A friend recently asked me how Hugh feels about being the subject of my book, blogs, and talks that tell stories involving his traumatic brain injury. Instead of trying to answer that myself, I thought I’d simply ask Hugh. But here is a little background first.
A year after Hugh’s injury, I had the contents of my book, Learning by Accident, on paper in rough form. There were pages upon pages of emails, journal entries, doctor’s notes, and my own ramblings. Hugh had not yet returned to work, and I was busy with the family and had returned to school, so I put my writing on the back burner. When I did get a story down, we talked about it. Hugh read everything I wrote and said, “It’s fine with me if you publish it,” just as calmly as could be. I had reservations.
What if you start working again?” I asked him.
“So?” he said.
“Would people doubt your ability? Would they question your work?”
“I don’t care. It’s the truth and my work should speak for itself,” he said.
I never did get around to finishing the book until 2011, and by then, Hugh had been successfully working for nine years. He had proven himself. It’s always been me, not Hugh, who felt hesitant to publish the raw story of his crash and our journey through it. Hugh was insistent on my writing for several reasons: it’s a true story, it’s hopeful, and it may help people. “Besides,” he told me, “You’ve always wanted to be a writer, so be one!” He had a point.
Recently, we sat down to dinner and I asked him again. How do you feel being the subject of this story? He answered, “I don’t think of it as me. Rather, I think of it as anybody going through it. I don’t think I’ve given up all my secrets.” At this he smiled that sly smile of his.
“Really?” I asked.
He smiled again. “I always thought that if you were going to tell the true story, it should contain all the issues and problems; the good, the bad, and the ugly as they say. I don’t look at it as embarrassing. It happened. It’s natural — all our feelings. I’m comfortable with it.” I looked at him with squinty eyes.
“Okay, there are two ways of looking at it,” he continued. “The emotional and the non-emotional. One is information and the other is how I feel about the people I care about in life. I can separate the two, so long as no one I love is hurt. But the truth is, you raised a 46- year-old baby to an adult in two years! The least I can do is pay it forward by being honest and letting others know how it really was. I’m glad the story is out. I’m proud of it, and proud of my family. When I see the notes, Facebook messages, and emails you get, and when people ask me for advice, I feel honored and a little scared. I don’t want to sound like I know it all, but I want them to know that they always have hope and that sometimes people do come back and make great recoveries. I want to encourage others to keep on trying and never give up.”
In January of this year, Hugh and I delivered our first joint keynote address at the Virginia Commonwealth University Occupational Therapy Master’s Class Pinning Ceremony in Richmond, Virginia. We stood at the podium and took turns telling 44 newly graduated occupational therapists our story and the meaning of the work they will do. We told them, with a good deal of certainty, that they would change many lives for the better. After all we’ve been through together, it was exhilarating to be standing up there beside my husband, my personal hero. This story, as hard as it was, created our life’s purpose, to help others going through what we went through.
This is our story, and we’re sticking to it.