Episode 2 Families Pulling Together

Women Gathered a table with an A Life Worth Living Mug in the foreground
Better Together With A Life Worth Living
Episode 2 Families Pulling Together

Hosted by: Jo Lynn Sheane Guests: Judy Robinet, Christine Fuerth, Dr. William McDermott

Excerpt Episode 2 Families Pulling Together Through Trauma:

What can I do? The more a family can pull together for each other and their mutual support and the support of the person injured. The better off everyone is by far because it dilutes the intensity of the fear.

Transcript Episode 2 Families Pulling Together Through Trauma:

Jo Lynn Sheane  00:07

Welcome to Better Together with A Life Worth Living. I’m Jo Lynn Sheane. In this episode we will look at what trauma is, when it affects the whole family, and how to deal with it. We’ll hear from our guests, Judy Robinet and her sister, Christine Fuerth, along with trauma psychologist, Dr. Bill McDermott.

Jo Lynn Sheane  00:28

Thanks to the Essex and District Lions Club for sponsoring this episode, “Where there’s a need, there’s a lion.”

Jo Lynn Sheane  00:36

We first met Judy Robinet in Episode One. She’s the driving force behind the Better Together podcast. As an advocate for change in society so that we all include people with disabilities, she loves to hear the stories of overcoming, inclusion, and the stories of the helpers to learn how we are better together. Now, Judy has told us a bit about her own story and a terrible car crash when she was a teen. The doctors told her she would never get an education, get married or live any kind of productive life. Boy, were they wrong. But now we’re going to hear how the trauma of a car accident or, any other kind of disability that impacts someone, affects the whole family.

Jo Lynn Sheane  01:23

Welcome, Judy and Christine.

Judy Robinet  01:25

Thanks for having us.

Christine Fuerth  01:26

Nice to meet you.

Jo Lynn Sheane  01:27

Christine, your sister Judy’s car accident was more than half a century ago. That is a long time. Judy was 15 at the time, how old were you?

Christine Fuerth  01:36

I was 18.

Jo Lynn Sheane  01:37

So what do you remember from that day? And how did you find out about the accident?

Christine Fuerth  01:43

I remember the policemen coming to the door to tell my mother that my sister had been in a car accident. At that time, my dad wasn’t there but they somehow got together to go to the hospital.  I wanted to go too. But, I have two brothers at home that are younger, somebody had to stay home with them. So, I stayed home and they left. It was late that night when they got home. When they walked in the door, what they had in their hand was my sister’s riding boots and her clothes were full of blood. They just told me that she was very, very, seriously injured. And then you can’t believe that something has happened until I saw that blood. I didn’t believe it. But the next day, I had to go to school. There was a track and field event going on which Judy was to participate in as well. I was in grade 12. I was on the track team. I went to school, and I had to tell my friends about my sister. It was very difficult because I still didn’t believe it. You don’t think that something that serious has happened. In fact, I thought for sure when I’m sitting in the bleachers that was Judy coming to do her bit at the track and field. But no, it wasn’t. It wasn’t Judy. And I, at four foot seven, represented the school in the javelin. I probably threw the javelin the furthest ever, because I was just so angry, so frustrated. In fact, I set the record for the longest distance in javelin that day. My dad had come by the car to watch me throw the javelin that day. And the thing that I remember, he was very, my dad was a very strong, personable person. But I saw something different there. And what he did in that Ford Fairlane, a 1966 car, he pulled the seatbelt out that we tucked in because it was actually in the way, you know, and he wore the seatbelt that day. Never in my life. Had I ever seen him do that. None of us did.

Jo Lynn Sheane  03:53

So since Judy couldn’t compete, my guess is you had to be the one who had to tell the teachers that she couldn’t compete, right?

Christine Fuerth  04:01

Yes. You know, and I don’t recall how I did it. Their response. I really don’t recall that. I don’t know why. It’s not something that I chose to remember, I guess.  What I remember just that she just wasn’t there. And I still didn’t believe it. It was still.

Jo Lynn Sheane  04:22

It just sounds like so much trauma.

Christine Fuerth  04:24

Yeah. disbelief. It Like It, Judy, if that’s not gonna happen to her.

Jo Lynn Sheane  04:29

Now, both of your parents have since passed away. Judy, what were you told about your parents reaction on that first day?

