My mom called around noon on October 6th. They were to be picked up by an airport shuttle at 3am on the 7th to meet Roger and Rella. When I answered, she said "Roger was in an accident. He's in the emergency room." I went cold, but tried to stay calm. "What happened? Is he okay?"
My uncle's son was running a half marathon called the Urban Cow. My uncle is a life long athlete. He's one of the most active people I know. You may remember he and my aunt walked the Camino de Santiago last year. Yes, all 500 miles. It was nothing for him to ride his bike to the race and follow the pack of runners in support of his son. At the end, he congratulated him, stayed and talked for a little while and then, left for home.
The day before had been exceptionally windy. As Roger was on his way home, a branch of some sort caught in his spokes, and immediately caused his bike to stop. He went over the handlebars - landing on his head, neck and back. Thankfully, he was wearing a helmet, which after protecting his head, cracked open. But in addition to a bruising his head, he fractured three ribs, and broke his back.
We were in disbelief, stunned really. It was a freak accident, given the fact that my uncle rides in the dark, on levees, at high speeds, and all over the place. We weren't strangers to this kind of accident at all. We were very familiar actually. We knew they could happen anytime, and any place, but we were shocked that he was hurt, and just hours before they were supposed to leave.
So many thoughts flooded at once. I remember feeling so very sad my uncle was in an accident, but grateful he was alive. I remember feeling sad for his back injury, but beyond thankful he wasn't paralyzed or brain injured. I remember feeling conflicted - wanting to leave and go to him right away, but also realizing I needed to stay where I was. The worst feeling of all came next. I thought of how my uncle had always been there for me, for us, and knowing I wasn't going to be able to reciprocate. This was truly one of the most unsettling feelings. It's a feeling I've come to know, and often times, begrudgingly and to some degree, have had come to terms with since Aviana's accident. But in that moment, it all came full force, and it was excruciatingly painful. I knew though, of all people, my uncle would understand and this was entirely on me.
In the meantime, my mom and Gary had to make a quick decision - whether to stay or go to Europe without my aunt and uncle. They had never been, hadn't planned the actual trip, and didn't know much about traveling, especially in a foreign country. If you know them, the thought of the two together (without a buffer) on a boat for 44 days is humorous in itself. Dave, my dad and I had a similar thing happen with our trip to Paris and Amsterdam and it all worked out. And we were on foot, so we were all for it. Pretty quickly, they decided they were going for it! I thought they were quite brave, especially in spite of everything : )
After a crash course of Euro 101 with Rella, we wished them love, good luck, (a don't kill each other) and they were off!
My aunt was amazing in caring for, and updating us about my uncle too. We continued to hear he was doing well, of course he was. My Uncle Roger is one of the most inspiring people I've ever known. A broken back, cracked ribs... I don't think so. They couldn't keep him down. As we were trying to find a day to visit, he was already adding up the miles in his back brace. While the miles were nice, the back brace was most certainly not! He was to wear the body brace for three months! He was only allowed to take it off when he slept. In addition to the heat trap, he had to wear a soft neck brace whenever he was moving, like in a car.
There were definitely things to be down about - the overall accident, and all its ramifications, missing out on my mom and Gary's first trip to Europe, knowing Rella missed the trip as well, knowing he wouldn't be there to help my mom and Gary through with Aviana, and a host of other things - but in true Roger fashion and the quality I find most admirable about my uncle is, he always finds a way through and quickly. He doesn't dwell. I love that! And, the times we are with him, we're always greeted with positivity, a healthy attitude, and never a complaint. I say it often, in many ways he's a living, breathing example for me. Thank you Roger. I love you and I'm grateful you were saved that day!