COURT HOUSE – Picture sitting in a hospital waiting room, awaiting news of a loved one. Every nerve, every nuance flow into a single strain of thought: “Please, just let them be okay.”
For Sue Wunder, of Court House, in 2006, she awaited news of her son, Robbie, who suffered a diving accident in the shallow end of a swimming pool.
Fourteen years passed since Robbie’s accident, but the Wunder family still deals with the aftershock.
Sue Wunder, 57, Nov. 19 said that faith is a personal journey, moving from light to light as one grows and trusts in who God is.
“I’ve been a Christian my entire life,” she noted.
Raised in a Roman Catholic home, Wunder said she never doubted God’s existence or Jesus Christ. However, she described her faith as “blind” until recent years. Wunder attends a non-denominational church.
“I can’t tell you when I was saved,” she said.
Wunder grew up in Avalon with her eight siblings in the familiar rhythms of school, sports, and family life. She pursued a career in education and taught in the Cape May County Special Services School District.
During her early teaching days, Wunder met her future husband, Rob. The couple married a year and a half later. In 1989, Robbie was born.
The Day Everything Changed
It was a normal summer day when Wunder received an urgent call from her husband, breaking the news of Robbie’s accident. According to Wunder, 16-year-old Robbie slipped before diving, missing the pool’s deep end. When she arrived on the scene, Wunder watched as her son was placed in the back of an ambulance.
At AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Wunder learned that Robbie’s C5 vertebra was crushed and threatened his spinal cord. He was paralyzed.
“Scars do not hurt the same as wounds,” Wunder said, reflecting on that July day. When going through a traumatic event, Wunder said, one takes “two steps forward and two steps back.” One works through the trauma, one day at a time.
Robbie underwent surgery at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, in Philadelphia. For three months, Wunder stayed by her son’s bedside, learning how to care for him.
“As a mom, you just do,” Wunder said. She described Robbie’s condition as “touch and go” after surgery. High fevers at night demanded that she pack Robbie in ice. Because he could not move on his own, Wunder had to move him every two hours.
When asked how she and her family adjusted to their new normal, she replied that at first, they were on autopilot: doing what needed to be done.
“The whole family goes through it,” Wunder added.
Her daughter, Hailey, had to balance school and family concerns, traveling every day with her dad to visit Robbie as he recovered.
Wunder is thankful for the Court House community, and how friends, neighbors, and strangers rallied around them. Even many years removed from the accident, the community supports them, Wunder said.
Today, Wunder is adjusting to life in the wake of Covid.
“I can’t hug my parents right now,” Wunder said. “That’s really big for me.”
When she visits her son and his family, Wunder wears a mask and practices social distancing. Due to Robbie’s health, contracting the coronavirus would be devastating.
Hailey’s wedding, originally scheduled for March, is on hold until new arrangements can be made.
“It will all work out,” Wunder said.
Enough for Today
Robbie regained some use of his arms but remains paralyzed. Life changed permanently.
According to Wunder, faith makes all the difference in how one handles life and its struggles.
“Know that no matter what our circumstances are, God is always with us,” she said.
Wunder captured the ups and downs of her journey in her book “Enough for Today,” written in 2014. The title reminds her to trust God for the issues of today and that no one can face today and tomorrow at the same time.
Wunder also soaked up encouragement from her son, then and now.
“He carried me more than I carried him,” Wunder said.
Robbie attended and graduated from Temple University, obtaining a degree in film production. His father, Rob, went with him, becoming a roommate and caretaker on campus. A former football coach, Rob Wunder helped his son to the educational end-zone. The pair commuted back to Cape May County every weekend.
Watching their son cope, graduate from college, and marry brings pride tinged with sadness, according to Sue Wunder. No parent wants their child to suffer, but, she said, it is all for a greater purpose.
From Pain to Purpose
What are the first steps to coping with a traumatic event? Wunder gave the benefit of her experience, sharing three thoughts as a fellow pilgrim:
Focus on what I can vs. what I can’t do. According to Wunder, one of the hardest steps is accepting limitations without bitterness.
Acknowledge that only God can see us through difficult times. Strength will fail without divine support and guidance.
Take care of yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Wunder said it is easy to neglect one’s needs while caring for someone else.
From personal tragedy to the implications of Covid, Wunder said, we must look past ourselves and seek to help others.
“God doesn’t always change circumstances. Trust him for how it is supposed to be,” she concluded.
Faith Matters is an ongoing series exploring the connection between individuals and their faith, impacting their families, community, and beyond. Those with a story of faith to share should contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.