• Shannon Zisa

The Greatest Men That I Have Ever Known

People will often ask me how it is that I am so strong. The reality is that I’m not strong at all. I’ve simply been giving it “time” and clinging to a fading hope. Grief for me has an added layer that is so hard for me to put into words. I lost my daughter and I “lost” the man I married in the blink of an eye. Three weeks after the most horrific night of my life I sat (in a wheelchair) in my husband’s ICU room listening to doctors tell me that brain injuries take time to know the full extent of the damage. I listened as they explained that every brain injury is different and every question, I could muster up, was met with the answer of “we don’t know”. This was the beginning of my hatred of the word TIME. A 4-letter word that is every bit as damning as any other swear word that I know. “Just give it time.” “We’ll know in time.” “It takes time.” “Over time your grief will lessen.” “Time heals a broken heart.” These statements of “time” plagued my heart and my mind. While being told to give it time I was also being asked to immediately make life or death decisions for my husband. Where was time when I needed it most? I didn’t have time to think or process the questions being asked. I simply had to rely on a conversation that Dane and I had not long before this happened. We differed (not surprisingly) on our thoughts about life saving measures. Dane wanted everything possible done to save his life and I didn’t. While I knew that Dane would want me to make every decision in favor of saving his life, we had never talked about a brain injury or quality of life. When we talked about what to do the only outcomes that were considered were complete recovery or death. What do you do when complete recovery isn’t likely? Dane had defied every single odd and statistic that we were given. This man had more broken bones than he had bones that remained unbroken. His skin was missing, and his brain was bleeding. He was resuscitated 9 times that night alone. My head struggled to live in the new gray areas of life. I’ve always been a very black or white person. This new gray area of life both terrified me and frustrated me. My head has known, since just after the first anniversary of being run over, that the 2% chance he was given at a full recovery was never going to be. My heart clung to that 2% and it completely discounted the 98% chance that full recovery was unlikely. My heart needed to believe that this was yet another statistic that Dane would defy. Dane was going to be the unlikely 2%. When the doctors all spoke of time and how long it would take to get answers 2 years was the magical amount. We were told that recovery after 2 years was very unlikely if not impossible. The 1st year, after a brain injury, is when you see the most recovery. We did. Recovery slows in year 2. It did. We were also told, many times by many different specialists, that at the 2-year marker “what you see is more than likely what you get”. We were 3 weeks into this nightmare…2 YEARS!!! It was going to take 2 years to get the answers that I needed right then. I needed another 15 mins to talk to the man I married. I needed to know what he would want me to do. We made decisions together and now I was left to make decisions about his life and about how to say goodbye to our daughter. I was alone and I was scared.


I was 34 when I got married. Neither one of us has been married before. Dane and I were as opposite as you could get. None of our personality traits were the same. Our pre-marital counselor told us that we were destined to either learn how to see the world through each other’s eyes or we would kill each other. Those were definitely not the words I was expecting right before our wedding day. For most couples I imagine that those words would almost certainly indicate that a mistake was being made by getting married. Dane and I were different though and we both knew it. We were the ones that would learn to see the world through each other’s eyes, and he would make me a better person. Dane knew that I was the love of his life the day we met but I wasn’t ready to date. Dane was patient, something I wasn’t, and he got to know me by being my friend. It wasn’t long before he was easily my best friend and from that moment on it was a whirlwind romance that would lead to our wedding day. We were happy together. Genuinely happy.


Adalyn filled our hearts and our home with joy. We were both in awe of this perfect little girl. She looked like him and acted like me. She had his nose and the shape of my eyes. She had his beautiful blue eyes and my big smile. She was a mix of both of us. We were a happily married couple and with Adalyn we were a happy family. Adalyn was the best of both of us. She was a love like I have never known before. Watching Dane be a Daddy to our daughter was one of the greatest joys of my life. He was amazed by everything she did and about each of his features that he could see in her. I had only ever seen him look at one other person with so much love in his eyes and that person was me.


