5 things I learned from my husband's brain injury: my messy beautiful story

Friday, April 18, 2014

Healing takes a long, long time.  That's the first thing I learned from my husband's brain injury.

The second is this:  I can do hard things.  I can take four children under seven years old to a liturgical service, where there is little childcare.  I can deal with insurance companies myself, I can parent and be married in new ways.  I can do hard things.  But I can't do them alone, and I will rarely look cute while they happen.

Last May my husband wrecked his bike on the most unassuming dirt path in Boulder, Colorado, while our six-year-old son rode behind him. He split his helmet and was knocked unconscious. My son gave a stranger my number, who called the paramedics, then called me. By the time I made the hour's drive to the hospital, my husband was awake. He had some internal injuries, but he was alert - giving his social security number and asking about our son when I arrived. He's okay, see? We dodged a bullet.  He's okay, I told myself over and over.

We didn't dodge that bullet - we took it square in the gut. But not all wounds are fatal.

Over the next few days his condition worsened. Post-concussive syndrome, doctors said to one another.  What does that mean? I kept asking. Is he going to be able to work? Will his personality change? What kind of future are we looking at here? No one could tell me.

Just wait. Don't assume the worst, and don't deny how hard this moment is. Just ... wait. That's the third thing my husband's brain injury taught me.

Six days later he was well enough to ride in a car, and I drove us home. I was scared to death. I had no idea what direction our lives were about to take. I didn't know how to help someone heal, I certainly didn't know how to do it while taking care of a bunch of little kids, and no one around me had ever done what I was doing before.  So I focused on being present in each moment.  Breathe.  Breathe again. Make each decision as it comes up, but not before. Hold your child's hand as he talks to you. Stay with him. Let him see that you are scared too, but he's not alone and he doesn't have to be in control.  Hug your boys, hold your little ones close. Figure something out for dinner. Don't worry about anything else.

One foot in front of the other. Day after day after day. Until, incrementally, we all got stronger.

We learned how to channel my husband's energy, to rest at the right times so he could get the most out of each day.  As soon as he was able, he took my son back to the bike park.  It was crucial to both of us; he needed to see his dad ride in that place again. He needed to know that in our family, we are not ruled by fear.

Staring down fear was the next thing I learned to do. I can be as scared as I want to be, but fear will not dictate what I do.  

In time, we fell into a rhythm. After a few months my husband (thankfully) was able to work again. A new school year began, and our days found a predictable pattern.  In some ways, this was the hardest time of all.  Our lives looked normal, but nothing felt the same.  My husband was not the boisterous, quick, extroverted musician I had married. He didn't go out, didn't go to church with us, didn't meet friends for coffee or a beer. He sold his guitars - the overpowering sound hurt his head - and spent most of his free time in our room. Healing takes a long time, and he was doing the right things to heal. But I missed him every day.

Then came the lesson that changed my life: acceptance and honesty are key.  I can do hard things, I can wait to see what happens, and I can stare down fear.  But I can only do these things when I am emotionally honest, even when the emotions are ugly and there are no good answers.  And I can only do them when I learn to accept life the way it is.  My husband is not the same person.  Yes, that is true.  I can either fight to deny and control that reality, or I can accept it, and see where it leads us.

I focused on being honest - on accepting life as it is - and my whole world opened up.  This messy, scary, unpredictable season slowly grew into something good.  Beautiful, even.

It turns out I really like this new man I am married to.  He is humble and more free.  He is quick to apologize, quick to acknowledge his need.  He respects me deeply.  This new man has no ambitions, except to spend time with our kids and love me well.  Best of all, he is as honest with me as I am with him.  When I see him for who he is, not who I think he is supposed to be, I quickly see how much I admire and like my husband as he is now.

Some things are the same.  He still makes me laugh like no one else, and just being in the same room as him still soothes me.  But he is different, our family is different, we are different together.  I want to tell you that now I see only beauty, and all is well.  But it would be a lie.  Healing takes a long, long time, and this thing is still happening.  We are still growing, moving toward a life we can't predict.  A year ago the thought overwhelmed me with anxiety.  Now I am okay with leaning together into what we can't see - thanks to the lessons I learned from my husband's brain injury.

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  1. Oh Stephanie. I cannot even imagine what you went through this year. Prayers and blessings for all of you!

  2. You are one strong woman! It's amazing how we learn about ourselves even through tough times. Our soul grows stronger and deeper through every experience we have in this lifetime!

  3. Beautiful, comforting, and inspiring. Thank you for this.

  4. That's a laudable thing you've done right there, owning up to your loved one's tragedy. I think that is always the first step of recovering. Some damages may be permanent, but they can still be mitigated. Best of luck to your husband, as well as yourself and your family in the future.

    Velvet Foronda @ US Health Works

  5. I agree with every word you said. Sickness must be understood, more than merely dealt with and contained, much the same with injuries and traumas. I admire your optimism, amdist everything you're going through. Thanks for sharing your story! All the best to you!

    Sabrina Craig @ Medical Attorney NY

  6. This was a very uplifting and inspiring post that I shared with my wife. She often reminds me that she doesn't know what she would do if anything happened to me, she says she would be helpless. I showed her how strong you became in the face of adversity and rose above for the sake of the kids. Great message for all!

    Modesto Culbertson @ D & Z Law Group

  7. I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. bern taxi

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