A friend put up this quote. She and her husband were in a car accident and he suffers from Traumatic Brain Injury. I nodded my head when I saw it. Strangely, I suspect that many people can relate to it. It isn’t just about brain injury, it is about life trauma. Like it or not, we all either have, or will, experience it at some point.
What do you do when LIFE TRAUMA becomes real? How do you protect yourself and those you love through those challenges?
I recalculate using landmarks: before and after we were married, before and after the kids, before and after losing my mother-in-law, before and after the dementia diagnosis, before and after the stroke. Things change and we are constantly using our “Real World GPS” to reroute. We all do it, we all just have different points of reference.
It’s not just about me. We all have challenges. That brings me comfort. It makes me feel less isolated. There is a relief in knowing that you are suffering with others and that you aren’t the only one.
It has been two and a half years since the dementia diagnosis, which was made retroactive to April, 2013. It has been six months since the stroke: April, 2016. Those were our two biggest life altering trauma events for our family behind my husband’s 4-wheeler accident and losing both his parents.
So what do you do when it’s your turn to face a life altering traumatic event, and how is it going to change how you function as a family? Honestly, you are going to face the classic stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. The stages are not linear, and I have not gone through them or revisited them in any prescribed order.
I try not to think about it all the time, but it is always right there in the back of my mind. I try hard to focus on the positive and all that I have in the present day. I remind myself that God knows my heart and my struggles and will not fail me or my family. He knows that I love him, and I know that I am called to his purpose, whatever that might be. My job is to remain faithful and to just keep doing the best I can. It is by faith that I can keep moving one foot in front of the other, especially when the butterflies have taken over my stomach cavity. I am willfully determined to be happy, to be positive, to accept what I cannot change, and to not waste one precious moment feeling angry and cheated. Therefore, I am accepting the diagnosis and prognosis and will choose joy.
I also count blessings like I count calories. I have become aware of the calories that I choose or do not choose to ingest. I am doing the same with the blessings of each day and when I notice them, I speak them. It helps. It forces me to notice the good things that surround me each day. Joy is a choice, and I claim it.
This fall we put a pellet insert into the fireplace. This means that my husband, who is now in a wheelchair, doesn’t have to try to haul wood (because he would), and I don’t have to climb over snowbanks with armloads of wood in order to keep him from hauling it (because I would). Instead I have to haul pellets from the basement. That is a huge blessing. HUGE!
We finally put up curtains. I purchased insulated curtains that I have been oogling since we moved to the mountain in 2010. We had to swallow hard and just bite the bullet. Not only do they look fantastic, but they will help to keep the house warmer through the brutal windy winter weather on the mountain. Together, with the inserts and the plastic that we put over the windows, our home should stay warm. We are beyond thrilled!
My husband continues to use the lawnmower as a means of transportation outside. He enjoys mowing the lawn, working in the gardens, and puttering around our property. I truly believe that the land was God’s gift to my husband. God knew that he would need lots of projects when my husband was forced into early retirement, and it has been everything he could have ever needed. I am so thankful that our Maker had that all figured out. Isn’t he smart?
We continue to be blessed by family, friends, coworkers, church family, and community. When we needed them for our LIFE TRAUMA events, many have been there and we are so grateful. Some, we expected to hear from and didn’t. Some we didn’t expect to hear from and did. It was quite interesting. Recently, our family participated in the Alzheimer’s Walk and raised $1300 toward research and a cure. What a blessing to have so many friends and family members donate toward a cause that is so near and dear to us. My heart overflows!
It is important to have something to look forward to. We have a granddaughter on the way, (our youngest is due in December), with a wedding in the Spring. It is a little backward, but we are thrilled none the less. It will be a sweet time of celebration that will bring most of our family back together.
Our son will be the only one to miss out on the big events, as he heads to Bahrain next week for at least a year. He is taking his turn at being deployed and will be leaving his family in Florida while away. He just enlisted for another 6 years. Go Navy!
Our middle daughter continues to teach in southern Maine and has high hopes of moving further south. She loves southern living, and looks forward to the next chapter being further away from home and in perpetual warmth and near a waterway. We have mixed feelings, but have always encouraged our children to live their own life, and not to change plans on our behalf. We look forward to seeing what the Lord has in store for our adventurous, willful, independent child who doesn’t like to stay put.
This is what I focus on: our babies. It’s the best thing that we ever did together, and I will always be able to look into their faces and see their Dad. Each one of them have character traits of their father, and for that, I am so grateful.
So, what do you do when LIFE TRAUMA visits your family? Focus. Focus on the good stuff. Choose your attitude, because JOY is a choice. Lean in. Lean in to your Maker, lean in to your family, lean in to your friends who are strong and want to help.
Another big aha: Friends are hard to find, but when you find them, cling to them but don’t choke the life out of them. I am determined not to be “that person”. We all know who they are. I don’t want to be the one that people avert their eyes, slide behind, or dash from the room from. I don’t want to be “that person”. So what DO you say when someone asks how he’s doing? I’ve learned that not everyone really wants to know. They are simply being polite, kind of like a “good morning, how are you?” greeting. They don’t really want to know. It is just another way to say, “hi.” I have learned to judge my response by the amount of eye contact I get, and by the person who is asking. If people act like they genuinely want to know, my latest response is, “Over the summer, he has had some dementia related decline, which is to be expected, and right now he is suffering with a UTI.” The problem is that people don’t know what to say, so they simply, don’t ask. As a result, we see and hear from very few people and our close friend circle has become very small. It is a product of LIFE TRAUMA. People don’t know what to say, they don’t know what to do, they can’t really make it better, and it scares them, so it becomes a lonely road.
As a result, we make our own happiness and don’t rely on others. This summer, we spent a whole lot of time at the walk bridge on the coast. It is only 15 minutes from our home, handicap accessible, and even has a wheelchair accessible port-a-potty on site. We picnicked, walked, admired the boats, and talked to strangers who were doing the same. We took a trip down Coastal Route 1 and had a lobster roll. We watched movies, weeded together, enjoyed house projects and ate lots of ice cream. We lit candles, drank gallons of coffee on the deck, grilled nearly every day, and just thoroughly enjoyed one another. It has been a wonderful summer. We chose joy, noticed the blessings, and were determined not to waste one single minute of our precious time together.
I’m happy. I don’t know what life is going to look like after- but today I choose JOY.