Father’s Day is excruciating for me this year. My broken mama heart struggles though Mother’s Day with the harsh reality that my daughter now lives in Heaven. I have empty arms, but I am no less her mother. Father’s Day is a harsh reality that they are both gone. Our little girl that made Dane a Daddy is in Heaven and her Daddy is trapped somewhere in his own mind. The struggle for me is that while Father’s Day is a devastating reminder of who and what is missing from my life it is also a day that my dad deserves to be celebrated. Truthfully, he probably deserves it more these past 2 years than any other year of my life. Don’t get me wrong, my dad has always been there, but I’ve never really had the kind of relationship I have with him now. Until June 2, 2019, our relationship mostly centered around some Buccaneer/Lightning talk. I’m a diehard fan thanks to him. Sports became the thing we talked about. My dad and Dane had a special bond that came almost immediately. It was a “dad” that I had never seen before and that Dane welcomed because he had never really had his own father in his life. Dane was the son my dad never had but he really does have 2 sons of his own. When the night of horror happened my dad completely changed. He’s watched me suffer an unimaginable pain. He’s grieving the “loss” of the son he never had, his granddaughter (someone that he regrets not spending more time with), and the daughter he once had. My dad goes with me every time I go to see Dane. He goes to every doctor’s appointment and deep down I think he’s still holding out that Dane will make a full recovery. On June 2nd this year, while standing at Adalyn’s cross, it really started to hit me…I’ve lost them both. I can’t grieve Dane because he’s still here and I am now also his legal guardian. I refuse to let the State decide his care. They won’t fight for him or advocate for him like I do. Plus, I made him a promise to “love, honor, and cherish” him for all the days of his life. A promise that I intend to keep and a promise that I know is why he is still living. The night that this happened, Dane was not expected to live through the night. While I was basically unconscious because of the drugs I was being given in order to control the pain from my very broken leg and my very broken heart, they wanted to give me a chance to say goodbye to him. I was taken, in my own hospital bed, to the ICU room where Dane was. This was something that had never been done before. Our story had spread quickly through the hospital halls and all of the doctors and nurses that were on the ICU floor stood up when they brought me to his room. The side rails were lowered on both of our beds so that I could lay with him. The only thing that I remember of this experience is reaching for him and telling him that he couldn’t die because I had survived and that I couldn’t do this on my own. Those are the words that changed the course of that night and I am sure of it. Remember how I said that I was the love of Dane’s life from the moment he met me? It had never been truer than it was in that moment. Dane would not leave me here alone. He would begin his fight back from the dead because he knew I was still here, and I still needed him. We all watched as Dane began to defy the odds and we watched as his heart rate would change every time that I entered his room, and he heard my voice. I spent countless hours talking to him, reading to him, playing music to him, anything I could do to let him know that I was there with him. I honestly believed that I was going to get him back. I believed then and still do now that the man I married was still in there somewhere. I believed that with “time” he would come back to me. That just wasn’t what was going to happen. This was the one statistic that Dane would fall victim. He was going to be part of the 98% that never make a full recovery. The lucky 2% chance began to fade with every passing day and the extent of the damage to his brain became more evident as he emerged from a 5 month stay in a coma.


Father’s Day was the first of many holidays that I would spend in the hospital with my husband. One of my very first conscious memories that I have, after they induced a semi unconscious state because I couldn’t cope with the loss of Adalyn, the fear of losing Dane, and the excruciating pain my body was physically in, is Father’s Day 2019. I spent almost 2 weeks in a semi-conscious state. What I remember clearly is my dad walking into my hospital room on Father’s Day. I remember the burn of the words “Happy Father’s Day” as they left my mouth and how I felt like I had just been punched in the stomach as I said them. I remember my dad hugging me and I remember the tears that were rolling down his face. I remember the searing images of Adalyn holding Dane’s Father’s Day present hours before she would become Heaven’s newest angel. Dane has a collection of fun socks so one of his presents, for his 2nd Father’s Day, was a pair of socks with Adalyn’s face all over them. She was so happy to point to her face on the socks. The socks were purple. A few hours later Adalyn and Dane would both be gone. Ironically, purple would become the Zisa Strong color. Father’s Day holds memories of the most painful holiday in my life. The memories of going into Dane’s ICU room that day and wishing him a “Happy Father’s Day”, while not allowing my voice to crack or break because Dane knew nothing about Adalyn’s death, are burned into my mind.


Father’s Day seems surreal this year. How can it be that 2 years have come and gone? How are we at the magical 2 years of time that the doctors told me it would take to know the extent of the damage to his brain? Why is the damage to his brain irreversible? How come it is that today the sounds of Adalyn and her daddy playing together didn’t fill the air? I am alone and I am scared.


As I walked away from Adalyn’s cross after her angel ceremony, I turned around to look at the cross and to take in all that had just happened. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I became frozen in place when I realized that I was standing in the exact spot where Dane had laid that night. I was in the same place, looking back at the place where our daughter died, where Dane laid unresponsive and bleeding from his head. Images that have been seared into my memory and that I revisit every day, multiple times a day, in flashbacks. It was my dad that drove me from the cross to my house so that I could try to get myself together. He was the one that listened to the agony in my voice as I kept repeating that we had made it 2 years, we made it to the magical time the doctors spoke of, I had given it “time”, but the man I married had not returned. It was standing at the cross that night that I realized, for the very first time, that the Dane I knew and married was really gone. My dad was the one that tried to disguise his tears when I came back into the room. He was going to be strong for me, his breaking daughter, he was going to be the dad that deserves to be celebrated today. Amongst all the pain that Father’s Day holds for my heart, I am blessed to have the dad that will try and disguise his tears because he knows I still need him.


Happy Father’s Day to the greatest men that I have ever known. To the man that gave me life and the man that gave me the greatest joy in my life.


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