GUELPH – On Aug. 14, 2000, Ashley and Brenda Tindall’s lives changed forever.
Ashley, 17 years old at the time, was crossing the bridge in Conestogo in a car when she was hit head-on by a dump truck.
She was airlifted to Hamilton and laid unconscious in a hospital bed for 12 days, with her mother Brenda hardly leaving her side.
After waking, Ashley’s recovery was not easy – facing surgery after surgery, they took things “hour by hour, day by day,” her mother said.
Brenda and Ashley have published a book with hopes of providing others encouragement, help and hope though traumatic situations.
The book is titled The Way I See Things: A Mother and Daughter Offer Hope Through Tragedy.
The book is a reminder to “count all successes, no matter how small,” and it proves “you can get through trauma, and you can be stronger because of it,” Ashley said.
Brenda hopes it reminds caregivers to take care of themselves and accept help.
Accepting help is not a sign of weakness, Ashley added.
After Ashley’s accident Brenda said she longed for a book about a similar situation, especially something that would offer her guidance on “how to get through it.”
In the aftermath of the accident, Brenda didn’t allow herself to truly feel her emotions.
But as much as she tried to put on a brave face, she felt “very scared,” and prayed that Ashley would survive.
While writing the book, Brenda immersed herself in those memories, reliving the experience and feeling the emotions she suppressed, including anger that the accident had ever happened.
But it did, and thankfully Ashley was surrounded by support, with her mother, father, brother and aunt sitting by her bedside and chatting with her even while she was unconscious, hoping she could hear them and feel comfort from their words.
She was also supported by her church community, and Ashley said knowing they were praying for her helped her to feel connected during an isolating time.
Impact of accident
Brenda diligently recorded everything that happened after the accident – not with plans to publish a book, but to keep track of all the details like medical procedures.
A seed of an idea for the book was planted in those early days though, when a social worker said “Ashley’s story is a remarkable story – it should be told.”
Brenda said the family knew early on that Ashley had a brain injury but didn’t know the extent of it.
“When she did come out of the coma, it became apparent she lost three quarters of her vision and had other brain injuries,” Brenda said.
“So her life was never going to be the same.”
“My life became the hospital,” Ashley added, noting she lost “all sense of control.”
She lost about a month of memory, but she is thankful that her memory has otherwise not been impacted.
However, even now, almost 23 years later, the accident continues to affect her, though Brenda notes Ashley “recovered much better than expected.”
In addition to vision loss, Ashley struggles with fatigue, has no sense of smell, and is at constant risk for meningitis as well as other medical conditions that impact her day-to-day life.
Ashley said the challenges meant it took her 10 years to complete a university degree – child, youth and family bachelor of applied science from the University of Guelph – a program designed to take four years.
But Ashley focuses what she can do, not what she can’t.
“Just because I have to do something differently, doesn’t mean I can’t do it,” she said, and she has learned to think outside the box to overcome challenges.
Ashley noted the accident also changed her personality – she went from being “shy and timid” to far more outgoing.
Brenda said when Ashley “first woke up from the coma she talked all day – natter, natter, natter,” noting “that was hard to get used to from a shy child.”
The accident also changed Ashley’s life perspective.
“I’m not so worried about mundane day-to-day stuff,” she said, as now it’s easier to realize the bigger picture.
Ashley has always maintained “a very positive attitude,” Brenda added.
Comfort from faith
Ashley’s faith was a significant support, and “there were numerous times when I didn’t know how I would be able to handle whatever surgery, and God gave me the strength.”
She felt comfort knowing God was “guiding the surgeon’s hand” and surrounding her with caring doctors, nurses, family and community.
Ashley was often awake in the middle of the night in hospital, but she never felt alone, because there are “no visiting hours for God … He was always there, by my side.”
After the accident Ashley felt she had to figure out a new identity for herself, as before it happened she had been a competitive soccer player – a part of her life she needed to walk away from.
Attending university helped, as she entered a new world where people weren’t “comparing the new Ashley to the old Ashley,” she said.
Part of this new identity is grounded in her understanding that the accident is part of who she is, but not all of who she is.
Ashley hopes the book shows people they don’t have to hide their experiences or be ashamed of their disabilities.
Ashley and Brenda were always close, but the accident strengthened their bond.
“I needed Mom,” Ashley said. “She was my rock.”
Writing the book made them closer too.
Brenda joked “it’s good we do get along very well,” as the process wasn’t easy.
Writing the book took 20 years, Brenda said, and Ashley urged her along when things were hard.
Ashley said part of the pace was her fatigue; she was only able to work on it in the morning, becoming too tired to continue by about 11am.
“I can only imagine how much patience Mom had.”
Throughout the writing process Brenda often asked Ashley if it was okay to include certain details.
“I always said yes,” Ashley said, because the book “needed to be honest.”
The mother and daughter talk every day. Brenda, who lives in West Montrose, spends time with Ashley in her home in Guelph a few times a week and drives her to appointments.
They also visit schools together to teach brain safety.
They have helped to distribute 600 helmets to children through the Brain Injury Association of Waterloo-Wellington (BIAWW), where they both volunteer.
A portion of proceeds from the book go to BIAWW.
June is Brain Injury Awareness month, and BIAWW is honouring the month with an open house on June 1, a concert on June 11, and a “Walk, Run and Roll” fundraiser on June 17.
More information is on the BIAWW Facebook page.
People can meet the Tindalls in person at the Wellington County Writers’ Festival at Wellington County Museum and Archives on June 10.
The book is sold at The Bookshelf in Guelph and Words Worth Books in Waterloo, and at www.ashleyandbreandatindall.ca.