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Managing a Family Crisis

What could have been a script from "General Hospital" or "As The World Turns, the more than 230 emails I received describing Val Anderson's ups and downs was not a soap opera, but a true life experience.

Val playing in the snow with her grandchild about 18 months before the accident that would test her family's resolve.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you had an accident - how would your children and family react? Would your friends stay in contact? Sometimes people are afraid of disease, accidents and death and they keep as far away as possible. Well, one of our neighbors knows first hand how it feels to have friends and family surround her with love, support, community and prayers. Val Anderson, a longtime Aromas resident had an accident on Friday, November 10, 2000. She fell off of a 28 foot ladder breaking 4 chest ribs, tearing her aorta, breaking Thoracic back ribs T1-T7. T6 and T7 are smashed (a classic broken back) and 2-3 broken toes. The spinal cord is intact. On the day of her accident the emails started. Over 223 emails and 7 months later, what appeared to be a small family communicating with each other has become a nationwide phenomenon. Val, a jazz enthusiast has friends all over the United States who share her love of jazz and together attend concerts scheduled in New Orleans, San Francisco, etc. When Val was kept under very heavy sedation at the beginning of her hospitalization, it was suggested that jazz be played in her room to keep her connected with the outside world. She hadn't really been awake yet to speak with anyone. Because of her horrific injuries, it was thought best to keep her unconscious to the pain she would surely feel when awakened. Knowing Val's love of jazz, this writer is sure it comforted her as does her son, Dave as he writes in one email, "Mom listened to more of the Jazz she loves so much. It is difficult to tell if she is making faces for the music or because of medication, but I am going to think it is because we are there and she is listening to 'her' music."

What could have been a script from "General Hospital" or "As The World Turns, the more than 230 emails I received describing Val Anderson's ups and downs was not a soap opera, but a true life experience. Every day since November 10, 2000, I have been one of many of whom was kept in the loop regarding the health of our friend. Today, the prognosis looks excellent. There were some emails that made me cry, some laugh and some just made me want to shout with thanks.

I met Val three years ago when my husband and I moved to Aromas. Although I was born in Monterey and lived my growing up years in Salinas, it had been quite a few years since I had lived in Monterey County. We were driving around one day when my husband had a conference he was attending in Monterey and fell in love with Aromas at first sight. I found it a wonderful experience getting used to a small community again since the interim years since my last residence in Salinas included Alaska, San Francisco and Silicon Valley. I thought the best way to get involved would be to join a group, so I chose the "Friends of the Library." Val was the newsletter editor and big time volunteer at the library. I was impressed immediately with her. First impression is how beautiful she is with those flashing eyes and dimples. I then learned that she had just recently lost her husband, Don, that year. Her positive attitude always demonstrating that her glass was half full and not half empty; a person would never pick up on any personal sadness; rather, pick up on her gusto for life. When I had an opportunity to visit her at her home during a library gathering, I couldn't believe all the jazz recordings she had. She talked a lot about attending jazz concerts all over the United States. When she spoke of jazz, her whole face would light up. Now, that's a true dedicated fan.

I try to analyze why Val means so much to me - it's not like we were best friends or anything, but when the emails started coming and described Val's daily ups and downs, I felt myself becoming one of her many cheer leaders. Here was a woman fighting for her life, but also it was a family communicating. They let me in. I wasn't a relative, best friend or even a jazz buddy, but it didn't matter -- they shared their mom's daily condition and what's more they shared their own feelings. I learned a valuable lesson with this extraordinary family - that in this electronic age, it is easy to communicate with your friends and family. Even if you don't have your own personal computer, email is available for free with just about every search engine and like our own library, computers are freely available for your use whenever you want to use them. You can journalize your day easily and send your family and friends an email. You can send free birthday, anniversary and just because cards through the Internet. Don't wait until your loved one has had an accident, communicate now. If you really are not into the electronic email, then get out your pen and paper and write a letter.

I don't want to trivialize Val's fight for her life as my husband, can verify; there were days he would find me at my computer with tears streaming down my face and I would tell him that Val's not doing too well today. But, then I would get another email the next day or two and she was okay and won another uphill battle towards improvement. It's important for her family and herself to understand that her injuries affected a lot of people, many of whom she will probably never know, but I wanted Val and her family to know how much it has affected this writer. I thank them for including me as one of her family and I thank them for the lessons I have learned about sharing. Thank you Dave, for starting this email journal (more than 228 entries) and for Cheryl for additional emails.

Val is recuperating at a rehabilitation facility in Kentfield (in Marin County). According to her daughter, Cheryl, she loves visitors. Val has a lot of physical therapy, breathing therapy, etc. during the week. I think her family could use some well earned respite. Family and friends have been sending some carefully picked out socks for Val since she started her walking therapy. I understand her granddaughter, Emily, likes to peek under the covers when her grandma is still sleeping just to see what pair of socks she has chosen for the day. After Val leaves the facility in Kentfield, she will continue her rehabilitation at Cheryl's home for a while.

Val, surrounded by daughter Cheryl and grandaughters

If you would like to send Val an email, send it in care of her daughter Cheryl. I will have the email address at the bottom of this article. Cheryl told me that they now have three binders full of emails sent to Val during her recuperation. Val is reading them or having them read to her a few at a time. What an incredible tribute to a fine lady to have so many people keeping in touch and caring about every improvement made.

  • No. 1 son: Dave's family: wife Jean (lives in San
  • No. 2 daughter: Cheryl's family: husband Eddie,
    children: Emily 3 (likes to peek at Grandma), Wendy 7,
    Rachel 17, Joshua 20. (lives in Kentfield)
  • No. 3 daughter: Wendy (lives in Santa Barbara)
  • No. 4 daughter: Gail (lives in Sacramento)
  • No. 5 daughter: Celeste (lives in Sacramento)

Cheryl's (daughter) Email: encbarbero@msn.com END

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