I am Jeanne Gordon. A soul truly blessed. In my youth, all I ever wanted to be was a good wife, and mother to hopefully a lot of children. This came to fruition, quickly. I married at 22, and within the first year we had our eldest daughter and by the time I was 34, our family was complete with six kids. Interestingly enough, the oldest and our youngest were born on the same day. Life as I knew it then was glorious! Now, five of them are young adults, some with families of their own. Being a grandmother adds yet another wonderful dimension! Life as I know it now is pure joy. After the accident, my body was altered, but not my spirit.
As I reflect, on my soul, it may seem that I speak an inordinate amount about my faith. This is true, but nevertheless it is what makes me, me. I’ve always had an active relationship with God. I can see now, that through the years, He was nurturing me and laying the groundwork for my total trust in Him. My need for this would prove to be instrumental in the days ahead.
Prayer or conversation is laced throughout my day. Going to daily Mass was always important to me, and so through my church. I am able to receive Holy Communion, daily. This feeds my soul and gives me strength to meet the many challenges. I am a lay Carmelite. Small, slow, still and simple are the four words that describe the Carmelite spirituality. These aspects, I aspire to embrace and embody.
In January, 2006, I turned 50. I had decided I was excited to be this age, and that I would have my birthday be special, not only on that day, but throughout the year. This would be the year the fabric of my life and of my family’s would change and never be the same.
All the years, with having six children, I always prayed that if God called one of them, that it would be at the most perfect time in their lives that they could spend eternity with Him. Gabriele, our oldest was doing just that.
The two of us rode bicycles every morning. We did this very early to avoid traffic. Often, as we cycled, we’d talk, sometimes we’d be quiet. Many times we prayed. One morning I was praying to myself, and I said, “Okay, God, I’m in a pretty good spot in my life, what would you have me do for you?” One week later, June 3, 2006 the accident happened. A small truck came up behind Gabriele and me, and hit us. She won her reward of heaven that day. I became a quadriplegic.
When I regained consciousness, and realized what had happened, those were the two thoughts that came immediately to mind. How could I not go with it, and be at peace? I believe God allowed our accident to happen so He could use it for a better good.
I’ve always had a,”creative and artistic” side. God knew that I would still need a way to actively express myself through art. I paint and draw with the use of a mouth stick, now. I had not painted before, which makes it even more of a miracle. People say it’s amazing, well; I am more amazed than anyone. With every stroke of my brush I’m able to give God glory.
I am an able, disabled. A quadriplegic with a spinal cord injury, that is C4-5-6, paralyzed from the shoulders down. Fresh from surgery, I boarded an airplane and headed for Craig Hospital in Denver, to do my rehab. Here, I would begin to learn how to live in this second skin, and how to become one with my wheelchair. I was so sick when I first arrived that every time they tried to move me, I would vomit. I spent two weeks in bed because of a bruise on my tailbone. During that time I got pneumonia. By the time I was feeling better, I still had huge almost insurmountable challenges. Ventilators, tracheotomies, voice boxes, even learning to swallow again, became my norm…All things that I would have to overcome.
I have a theory, that God is playing a boomerang game with me. He throws me way out there, where it looks like I’m not going to recover, then, He brings me back because He’s not done with me yet. This has happened over and over. Hospital stays over the past 8 years, right and left. Different UTIs, pneumonias, blood infections, and respiratory viruses have looked like they would take me out, even a bed sore that kept me down for six months, but no, there was that boomerang!
I think that a huge part of my well-being is to keep a sense of humor. For my first Halloween costume, as a quadriplegic, I dressed as an electric chair. I had on a great black cape with leather belts around my chest. My headpiece was made from a colander with lightning bolts coming out everywhere. We had even had cut out a place in the back so I could weight shift. This last Halloween, I was released from the hospital that evening, so my costume was a “patient,” hospital gown, wrist band and all.
The biggest challenge, from the beginning has been learning how to become the,”vessel” in which others could minister. I had been used to being the one who could do for everyone. Now, the tables have turned. I would have to find other ways. It would not be an actual physical touch, but leading by example could “touch” people in other ways. They say when a pebble is dropped in the water; many ripples go out from there. Any good that I may have done has come back to me a thousand fold.
