You arranged to meet us at the OCH offices in Paris. How does your commitment to this foundation translate?
I have received so much in life and I longed to give. The Christian Disability Office allowed me to fulfill this desire to be useful. Every Friday, I go to the association and tackle an administrative task for which I transform into a real detective (laughs) ! I manage the letters that come back to the foundation with the mention: “Do not live at the address indicated”. It’s up to me to find the recipient and update the files. I also participate every year in Disability Night. I remember standing with a young autistic man in the office lobby in Boulogne-Billancourt (Hauts-de-Seine), to raise awareness of the difference among the general public. It is by multiplying these points of contact that we will change views on mental and cerebral disability.
For its 60th anniversary, the OCH launched the “Dare to meet” operation, allowing disabled people to realize a dream with a young person. Did you participate?
I had this chance! I really wanted to hear the deer bellow. A very kind young couple, Xavier and Philippine, took up the challenge and invited me last October for a night out in the natural park of the upper Chevreuse valley (Île-de-France). A simple but emotionally intense encounter! It is these types of initiatives that encouraged me to join the OCH.
What specifically appeals to you about this community?
His bonds of mutual aid and his hope. This is undoubtedly what makes the strength of this association: knowing how to make yourself available and being able to discuss your feelings whether you are a person with a disability, a caregiver or a loved one. I discovered the figure of Marie-Hélène Mathieu. This woman was very inspired to found our organization in 1963. She enabled people facing disabilities to not remain destitute. Through a hotline, “couples weekends” for parents of a sick or disabled person, a mother’s day, “brothers and sisters afternoons”, moments of prayer, but also in organizing awareness-raising operations among the general public.
On November 25 in Paris, you are organizing a conference on “disabled people, reveals of God? ” What do you mean ?
God reveals light and this is present in my eyes in people who have been able to transcend their disability and build their lives with it. Even if many of them do not succeed and remain stuck in the darkness of their situation, physically and psychologically.
And this is not your case?
Those around me tell me that I am bright, probably because I have managed not to let myself be overcome by despair. On November 5, 2018, I was shopping in Clamart, and, while crossing the street, I was hit by a bus which backed up without seeing me. I found myself under the vehicle which continued to drive. The driver was not immediately aware of the tragedy, because I was in his blind spot. My right leg was torn off, a hemorrhage in the femoral artery, I should have died…
How do you explain having survived?
My daughters told me about the exchange they had with the doctors when I arrived at the hospital. They assured them that I was a fighting woman, they understood that I had a chance of getting out of this. It’s in my nature to fight: from my childhood, I had to learn to assert myself, in the middle of three brothers! (Laughs). I had the opportunity to demonstrate my strength of character in different episodes of my life: my moves abroad while raising my three daughters, my divorce, my widowhood… This time, I had to prove my ability to overcome a new challenge at 62 years old.
How do we recover from such an accident?
By living day to day to regain the use of his limbs. After three weeks in a coma, I discovered small daily victories: a finger that started moving again, then an arm that rose… At a certain point in my convalescence, I realized that I no longer had right leg and told myself I was a monster. But I was so well surrounded in the hospital by my family and friends that the thought left my mind. Those around you play an essential part in recovery. In rehabilitation, I in turn tried to instill the optimism and hope that I had received in other patients, especially those who were isolated and unable to benefit from the support of their loved ones.
Have you suffered from the gaze of others?
No way ! The youngest of my seven grandchildren is just waiting to see if my leg will grow back (laughs) . I consider myself very lucky because I found the energy to adapt to my new existence by being fitted with a prosthesis. I had to sell my apartment to find another one, adapted to my condition, obtain the disability card, retake my driving license… I had to stop walking and cycling; I took out my sewing machine and joined a choir. I learned to get around in a wheelchair. Through training, I can now walk with crutches and use my good leg… My real rebirth dates from July 12, 2023, when I took possession of my adapted automatic car. I then hit the road straight away to spend two weeks in Brittany! I needed to prove to myself that I was still capable of living life to the fullest.
Does asking for help cost you?
For the independent woman that I was, asking for help was putting myself in a position of inferiority, demeaning myself, the complete opposite of my temperament! Before the accident, I was sorry for humanity: too much individualism, selfishness. Being disabled was a revelation: people are caring. I have rarely been disappointed. I learned to ask, disability is a school of humility!
Did you resent this accident that deprived you of a leg?
Never ! I survived this accident because the Lord believed that I had a mission to carry out on Earth. Which one, I admit I don’t yet know… For the moment, the OCH has just asked me to speak regularly on the telephone with a quadriplegic man who feels alone in the face of his disability. I believe we will learn a lot from each other.