I vividly remember standing in the kitchen of my grandmother’s apartment, located in a 55+ community of spry geriatrics.

While walking to her unit, I marveled at the rays of sun filtering through the lobby of the building, casting a spotlight on the intense shuffleboard game unfolding between the two resident champs.

Others were playing dominoes, chess, checkers, and tossing playing cards around like an off-strip Vegas casino. The lobby was teeming with action and excitement. With life!

Unfortunately, the exact opposite was the reason for my visit on this particular day.

Death.

My mother, grandma’s only daughter, had recently met her demise by a self-inflicted gunshot wound. I had the distinct pleasure of delivering the news.

During the years leading up to the terminal flash bang, mom was steeped in a deep depression, distraught by the unexpected passing of her husband, my father.

In retrospect, I did a terrible job of supporting her through this ordeal. Aside from dropping off the occasional bag of cannabis to provide some psychological relief, I was mostly absent as she spiraled into alcoholism and self destructive behavior, like playing with loaded guns.

But in my defense, I was also grieving — the loss of a father, and of my right leg, which was amputated a few months before he died.

And in a strange confluence of events, shortly after pops ascended to that lavish gated community in the sky, my girlfriend gave birth to our first child. Just weeks after losing my dad, I became one myself, at the barely-legal age of 21.

This entire period of my life was filled with confusion.

Against this backdrop, my mom’s soul was slowly decaying, yet I was too distracted, too immature, too entrenched in my own sorrow to recognize that she was waaaay off road, careening towards the edge of a cliff. And the brakes were out.

I tried to bring her grandson around to spread some newborn cheer but quickly had to reverse course. Her drunken antics posed a safety hazard, as she’d carelessly handle my fragile little human who couldn’t yet support the weight of his own head. A point I repeatedly reminded her of. A point she repeatedly ignored, filling me with rage and resentment.

How could she prioritize Jim Beam over her own grandson!? Why can’t she just get her act together like an adult!?! Why is she forcing me to choose between spending time with my only parent or tending to my own family, completely railroading my efforts to do both!?

She drove a locomotive straight through my shit.

The anger blinded me to the pain that my matriarchal conductor was haunted by. I couldn’t see that she needed help and support, that I was the only person standing between her and a chance encounter with Azrael, the angel of death.

I was too busy changing diapers.

Now, here I stand, in the kitchen of my grandmother’s apartment, having failed as a son, ready to ruin her day with some heart attack-inducing news, thus adding the title “Granny Killer” to my already impressive resume.

Upon hearing that another one of her kids committed suicide — I’ll save the story about my veteran uncle and his PTSD for another day — grandma lashed out at me with a violent verbal assault.

I was berated, disparaged, told that I’ve always been a selfish, unappreciative brat, scum of the Earth. And just what the hell was wrong with me anyway?

She plunged the final dagger into my liver and gave it a good twist by ending her diatribe with an edict. She never wanted to see nor hear from me again.

While getting cussed out by a loved one is never fun, there was some truth in her harsh words. The person she knew me as, prior to the motorcycle accident that claimed my leg, was indeed self-centered, egotistical, and highly narcissistic.

All I cared about was me. And scaring small children in the back seat of the cars I zoomed by on my sports bike. And scamming unsuspecting marks out of thousands of dollars with an elaborate fake check scheme.

Inevitably, I’d get arrested by the Secret Service for that criminal enterprise but, again, another story for another day.

On this day, grandma’s words echoed in my mind like a whistle in a cave. Fuck, she was right.

But what that old hag didn’t know, is that the loss of my leg marked the start of a long journey towards gaining perspective, empathy, and compassion for others.

As I worked to rebuild my self-image, my self-esteem and self-confidence, I had to detach my identity from the aesthetic and material goods I relied on to measure my self-worth. My bike was totaled, my body was disfigured, and my bank account was drained by medical bills.

I was broke and broken, stripped of all the facades I hid behind, so that I might be revealed to myself.

Now who am I?

I’d soon find purpose in the pain of my injuries, so I discarded the Percocets prescribed to numb it. Instead, I sat with it, pretending it was a chatty toddler pouring invisible tea for us to sip while musing about polkadot dresses and fluffy stuffed unicorns.

Through the process of recovery, reflection, and physical rehabilitation, my muscles were hardened yet my heart grew soft. Slowly, I became a man of integrity and honor, showing kindness to all whose path I crossed, and genuine concern for others.

Eventually, the pain would subside, both physical and mental, which taught me the impermanent nature of life, including grief and severed family ties.

Eventually, I reconnected with grandma for a final, cordial goodbye.

Though the loss of two parents was devastating, and being disowned by my last surviving family member was about as fun as running head first into a brick wall, losing a limb was by far the most difficult challenge to overcome. The final boss. And as Will Ferrell’s character in the Land of the Lost so eloquently stated:

It was “my own damn vault” (fault) — Dr. Rick Marshall

My recklessness caused the motorcycle accident that led to my amputation and left me to wallow in the pits of despair.

The cool thing about hitting rock bottom is that there’s nowhere to go but up. And during that steep climb back to a new normal, I became a caring, wise, strong, and resilient human, capable of connecting with the pain in others to offer support and hope for better days.

Losing a limb was paradoxically the worst thing to ever happen to me and the best thing that could have occurred. It was a gift from the heavens above.

After unwrapping, unboxing, and properly assembling my gift — and trust, the directions were about as clear as an IKEA manual written in Vietnamese by a small family of illiterate monkeys — but by the time I put it all together, I had built a better me.

The lord as my witness, I was baptized in a river of tears, then reborn anew in the image of God.

I may have lost a limb but I found my true self in the process, and wouldn’t change anything about the experience, even if I had Dr. Rick Marshall’s time machine and an ample supply of Tachyons. Because the worst thing that ever happened to me was also for the best.