For the hundreds of Windsor residents caring for loved ones with both visible and invisible disabilities, the waterfronts newest sculpture a bronze pair of outstretched hands releasing two gleaming butterflies to the sky is a powerful sight.
Dozens of caregivers, family members and survivors of brain injuries lined Assumption Parks walkway Friday to see the sculpture by local artist Jack Byng unveiled and presented to the city by the Brain Injury Association of Windsor-Essex.
Karen Henze-Whittles son Jason Antonio is one of the survivors who attended the ceremony and whose name is engraved on the memorial below the sculpture. Henze-Whittle said the ceremony was one of the most memorable shes attended in 17 years, since Antonio had his accident.
It just brings tears to my eyes that there will be something for Jason, above and beyond hospitals and doctors, she said. And at some point, when hes not here, there will be a place.
Henze-Whittle described her son as a courageous, strong young man with a special fondness for pretty girls. But caring for him now is a task that completely envelops her life. Antonio, 35, is affected by a catastrophic brain injury, she said, which has left him in a semi-aware state and in need of round-the-clock care.
When you have a person with a brain injury, it encompasses your day, it becomes the focus of your night, it becomes everything that youre about, she said.
"It is evolving, it is challenging. Some days it takes everything you have. It takes every single ounce of your strength. And other days youre just so happy to have an OK day.
Ruth Wilcock, executive director of the Ontario Brain Injury Association, helped present the sculpture to onlookers Friday and said few are truly aware of the enormous prevalence of brain injuries in their communities.
Brain injury is often referred to as the invisible disability, even though there are almost half a million people living in Ontario with a brain injury, she said.
.... With this memorial, those injured by brain injury and those who have lost their lives to brain injury will be publicly remembered in a special way not just today, but for many years to come.
For Juanita Bender, the sculpture couldn't have been a more fitting tribute for her son Mike Russell, 53, who lives with a brain injury hes suffered from since 1981. Bender will never forget the three agonizing days she spent waiting for her 21-year-old son to wake up from the coma after an overdose.
Anxious to capture his attention and communicate, Bender would point out the butterflies outside the window of his hospital room.
Id say, Look out the window, Mike, look at the butterflies, look at the butterflies, she said. Something in my head said butterflies, so when I saw them today, I was quite excited.
Bender said taking care of a loved one suffering from a brain injury is agonizing, but the support of the survivor community has slowly begun to help the pair settle down.
At first it was very difficult, even for him, she said. Its not something you ever plan for, thats for sure.
Individuals wanting to engrave their loved ones names on the memorial are asked to contact the Brain Injury Association of Windsor-Essex by visiting http://www.biawe.com/memorial/ or phoning (519) 981-1329.