Judy Robinet  04:36

Well, we didn’t talk about it a lot. I got little bits and pieces every surgery I had to go to I got a little bit more of the story. So my mom, when she went with the policemen, she had hoped that the injuries would be minor. That this was just overblown, I would be fine. Things would be okay. She’d bring me home and she would really not have To tell anything to my dad. When she got in the police car, the policeman asked her what way to the hospital. She knew. But she couldn’t talk. She just waved her hand and pointed. She was traumatized at that moment, trying to figure out what was going to happen. They had to spend the night there. They were told many times. Mom would not call my dad and that the doctors came out and said to her, she may not make it, you have to call your husband, you have to bring him in. And they sat there. My surgery was almost 10 hours. But they had to leave the hospital because they had to go back and talk to Chris and the boys. Their worry was when they would go to school, they might hear something, and they wanted to tell them themselves. And my mom said, when she walked in the door, she saw my schoolbooks on the table. And that’s when she broke down. She started to cry then.

Jo Lynn Sheane  05:59

Christine, how often were you able to see her in the hospital?

Christine Fuerth  06:03

I didn’t see Judy until the night after the track meet.  I went to the hospital. I walked up to the floor, and I looked in her room. And it was horrific. She thinks she was in a coma. But the coma that she was in, she was restless, and she was tossing and her face was just a mess. All of it. It was just horrific. That my sister, my young sister, was just – it was devastating. I could not go in the room. I stood out in the hall. And all the time Judy was in the hospital. I could not go in the room. I went every night to see her. But just from the hallway, because she was just not. It was just a difficult thing for me to accept. Anger, frustration, sympathy. I’ve never seen anyone that devastated.

Jo Lynn Sheane  07:03

Now, Judy, when did you find out that she had been coming to the hospital but not coming in to see you?

Judy Robinet  07:10

Two weeks ago? We had never talked. I never knew. I didn’t know that she hadn’t come or that she had come. I just knew people didn’t want to look at me. I did know that. It was hard. My own mom never looked at my face. Never. She looked around me. She could not put the medication in. She just could not look at me. Pretty tough.

Jo Lynn Sheane  07:33

So how much have you two talked about this over the years?

Christine Fuerth  07:38

Very rare. Just recently, to be very honest with you. It was not something that was talked about. Once Judy came home from the hospital, the actual accident, we’d never talked about it. I believe a lot of time when things happened at our home. You just get on with it. It’s done. Okay, now you deal with it.

Jo Lynn Sheane  08:00

Maybe it was the times. You know, that was a long time ago.

Christine Fuerth  08:03

The 60s were very different. It was an accident. You just, I don’t know. That’s just who we are.

Jo Lynn Sheane  08:12

What was it like for you to watch your sister recover?

Christine Fuerth  08:15

I knew Judy was a very strong girl. And you wanted to help but you didn’t know what to do. You just were there. You be there. You would watch her with the crutches and one eye, and her balance sucked the big time. She worked so hard at it. She’s determined. Strong. She was going to get through this. But what I could do? I don’t know. I don’t feel I didn’t know what to do. You just be there. At the time, it was your parents; it was the doctors; it was another surgery. That’s how it was for me.

Jo Lynn Sheane  08:56

You must have felt that support from her when you were when you were recovering, did you

Judy Robinet  09:02

I felt her there. I felt that she was there for me.  My dad gave me the sense I needed to move forward. My sister gave me the feeling I was not alone.

Jo Lynn Sheane  09:13

It must have been incredibly challenging for your parents. They needed to make decisions. They needed to figure out how to run the household. They had three other kids. What do you know about how hard it was for them?

Christine Fuerth  09:27

I think for me, I think my dad suffered the most. And he was one that was very quiet about it. He was not one to have a conversation. But I think he was very hurt that this happened to his daughter. My mom, she was a little bit more emotional. She cried. And she was angry. That’s what I remember. I think she moved from hopeless to angry. That you can do this and she would get mad, not just at Judy, but the other kids as well. I don’t ever remember my brothers though being impacted as much, but I think it’s because I’m the oldest in the family. Of course, you set the example. And you’re not going to be weepy and cry and poor me. That’s not how we lived at all.

Jo Lynn Sheane  10:21

Judy, did you have a sense of how hard it was for your parents?

