Atlanta, GA,
09:22 AM

Superheroes are All Around Us at Shepherd Center

On Mother’s Day and every day, Shepherd Center celebrates the extraordinary strength of the moms in our lives.

By Claire Holley
Family Peer Support Program Coordinator for the Acquired Brain Injury Program

The opening sentence of her essay reads, “Heroes do not need super powers; they simply need to show up when it counts. They need to be there in the good times and in the bad times.”

At the time, I did not see myself a worthy subject for this winning essay, “Who is your Superhero?” written by my daughter, Amelia. But now, working at Shepherd Center, I have the privilege of seeing mothers every day who are so worthy of the superhero title. I observe mothers give their all to help their child – whether that child is an adolescent or a grown adult. These mothers show up, endure sleepless nights, utter many prayers and show incredible strength every single day. In fact, the very foundation of Shepherd Center was built from the vision of a strong mother (and father) who saw an unmet need when their son, James, sustained a spinal cord injury. They wouldn’t take no for an answer, and they continue to show up every single day – literally and figuratively!

I am blessed to be the mother of two incredible daughters – Amelia and Megan. My oldest daughter, Amelia, has faced incredible health challenges since birth, requiring many surgeries and hospitalizations. For more than 20 years, my husband and I have lived the reality of worry, uncertainties related to surgery decisions and many unplanned emergency room visits. Amelia’s most significant health challenge came in the form of a post-operative brain stem stroke two years ago, which led us to seek brain injury rehabilitation at Shepherd Center and Shepherd Pathways.

Through the years, I have learned that medical issues affect the whole family, not just the person who has sustained the injury. Keeping sight of the needs of the entire family is often difficult to do, but necessary, as it is easy to lose focus of the big picture and only see the family member with the most critical needs. For my younger daughter, Megan, when I was spending months at a time in the hospital with Amelia, I tried to encourage her with notes, texts and little surprises. We also relied heavily on our strong faith and made the conscious decision to adopt the motto of #choosejoy. My efforts could not replace my presence, but Megan did know that I was thinking of her and that she was not forgotten.

Amelia’s essay went on to say, “Like my mom did for me, heroes need to see you at your worst and know they can help you return to living the wonderful, fulfilling life you once had. They can acknowledge the chaos and help you emerge on the other side a stronger, more insightful, more appreciative person for the life you have been given.”

That life may look very different from the life your child had pre-injury, but the new normal can still produce a meaningful and joyful life. Much of that depends on how you choose to look at the situation. The most important piece of advice I could offer to a mother beginning this journey would be to focus on the “cans” instead of the “cannots.” Celebrate every small victory – the wiggle of a toe, the movement of a finger, the correct response to a question. Every single move forward is worthy of celebration!

This journey to acceptance of the new normal after a traumatic injury can be exhausting and overwhelming. There are certainly still some days since my daughter’s brain injury that I feel that way. Fortunately, in the eyes of our children, simply showing up and never giving up are the most important qualifiers for superhero status.

Happy Mother’s Day weekend to all of the superhero mothers at Shepherd Center. Being the parent of a child with a brain or spinal cord injury is not an easy assignment, but as I learned from my daughter, mothers don’t need to be perfect – just present. Hero mothers, put on your capes this weekend – today and every day, you truly are super!

CLAIRE HOLLEY is the Family Peer Support Program Coordinator for the Acquired Brain Injury Program in the Transition Support Department at Shepherd Center. Claire is a former preschool teacher, a registered nurse, a wife of 27 years to her high school sweetheart and the proud mother of two adult daughters, Amelia, 20, and Megan, 19.

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.