Today’s couple is special to me. Why? Because they are the very first “wheelchair” couple I met after becoming paralyzed. It was an unusual meeting at a funeral home. Yes, a funeral home.
One of our church members had passed away and my husband was conducting the funeral. I am a people person and my husband has been involved in many funerals. I have always been right by his side – hugging and comforting, singing and helping with the service, and fluttering busily with the food afterwards to feed the family. That is my job as a Pastor’s wife.
At this particular funeral, I was brand new to a wheelchair. I did not know how to hug without running over someone’s toes or falling forward into their lap. I felt that I was a giant object in every aisle and in everyone’s way. I could no longer play the piano and sing and really didn’t want to be in the spotlight at all. I actually wanted to kind of crawl behind the coffin and hide!! Since I couldn’t do that, I wheeled myself to a back corner and parked there mourning my own lack of “Pastor’s wife skills” that day.
In he rolled. A big, tall, muscular guy sitting confidently in his cool wheelchair. His beautiful wife and children followed him. He looked at me and I looked at him. It is a new talent that is given to you once you are permanently seated.You can spot another full-time wheeler with Superman vision. They spot you too and instantly there is a connection.
He said, “You want to race?” I said, “NO! You would win!!” He smiled and I smiled back. I already felt better. Here was someone who actually made a wheelchair look good! He didn’t look depressed or grungy. He was sharp and pulled together. That interaction alone erased a stereotype that I was afraid of happening to me. That I would no longer look attractive in a chair and that people would not view me that way.
At the dinner that followed, he and his wife talked with me for over 3 hours. They shared with me so very many things and in that one day, a beautiful friendship developed. I count Rick and Dawn Bell as very dear friends. Not only because they were my first wheelchair connection, but because they invested their lives to make a difference in mine.
Life moved on past that day, and because of the friendship and encouragement we had learned to give to each other, we wanted to pass it on to others. We started a wheelchair support group in our county called Circle of Friends and at the time I moved away, we had connected with over 14 full-time wheelchair users in our small rural county. Rick and Dawn are now running that support group in Ohio and I miss that group SO much! We have a dream in the back of our heads to help others start support groups in their own areas.
Rick and I have shared and swapped wheelchair cushions, wheelchair tires and wheelchair parts. Rick showed me how to be gutsy in a chair and hop a curb, how to ride a modified motorcycle, race across a parking lot, and how to approach another wheelie. But more than anything, Rick and Dawn Bell shared their hearts and lives with a new-to-a-chair-afraid-and-alone gal. They taught me the precious lesson of investing your life to help another like you.
Rick and Dawn, I love you both and thank the Lord for sending you into my life!
Editor’s note: Rick became paralyzed from later effects of a parachuting injury while serving in the Gulf War. He is an honored veteran and I am proud to be his friend.
Here is a video of one of our monthly support group meeting….for your entertainment…and my memories.