Judy Robinet  10:24

Well, we grew up in a family where we were not to show emotion. If we fell and broke your arm, there is no crying. There’s nothing. You were not to cry, you were to just go on and be resilient. But one of the surgeries I had, my mom told me, did you ever notice that your dad was taking a lot of baths? No, I didn’t notice that. And she said, that’s where your dad cried. Tears. Cried horrendously. Left the water running so nobody would hear him cry. My dad, they lived through war. We have to remember these people lived through war. They were, at that time, told put it back. It’s done. It’s gone. Let’s get on with your life. To think my dad would cry like that. But in my mind, always, I know, my dad had a very special place in his heart. Because with my face, looking the way it did, had a picture of me like that in his wallet, so that he could be close. Sorry, guys, he didn’t carry any of you – just me. So it was. It meant a lot to him. But he wanted me to grow. He wanted me to succeed. There was no doubt in that.

Jo Lynn Sheane  11:44

Well, this has been a powerful story. And in many ways, it would be a common one for families that are severely affected when one member is disabled or becomes disabled. Psychologists say it’s important to recognize that trauma and to deal with it in order to bring healing to all. We’ll hear more about that in a minute.

Jo Lynn Sheane  12:07

Thanks to the Essex and District Lions Club for sponsoring this episode, “Where there’s a need, there’s a lion.”

Jo Lynn Sheane  12:19

This is Better Together and I’m Jo Lynn Sheane.  We’re speaking with Judy Robinet, founder of this podcast Better Together and A Life Worth Living, an organization that advocates for inclusion for people with disabilities. Her sister Christine Fuerth is also with us, sharing how Judy’s traumatic car accident affected her and their whole family. Now, you have both talked about how your family didn’t talk about the accident. We’re going to bring in another voice to this conversation. This is Dr. Bill McDermott, a trauma psychologist, and I’ve had a chance to listen to parts of Judy’s extensive interview with him for A Life Worth Living.  And now we’re going to have a chance to hear how he describes trauma.

Dr. Bill McDermott  13:05

We have to define trauma by the internal event not by the external event. So we may be with someone who has been in a minor car crash. And also later in the day be with someone who has been viciously beaten and sexually assaulted and presumed inadvertently, and inaccurately, that the traumatic reaction to one of those events wouldn’t be as severe as to the other. We never can take that for granted.

Jo Lynn Sheane  13:35

Dr. McDermott also says there’s a reason why families often feel the impact of trauma so acutely.

Dr. Bill McDermott  13:42

Because we have a traumatized individual, but we have vicariously traumatized family members. These are people who are close enough that they feel that there’s an emotional contagion. And there’s an empathic strain, they feel the pain of the injured person or the family member. And as they take that into themselves, inevitably, by virtue of their closeness and their love and affection and loyalty and concern for the injured person, they become debilitated to larger or lesser degrees themselves.

Jo Lynn Sheane  14:16

And further, Dr. McDermott sums up the benefits of pulling together versus the dangers of pulling apart.

Dr. Bill McDermott  14:23

Families have two ways to go under traumatic events, they can fragment or they can become more cohesive, the more family can pull together for each other and their mutual support and the support of the person injured. The better off everyone is by far because it dilutes the intensity of the fear. It dilutes the intensity of the anger. It dilutes the intensity of the horror, perhaps, or disgust even. Families that are able to pull together are going to be much is much, much more helpful to each other and to the injured person than families which fragment.

Jo Lynn Sheane  15:06

Christine, from your perspective, how well would you say that the family pulled together after Judy’s accident?

Christine Fuerth  15:14

I think what I remember, we got on with our lives. Judy was part of the life we live as a family. It’s just there was no hemming and hawing. It was, let’s get it done. That’s what we have to do. If your job is bigger than it used to be, because you don’t have your sister helping you, then you just did it. There was no whining, no complaining. It was, let’s get on with it.

Jo Lynn Sheane  15:45

So I wonder if this would surprise you that Dr. McDermott refers to this as a conspiracy of silence. And he says it’s not uncommon for families.

Christine Fuerth  15:54

No, but in hindsight, I wish we would have talked about it more.  But that’s not who we were. That’s not the family we were.

Jo Lynn Sheane  16:03

So we’re going to have a chance now to hear from him and to get a sense of why this happens.

