need to have hope in Christ as Kelsey has, if not just for her sake but for our own.
“But hope is something else. It’s not optimism. Hope is a present; it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit and that is why Paul says: “Never disappoint yourself.” Hope never lets you down. Why? Because it’s a gift from the Holy Spirit. But Paul tells us that hope has a name. Hope is Christ. We can’t say “I have hope in God”, no. If you don’t say “I have hope in Jesus Christ, a person that’s alive, that lives in the Eucharist, that is present in His word”, that is not hope. It could be a good mood or optimism…
Jesus, the hope, renews everything. It’s a constant miracle. He has not only done miracles of healing: those were only signs, signals of what He’s now doing in the Church. The miracle of making everything new: what He does in my life, in your life, in our life. He rebuilds. And what He builds again is precisely the reason of our hope. Christ is the one who renews every wonderful thing of the Creation; He’s the reason of our hope. And this hope does not delude because He is faithful. He can’t renounce Himself. This is the virtue of hope.
May the Lord, who is the hope of glory, who is the center, the whole, help us in this path: to give hope, to have passion for hope. And, as I’ve said, it’s not always optimism but what Mary, Mother of God, sheltered in her heart during the darkest time of her life; since Friday afternoon until Sunday morning. That is hope. She had it. And that hope has renewed everything. May God grant us that grace.”
– Pope Francis from his Mass Homily at Casa Santa Maria on 9/9/13