One of the biggest gifts along my brain injury journey was also the hardest to hear: “I’m sorry your life got ruined,” a well-meaning friend sympathized one day. Her words landed like bricks. Wait, I thought to myself, was she right? Was my life really ruined? Was I the last to know of my own obvious fate?
I went home and ruminated on her comment.
Two weeks earlier had started off like any day. I’d woken up in the morning, dressed my toddler son, and then walked him through the park across the street from our home. I didn’t know that my husband’s body lay crumpled and seizing on the front porch of a neighbor’s house only five blocks away, fighting to stay alive as his brain bled following an attack with a baseball bat.
Looking back, it seems strange to think I wasn’t as attuned to our grave misfortune as this acquaintance was, but my heart was in the throes of a massive battle: struggling to accept reality as I sent audacious prayers into the universe.
And this is the crux of the brain injury journey: learning to balance pragmatism with hope. Learning to accept unimaginable loss as you build unimaginable dreams side-by-side. Was my old life ruined? Yes. Someone died that day that we all continue to grieve for, maybe no one more so than my husband himself. But was my next life ruined? Absolutely not.
Her words triggered inside me a fight that would transform ashes into flames. My signature moxie suddenly powered full-blast. Would I allow anyone or any event to dictate the outcome of my existence? Would I toss my hands in the air and fold my cards just because that’s what life seemed to be inviting me to do? No. Instead, I would prove her wrong. I would prove everything wrong. I would salvage what was still good from under a mountain of wreckage and use it to mold the life to come next. I would be the sculptor, the artist, the creator of my own destiny. I would not let anyone else choose for me. If my life was ruined, I’d be the one to make that call.
There were many days over the next few months in which I did make that call, days in which my own body lay crumpled and beaten, defeated by the challenge of loving someone who was so limited in his ability to love me back. Some days I stared back at the universe and conceded. You win, I’d cry. I cannot be the artist today. Today I give up. Today I rest.
But just as surely, the next day I’d find myself suiting up for battle. The desire to regain control, to be the exception, fueled me to carry on. Hope is the wellspring that compels us all to live better. To be hopeful is to stake one’s faith in the power of possibility, the notion that positive transformation may be just around the corner. Without this hope, without my audacious prayers, I surely would have folded my cards more often.
As I’ve written in previous blogs, I’m often at a loss for how to comfort those at the beginning of their TBI journeys. It’s hard to escape the desire to offer a tangible fix for the terrible pain I know all too well. But perhaps the most generous gift we can give those who are struggling is to keep our hands off their dreams, to give them the space and freedom to imagine a new world, a new life for themselves.
“You must not ever stop being whimsical,” writes one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver. “And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility for your life.”
Brain injury may be the ruiner of a past life, but it is not the ruiner of a future one.
Please remember, we are not able to give medical or legal advice. If you have medical concerns, please consult your doctor. All posted comments are the views and opinions of the poster only.
Dianne replied on Permalink
My beloved fiancé suffered a severe Brain Injury 5 months ago , I fear we have lost our happy life and that we may never have the same emotional connection again , I miss everything about him but especially the fact that he adored and loved me as I do him , he’s still in rehab hospital and I just need hope that we will have a future life , it’s. depressing every day
norma replied on Permalink
My dear my heart goes out to both of you. My son is 8yrs survivor of severe TBI yes his life my life his fathers and brothers lives are forever changed . Good has come out of it, and great joy as well as frustration and stress. As a family we lucked out, We recieved great help through Brain Injury the coucellors and volunteers that they sent. and faith to never give up esp in the dark times the red anger times. Now my adult son is the sweetest man I have ever known, a good friend to those who know him, a fantastic employee. Enduring the nightmare together through it all has resulted in great healing and restoration. His humour is back, the best thing was when I heard him use his pet name for me for the first time about a year after his injury. I knew we had our son back, very different yet in many ways better
Tom replied on Permalink
I'm a 13 year resident of Capitol Hill. We've never met but the events of 2012, and your names, are forever burned into my memory. I think of your family often and today, wanted to see if there was news of how you are doing. I don't want to leave an overly verbose comment here but will say I hope you know that people you've never met have been thinking of you and pulling for you, and I'm happy to see that your lives have been reborn.
Faith Walmer replied on Permalink
My husband’s Tbi was 40 years ago and we have had many days of struggle and pain since then. However, we have also had years of joy and appreciation. We now have a common purpose of serving and supporting our brain injury community in our roles with Sarah Bellum’s Bakery and Workshop. It took me many years to embrace my place in this community, but once I did I found my purpose and a renewal of our love and the strength it gives to both of us.
Marina replied on Permalink
Thank you for sharing such a touching and strong story! God bless you and have a wonderful day!
Mary Byrne replied on Permalink
O my, this is what I needed to read today. Thanks.