Dr. Bill McDermott  16:09

When family members are more burdened by their own fears than motivated by their concern about the other family members, we can fall into a conspiracy of silence. If we don’t talk about it. If we’re not expressive about it. If we’re not specific and concrete, I won’t feel as bad. Because these are very intensely emotional happenings. We have our own fears. We have our own suffering and we have the vicarious suffering of our loved ones. And conspiracies of silence develop all the time between people. Because they have apprehensions, that catastrophic expectations, that talking about it, that acknowledging it, that putting the big old purple elephant in the middle of the living room and saying, “Oh, look, there’s a big old purple elephant in the middle of the living room.” will cause them tremendous amount of personal distress, and might cause the other person distress. So conspiracies of silence sometimes come from a very good hearted attempt to prevent people from feeling badly, if they aren’t at the moment. Sometimes conspiracies of silence come from plain old denial, which is not just another river in Egypt. If I make believe it’s not here, and I don’t address it, I won’t have to contend with it. Well, which is a folly. We know that, because those things don’t go away. Issues that are painful, issues that need to be addressed will require us to address them one way or another. And the more able we are to get our gumption together to speak clearly and concisely about the specifics of a painful issue, the better off we all are because they’re in is the opportunity for ventilation of our feelings, validation of those feelings, connection between people, healing presence, compassion, empathy, all of those things. We know, healing people require, first of all that we acknowledge, this is what hurts, this is how it hurts, and let’s face it together.

Jo Lynn Sheane  18:16

Judy, Christine, looking back, what do you think would have made things easier for you? Who wants to go first?

Christine Fuerth  18:25

For me, where I am in my life now, I think conversation. I think we should have shared more. Cuz I do share more now. We talk, Judy and I, never bought the accident, but about other things more now. And I think, I would hope, that it would have been better for Judy. Not knowing what we did, we just do things and don’t say anything. Maybe it would have been easier for you.

Jo Lynn Sheane  18:57

Judy, what would you say?

Judy Robinet  18:59

I think for me, saying the accident was done and over when I had 33 more surgeries, it wasn’t done and over. Every time I’m readjusting my life trying to fit my life between major surgeries. And, that was hard. I think I was angry that I had to continue to go back and be made and remade. Actually, I was on reading week and they had to remove my artificial eye. They had to put a whole new socket in because there was an infection that was going to my brain. Guys don’t you know, I’m trying to get my master’s here. So as far as my week off, my reading week, that was frustrating. And I think I needed to talk about that. And I think when Chris visited, from time to time we just would mention a little bit. But what was always constant, always constant, my sister was there. We didn’t have to talk. I knew she was there. I knew she loved me, even though I was a mess, she loved me.

Christine Fuerth  20:09

The only other surgery that I remember Judy, that for an experience for me, is when she had her back surgery. At that time, they put her on a striker frame, which was a circle bed. And she was on that. It felt like an eternity for me. I can’t imagine for you what that must have been like. They would bring in student nurses to practice on her suit to tighten her up and then wheel her around. And I thought, oh my god. But there was one older nurse that was the kindest. She got the most uncomfortable thing done as fast as she could. And then move Judy, it was the student nurses that were learning that was difficult. She ate there. she peed there. A week, Judy, was that you were on that Stryker frame at least a week?

Judy Robinet  20:57

Oh, I think it was about three or four at that time, because I have four of them done.

Christine Fuerth  21:01

Oh, my God, like, how things have improved. Things are better now. It’s amazing. And she looked so cute. Judy, looked so cute with her crutches and her little patch on her eye. She had this cute little hair cut. I thought you know, she’s gonna be okay. Really? She’s going to be okay.

Judy Robinet  21:22

It was funny because I had I had to have plastic surgery. Obviously. This is a chin. Actually, this isn’t my eye.

Jo Lynn Sheane  21:31

You’re pointing to your eyebrow.

Judy Robinet  21:32

Yeah, this is a chin. Anyway, my doctor came in. And I always had a rule. I will not go under anaesthetic until I am assured my doctor is there. So, Dr. Heckadon walks in, he rolls his hands together and he says the Bride of Heckadon. Black humor is so nice. I just had so many wonderful people around me. I don’t know that everybody has that opportunity. But let me tell you, him doing that made such a big difference for me. I’ve had 33 surgeries since my accident. To have people so kind and generous around me is is amazing. It’s amazing. Means a lot.

Christine Fuerth  22:20

Difficult for her coming home after some of those surgeries, though. Especially with her teeth, when she had to go to the dentist. At that time, we didn’t have the specialists that we had now. It was pretty painful, some of the surgeries. And you just felt for her. But she is a very tough, resilient, positive, she only sees the positive in things. And I think that accident has escalated that. That’s why after 20 some years, Judy, you’re still in this. Good.

Jo Lynn Sheane  22:53

So Christine, when you hear about these, these stories, these these things that she remembers these people and that the small acts of kindness all these years later, even your own help for her. What was that like for you to hear that?

