Years ago I heard a perfect analogy about the unseen undercurrents inside of others and ourselves.
The analogy painted the picture of a frozen body of water in winter. The trees surrounding the pond were leafless and bare. A gray sky hung in the background, and even the birds flying by seemed void of color. Looking at the water, all that the human eye could see was ice—cold, barren, still. It appeared as if nothing was happening, but underneath the ice and behind the scenes, life was moving forward as nature intended.
In the stillness of winter, it is hard to imagine the promise of spring.
We embraced a shared motto after Taylor’s injury. It hung in his room in the intensive care unit, and said this: “Love Wins.” At that time we did not understand the depths and heights that love would have to travel, to actually come out on top, but we were committed to getting Taylor to the next phase of recovery.
Four years into the world of brain injury, caregiving, educating, processing my own grief and the extensive list that goes with a situation like ours, I have learned a lot about love and its often quiet, unseen force.
Love is sometimes invisible. Love sometimes hurts. Love has to go through a million winters, before it may even see a hint of spring, but that is what love does.
In our brain injury world, our survivor has a hard time absorbing the love that is given him. There are times when we, and others, work all day long, filling up his love bucket, only to discover that his injury has caused a leak that we are unable to contend with. By the end of the day, all of the love gets lost in the tiredness of an injured brain.
For Taylor, there are given hours in each day where his world looks just like that wintry scene. At twenty-five years old, his pond should be teeming with life, fish should be jumping, the sun should be shining, birds should be chirping, buds should be blossoming, but sometimes all he can manage to notice is how absolutely still everything is.
So how do those of us who care about Taylor, help him to notice that the world isn’t as cold and lifeless as it seems? How do we pull out the beauty in the broken? How do we navigate the difficult questions and conflicts he has regarding his journey?
The answer lies in two words.
First of all, we love Taylor.
We educate ourselves about why his gaze is set to such a dark filter. We pursue ways to make ourselves more patient, tolerant and understanding. And we remember that inside of all of the confusion is a person who simply hates this season.
When Taylor smiles, we take note. When he laughs, we laugh too. We learn to be a bit more in the moment with him instead of expecting longevity of happiness that he is not yet capable of.
We immerse him in art, exercise, and the company of those who care. We listen to his heart and try to place ourselves in his shoes.
Secondly, we love others.
In the two years following Taylor’s injury, I missed out on a lot of time with others. For the longest time, I could not figure out this strange yearning I had in relation to my youngest son. When he graduated from high school, I felt robbed of something, and I could not pinpoint what that might be.
One day it dawned on me that in caring for Taylor, I had missed much of his junior and senior years. Instead of clawing backward for missed time, I became aware of making sure we had time together in the present.
After that realization, another thought came to me. I had neglected others that were important. My most meaningful relationships had suffered the blow of an extensive absence, and I needed to pursue them. In that pursuit, not only would I bring love to others, but I would experience it myself.
Finally, there is this. We love ourselves.
Being thrust into a whole new world of medical challenges that included understanding seizures, mood swings, endless trips to the doctors, hospitals, and more was not what I had imagined for this time in my life. But it is where I am.
The only way I see to survive it with grace, dignity, and longevity is to love myself. And there are countless ways in which to do that.
When someone you love, and interact with on a daily basis sustains a mind-altering and life-changing injury, you also transform. Some of that process continues to be challenging for me. I have found that the one thing that carries me through my own winters is making sure I nurture myself.
Here are some very practical solutions that I believe can be modified to fit into anyone’s world.
Every Friday, at the end of a workweek, I buy myself a special drink. It is filled with pomegranate juice and organic tea, and I love it. As I walk to the section in the grocery store that carries it, I remind myself, “You did it! You balanced another crazy week.” I reward myself with a healthy treat, patting myself on the back.
I surround myself with positive quotes that accurately portray my circumstance. Sometimes I sit on the porch and paint pieces of wood with words that speak to my soul. In November I painted three of them, “Hope remains.” “Be gentle with yourself.” And, “With brave wings, she flies.” The process of painting these words reminds me of my vision for my own self, not just Taylor, and returns me to the path of love.
In all things, I remember these words, “There has never been a winter that was not followed by the spring.”