It was a rather quiet trip to the Post Office last week. I had a birthday card to get in the mail for my son. He turned thirty-four yesterday. The last time I saw him, he was twenty-five. It’s pretty simple math – I’ve not seen him in over nine years.
As much as I’d like to say I can recall the last time that I saw him with clarity, that’s not the case. I do know that he was at our home for a cookout in late 2011. I’d be hard-pressed to tell you who else was there. I think the last time I saw him was in September of that year so long ago. But I can only guess.
I have no meaningful memories of the early years after my injury. 2011 might as well have never happened. 2012 was another fractured year. I took a lot of pictures and have been able to cobble together what life was like, though it feels like the life of someone else.
Why did he walk abruptly out of my life?
That has been a question I’ve wrestled with ever since. My verbal and emotional filters were shredded by my injury. I was, well… rather abrupt, unthinking, unfiltered, and a different person than I was before my injury. Did I say something offensive that drove him away? Was he unable to reconcile new Dad versus old Dad? Further compounding things were the rumors that I was actually faking my brain injury to garner attention.
That was perhaps the cruelest part of it all. I was struggling to get my feet back under me. Life was caving in around me; my career was put on a very long hold; Sarah and I struggled as a couple since everything that defined our past relationship was gone, and we moved forward beginning anew.
My physical injuries healed after a few months. At first glance, it looked like all was going well, making me an easy target of the accusations of faking my challenges. Tragically, I know that I am not the only one living a post-TBI life who has dealt with such accusations. Sadly, this happens at a time where those of us within the brain injury community are least prepared to self-advocate.
Many years have passed since I last saw his face and heard his voice. The weekly phone calls to him became monthly calls, then occasional calls – every one unanswered. I was, and remain bewildered by it.
Early on after my injury, I was directed to an online resource, The TBI Guide by Dr. Glen Johnson. This was an invaluable resource for me. Dr. Johnson writes about the loss of friends and family after a brain injury and how common it is. He goes on to share that the lost relationships will be replaced by new, meaningful relationships that develop post-injury.
While that has been my experience, there is no replacement for a son.
The absolute heartache and anguish that defined his loss have faded into a dull ever-present ache. I wish him well and pray for his happiness and well-being, but I really miss him. February is a tough month for me, knowing that his birthday is coming. The ambiguous loss resurfaces, and my thoughts drift back to what little I can remember of 2011, ever wondering what I did that could be so egregious as to cause him to walk away.
By now he will have received my card. The questions and self-doubt really never end. Did he recognize my writing on the envelope and toss it in the trash? Did he even read it?
For years I held out the quiet hope that my phone would ring and that I would again hear his voice. “Hi Dad, let’s talk.” But I do not cling to that false hope any longer. I am hard-wired as an optimist, but I am also a realist. Later this year I will mark a decade since I’ve seen him.
Over the years, I’ve written about him and about the loss, but it’s been a long time since I’ve done so. Candidly, it began to feel like I was opening a painful wound. But this year I feel compelled to talk about it. It is my hope that others who share my experience come away from this feeling a bit less alone. Brain injury affects families like no other injury. Had my injuries that day been limited to a fractured leg, none of this would have come to pass.
Life after brain injury… it’s certainly complicated.