Christine Fuerth  23:09

I’m amazed. I didn’t realize the impact small things make. And I think telling stories, others will learn from that. Even though you don’t know what to do. There are very small things that mean the world to the person that is traumatized. I think telling stories is exactly the way you learn.

Judy Robinet  23:30

So can I ask a question here?

Jo Lynn Sheane  23:32


Judy Robinet  23:33

Chris, did I help you at all?

Christine Fuerth  23:35

Oh, you made me feel so proud of you, Judy. I felt that your accident was in May, I graduated high school in June, and I went to work in July, and I knew you were going to be okay. I just knew it was gonna be alright. I watched you grow. And I thought you’re gonna be okay. It felt good to me, not what I did, who you are.

Jo Lynn Sheane  24:04

For other families that find themselves in similar situations dealing with trauma, it might actually help them to hear from Dr. McDermott again on the timetable for healing. Sometimes we get frustrated when a friend or a family member just won’t snap out of it and they won’t move on, which again, affects the loved ones.

Dr. Bill McDermott  24:23

First of all, we have to check ourselves we have to say well, is it my timetable or that person’s timetable. And we say sometimes, we can’t push the river it will flow as it’s supposed to. And if someone is healing and going about step by step by step, reorganizing themselves, reorganizing their thoughts, reorganizing their feelings and are being successful then we have to discipline ourselves not to impose our timetable on them. So that’s the first caveat about this whole stuck notion.  Stuck that we have to pay attention to and respond to, is someone’s pain or suffering not changing. People who are in pain. People who are anguished. People who feel very badly about themselves, people whose worldview has become despairing or cynical, or, or toxic and it’s anger. And remain there day after day after day. And week, after week, after week, no matter what types of self talk they tried to tempt with themselves to feel better about themselves and feel better about the world in general. Those people are stuck. Those people are mired in fears, anxieties, resentments, disappointments, disillusionment. They become, maybe, cynical.

Dr. Bill McDermott  25:50

How do we help people with that?

Dr. Bill McDermott  25:52

We help people with that by bringing us to them first. We don’t abandon people who are stuck, although they’re very, very difficult to be with. We don’t make excuses to be busy with other things because we don’t want to be with them and get a headache. From our our frustration, and disappointment in their staying mired in their despair, perhaps, or anger. I think people who are very angry and stay very angry day after week after month, are the people that are most difficult to be within the most difficult to assist.

Dr. Bill McDermott  26:30

How do we know when people are turning a corner from despair, anguish, maybe loss of hope, to healing?

Dr. Bill McDermott  26:43

Well, they begin to become quieter in themselves. They begin to be able to find some peace. They begin talking with positive self messages instead of negative self messages. They begin to say accurate and positive things about themselves. I am a good and valuable person. I do have competencies.

Jo Lynn Sheane  27:11

By telling your story, the parts where there were helpers, and I suppose even the times when they were none, what do you hope that people will take away.

Judy Robinet  27:21

I hope that they take away they can make a difference. I hope they can take away that being together, or if it’s the person who has been traumatized and yourself, that it makes a difference to have that help. I hope that they take away that the whole family is traumatized. And rather than judging or criticizing or wondering or if you stand alongside them, support them. If you just listen, there are some things that you will know that you can step in to do, such as the cake that was made for my brother, you can just step in.  Think what you would want for yourself. You know, the person that’s traumatized, the disabled person, it’s very hard to keep vocalizing what they want, because they feel vulnerable if you reject them it’s hard. And sometimes they don’t know what you could do for them. So they have a long list, but what can you do? So I think it’s important for us to listen to these stories, because I think they’ll give you the clues that you need to solve the puzzle.

Jo Lynn Sheane  28:30

Thank you, Judy. And thank you, Christine. I’m so glad you shared your story with us and with each other. Our thanks too to trauma psychologist, Dr. Bill McDermott, for his insight. Judy Robinet is the founder of A Life Worth Living and this podcast Better Together. We will be bringing you many more stories of the struggles of people living with disabilities, how they overcome, and how life is better when we help. Because there is always hope, and a way to include everyone, no matter what they’ve been through. I’m Jo Lynn Sheane, know who you are, decide where you’ll go, and choose a life worth living. This was Better Together. Thanks for listening.

Jo Lynn Sheane  29:11

And thanks again to the Essex and District Lions Club, “Where there’s a need; there’s a lion.”