This is the 3rd Mothering Matters blog in the Spring 2020 series
A Mother’s Worst Nightmare – A Daughter’s Courageous Response
“Accepting my new disability never was a real issue for me. The issue was what needed to be done next.”
– Beth Kolbe
I am not a mother myself…
But I have heard it said many times that a mother’s worst fear is the death of her child.
After reading Cindy Kolbe’s powerful book, “Struggling with Serendipity,” I suspect there might be a tie for first place when it comes to the grim “worst nightmare” fears lurking in the heart of every mother: making a mistake that seriously injures your child.
That is the nightmare that Cindy lived for years.
Late one night, Cindy was driving her two daughters and a friend home when she nodded off for just a split second, lost control of the vehicle, went into the ditch and hit a road sign. Everyone walked away from the crash except for her daughter, Beth, a teenager at the time. Beth would never walk again; in an instant she became a quadriplegic.
Put yourself in Cindy’s shoes: What would you do? Could you forgive yourself?
Put yourself in Beth’s shoes: How would you respond? Could you forgive your mom?“Struggling with Serendipity” is one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read. It is also one of the most inspiring. Click To Tweet
Beth’s reaction to the events that fundamentally altered the trajectory of her life was swift and certain. Basically, her response was: okay, this lousy thing has happened to me…now what I am going to do about it?
Then she proceeded to focus her efforts on physio, then finishing high school, then learning to swim, then becoming a competitive swimmer at the Olympic level, then teaching kids to swim, then going to Harvard, then to Yale Law School, then becoming a lawyer, then getting married…the list goes on.
Ever since reading this book, whenever I catch myself thinking I can’t do something because of some lame excuse, I think of Beth trying over and over and over again to put her hair in a ponytail or pull herself out of the pool…simple actions so many of us take for granted.
Cindy’s reaction to the events that fundamentally changed the trajectory of her daughter’s life was completely different. The guilt she experienced is heartbreaking. The mistake she made was so small and completely unintentional…and yet the ramifications were huge.
Beth’s journey reminded me of the lessons of perseverance and patience, persistence and focus.
Cindy’s story reminded me of the importance of forgiving ourselves. For we all make mistakes.
As for the book title, “Struggling with Serendipity”? That is a powerful reminder that life is not always fair. Horrible things happen to kind, decent people…and accepting a harsh new reality – and/or adapting to it – is not for the faint of heart. From a spiritual perspective, we may not always know why a tragedy happens. All we can do is respond the best we can…turning lemons into lemonade left, right and center if that’s what it takes.
While Cindy struggles with the serendipitous events that led to her daughter being confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, Beth’s response taught me that she is NOT “confined” to a wheelchair. Being confined is a state of mind…not a mode of transportation.
Beth’s attitude and achievements in the wake of a life-altering injury are mind-boggling. She is beyond inspirational.
And make no mistake about it, as Beth’s mom, Cindy helped and supported her daughter every step of the way. Cindy, of course, also found the courage to write the book…and by doing so, is sharing her and Beth’s important journey with thousands of others.
I, for one, have been profoundly impacted by their story…enough so to make small but significant changes in my own life.
Over the years, Cindy and I have kept in touch via Twitter and we follow each other’s blogs. This past Christmas, Cindy sent me this beautiful photo of Beth on her wedding day (which has found a home in my kitchen):
Thank you, Cindy, for sharing your family’s journey. And thank you, Beth, for being you. You two powerhouse women may never be privy to the “bigger why” behind the serendipitous chain of events that forced you both on a path not of your own choosing. Nor will you likely ever know the details of the many lives you are impacting…but know this: you are.
And perhaps that’s what serendipity is all about: we don’t always get to choose what happens to us, but we do always get to choose how to respond. And the choices we make – and the actions we take – will reverberate in serendipitous ways we will never know.
Maryanne Pope is the author of A Widow’s Awakening, the playwright of Saviour and the screenwriter of God’s Country. Maryanne is CEO of Pink Gazelle Productions and Chair of the John Petropoulos Memorial Fund. To receive her weekly blog, Weekly Words of Wisdom, please sign up here.
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