This is not the way I had envisioned my life at this point. Being unable to care for my family when they go down ill, or have other needs has been a most difficult hurdle. Have you any idea what it feels like to not hold your grandbaby, or to be able to relieve their tired parents? Even watching people live, doing their everyday activities, wondering whether they even think about what a privilege it is for them. Often people take so much for granted until it’s gone.
I’m convinced that these challenges, physically and mentally will always be there, and that I will have to make choices every day. I choose to not let this get the best of me. I try to rise to the occasion with every bump in the road. It used to be I’d wake, shower and be on my way in 20 min. Now, the getting up process takes hours. I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that! There are so many things like cooking, gardening, canning, knitting, golfing, and even keeping house that I loved. My head spins with all I used to do in a day. Having my body come to a screeching halt and be unable to do these, was a force to be reckoned with. I do get weary, because it takes a lot of energy to just do the basics. If it doesn’t kill you, you’ll be stronger for it.
I refuse to stay home. I think it’s important for people to see me, and me to see them in an active and positive way. One of my favorite activities is to go into the classrooms and talk. I like telling them a little about me and Gabriele, and then have no other agenda. We have open question and answer time. I also show them my artworks and how I do it. We talk about how my chair and cell phone works, and how they provide some independence. I never had the opportunity to be around a person who was paralyzed. Many of them don’t either. That’s why I want them to understand it a little more fully. I leave them with the thought that no matter what situations may come to them, it is still a” choice” of how you’re going to react. Much good can come from things that appear to be bad in the beginning. It gives us a chance to discuss organ donations, also. Because of our loss, our daughter’s kidney gave life to another young woman. In a first grade class, I had a little boy raise his hand and tell us that he knew all about that kind of thing because he has someone’s heart. I often return later in the year and teach an art lesson, stressing that each of them are artists. Their picture may look totally different then their neighbors, but they are both good because it is expressing how they feel inside.
Throughout the year, I offer my paintings to benefit charities. Our Lord’s Diner, the Flint Hills Jose Fuente Cigar auction to aid schools in the Dominican Republic, Dan and Beverly Carney Center, Sedgwick County Zoo, our Botanical Gardens, the Wichita Symphony, the Assistance League, Hopenet, and Night of the Living Art at Blessed Sacrament Church are some of the recipients. The first time a piece sold, for charity, it went for $5000. It brought me and my family to tears. To know that my art changes lives is very humbling. I’ve, also, contributed drawings with other artists to be made into coloring books and given to children in Ecuador.
My vocation in life is being a wife, mother, and grandmother. I played around with the idea of entering religious life, or being a teacher, but the pull to motherhood was stronger. I thought that I could incorporate the two other vocations into teaching our own children. This has served me, well. I am so grateful for my family, friends and community’s support.
As a future goal, I’d like to get out of my chair and walk, but I don’t think I would paint as well with my hands. I hope to continue going into the classrooms, and to start speaking to older students, too. I’d like to do some smaller group, individualized art lessons. Try not to be so attached to my artwork, but to donate or sell it more easily. I’ve had requests to talk with senior citizens in their retirement community. I’m looking forward to that. There is a prayer that I say that goes,” Lord, take me where you want me to go, let me meet the people you want me to meet, tell me what you want me to say, and then keep me out of your way.” When I say this, doors open all over the place. I know I’d benefit from taking more art classes, to stretch my capabilities. This is something on my radar, to paint more. Get more proficient on my computer to accelerate my love for writing. Continue to reach more people through my art, showing others that whatever cross you have to bare, you can always find ways to be happy.
I am being more in control of my life. Taking a negative situation, keeping a positive attitude, and growing from it, is always a personal goal. I have started a business using my artwork, where we turn each piece into a card or canvas print, and get them marketed in our community and larger venues. My ultimate personal goal is to live my life pleasing to God. One of my favorite Jesuit prayers is “Behold God, beholding you, and smiling.”
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