Lessons Learned: My Experience being a Mom and Caregiver to a Son who Sustained a Spinal Cord Injury
This Mother’s Day, Lisa Brunson reflects on her caregiving journey to help other moms with children who have sustained traumatic injuries.
By Lisa Brunson
Mother of former Shepherd Center patient, Grant Brunson
Being a mother has always been my greatest pleasure and honor, but like most mothers (and fathers) would agree, it’s not always easy. There are challenges along the way. Our family faced one of its greatest challenges in November 2016 when our son, Grant, who was a freshman in college, broke his C-5 vertebrae in a fall and became a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the shoulders down. During his six months of rehabilitation at Shepherd Center and the years following, Grant has worked hard to regain much of his independence, and our family has been there to support him. During the time immediately following his injury, my husband, Benny, our daughter, Emily, and myself were full-time caregivers. As Benny transitioned back to our hometown of Albany, Georgia, for work and Emily went back to school in Athens, I was the one who remained in Atlanta at the hospital and stayed with Grant during the week. The two of them came back on weekends. Many of the days were long and hard, and it wasn’t long before I realized that in order for me to be at my best for Grant and our family, I had to do things for my own health and well-being.
One of the first things that I came to learn was that even though I was the caregiver with Grant during the week and I knew the ins and outs of his daily schedule and routine, I was NOT the only person who knew how to care for him and help him. The truth was that just as much as I needed a break to re-charge from time-to-time, Grant needed a break from ME, too! I soon realized that even though other family members’ ways of doing things might not be the same way that I might do things, they loved and cared for Grant just as much as I did, and they were fully capable of doing the things he required for his care. And sometimes, they were even better at handling things than I was. For example, I have the distinction of being the only one who managed to let Grant end up on the floor while transitioning from his bed to his wheelchair!
It was also important for me to take time away from caregiving responsibilities so that Benny and I could re-connect over a bite of dinner or by going for a walk. During these occasions, Grant had the opportunity to see “fresh faces” in the form of friends and other family members which always helped lift his spirits.
Another thing that helped me as a caregiver was to connect with other patient families who were going through something similar with their loved ones. Being able to talk with fellow Shepherd families who were learning the ropes of dealing with a traumatic injury and the emotional toll that it takes, helped our family and me realize that we weren’t alone. In addition to the initial benefit we gained from these interactions, we still count these friendships as some of the greatest blessings to come from this experience and our time at Shepherd.
As much as I needed the connection to other people during this time, sometimes in order to re-charge, the thing I needed most was alone time. One of my favorite breaks while at Shepherd was to go to the garden behind the Woodruff Family Residence Center and sit in the sunshine and just BE STILL. Sometimes I would read or pray, and sometimes I would just take in my surroundings. Some days, I would take a walk on the BeltLine that wasn’t too far away or just linger for a few moments over a cup of coffee in the family lounge. Even if it was 15 minutes, I knew that by giving myself whatever I needed most in that moment, I was making it through another day and enabling myself to be there for Grant and my family when they needed me the most.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.