Last night I had a sore throat and very tired and drained. The pep talk ‘pool’ that I have been drawing from was running dry. I had nothing left to say to help your spirits. I went to Lenore’s and wrote in the journal for a bit and went to bed early and slept in late. This morning I am recharged. The writing is so therapeutic maybe I should try to get you interested in it. I hope you find the same power in it’s medicine.
I was nervous to pop my head in your door. I was worried what I would find. You weren’t in bed, you were in the washroom. I could hear you talk with the nurses. You sounded better. I relaxed a little. When you came out I said nothing just went to you and hugged you…tightly.
The children went home with Juanita last night. They have a big concert on Sunday that they really want to attend. We have all day to talk things out. We have a lot to talk about.
You start the conversation. “I talked to the nurse last night and he helped me understand my problems.” You are lucky to have this nurse. He was on duty your first night at the NSRC. He has a calm, careful way about him. Soft spoken and yet fatherly. He has a psychology background before he entered nursing. You talked with him about your fears, anger and sorrow. You were very lucky to have him as your nurse last night.
He explained that with your recovering brain, your thinking isn’t as flexible or as fast as it was before. “I don’t even know what I am even thinking right now. So for me to make a decision to forgive myself and any big decision is impossible. I am not capable of it.
I need to talk to a psychologist can help me better understand where I am. I am not capable of it.”
You are not capable of it right now. I hope this is something that you can learn. Forgiveness is a process that can take a long time in a normal person. I understand that it may take a long time for a person with an injured brain.
This marathon journey that we are both on is like an unexplored land that has a map but we don’t have it. People give us little glimpses here and there of where we are. All we ultimately know is that it’s a very long journey. And we are discovering the lay of the land as we go. The learning that we are both doing is hard.
This is Hard to the exponent of Harder.
While we talked, you shaved. You did a great job with one hand on the right side and a slightly patchy job on the left side. I helped you fix it up a little. Then we are off for a coffee run.
As you drink your coffeemated coffee I share an idea with you. “Remember the Valentine’s Day project we did last year as a family?” I asked.
Valentine 2000. It was an inspired Valentine’s day for me. That February, I was very pregnant with Tara and couldn’t sleep. I had been consumed with the financing of buying a property in town to move the vet practice to. One very early morning a few days before Valentine’s day, I sat up in bed and looked at you and my big belly, with Tara adjusting her body parts inside, and realized that I hadn’t been thinking like a wife and a mother to be lately. I had been so focused on the stupid property, the business plan and the banking that I had forgotten about the most important parts of my life. I needed to change that focus.
After lying in bed for a while, hoping sleep would find me again, I gave up on it and waddled downstairs. I found some red paper. And I made little red hearts. I made … 29 little red hearts. On each heart I wrote something that I loved about you.
A few days later, on Valentine’s eve, I hid the hearts throughout the house. I put some in obvious spots and others I hid in places where you would only find them over the course of time ... like in your rubber boot or at the bottom of the dog food bag.
I think that you thought that this a was a little weird initially, but when I told you there were 29 hearts in total – you caught the fever and within a few days you found them all. You even called me at work a few days later to announce that you found the 29th heart! I loved that Valentine’s Day.
Last year, since the children can both write, I decided to resurrect the ‘tradition’. Since we always had so much fun with the Easter egg hunts in the past, I thought it would be neat to combine the two concepts. Food and love notes. But now, with a larger family, there would be love notes for all four of us. I bought some post-it note paper that came in four different colours. Tara picked green, Quinn picked orange, you got blue and I got the hot pink. I handed out the papers so that everyone got five papers of each other’s colours. Then we each went to a quiet spot in the house and wrote our secret love notes to the person who matched the colour. We each made up 15 love notes and I handed out chocolate hearts to be hidden with each note.
Then the fun began. We each hid the love notes and chocolate hearts throughout the house. It was great! Tara took great pride on secretly writing hers. Quinn still needed a little help. By the time I got to write my love notes, I was out of creative energy and wrote rather lame ‘I Love …”. You did the best. Your ‘I Love …’ notes were heart felt and inspired and very meaningful. We all voted you the MVP of ‘I Love You’ note making game!
This year I thought of a twist. Like any good game, there has to be a twist to keep you on your toes. “This year’s twist should be, in addition to the ‘I Love …’ notes for the other three people in the family, we should each also have to write a ‘I Love … note to ourselves.” You aren’t so sure that you can do this. I continue to apply a little pressure. “It’s important to recognized that you need to love yourself too.” I add “It’s a good lesson for the children.” You agree it’s a good idea but I think more to get me off your case then to embrace the idea.
Recently, on a blog comment, someone posted the idea of a vision board. I didn’t know what a vision board was. I goggled it. Essentially it can be anything you want it to be about anything you want it to be. In our case, it could be a family project to help us envision what life will be like when you are home.
I hadn’t got to tell you about the idea yet, but today you actually came up with the idea on your own. “I see the words ‘work’, ‘effort’ and ‘recovery’ – I feel I have an excuse to avoid things.” The excuse is the stroke. I feel that I have to stop that thinking in the bud. “That sounds like a circular argument to me – Your stroke damaged your brain so your recovery is going to be hard. A hard recovery is too much for a person with brain damage. So you can’t do it.
When I point out that this is a defeatist attitude. You switch your thinking to the huge circle of friends and family who are rooting for you. You start to talk about a motivational wall in the house. Something that grounds you emotionally when you feel stuck or hit ‘the wall’. Something that will say to you ‘take 29 steps’. This sounds like a vision board.
I mention my idea of writing and how therapeutic it’s been. I tell you that I find therapy in it when I write the words and when I read the words later. (even through I don’t proofread all that well). It’s like a conversation with myself. I talk (write) and read (listen) to myself. I am my own best friend and it helps me. There are times i get stuck. That’s when I share with others who have the vision to see things from a different perspective. It’s difficult to share with others if you can’t put your feelings into words.
“It could be gibberish.” You say. “Yeah – I think a lot of mine is gibberish but it belongs to me so it makes sense to me. Your gibberish belongs to you. It will help.
You are frustrated that everything takes so long. I share with you my observation about the laundry machines downstairs. On the machine is a long list of tasks that the machine does. ‘Add garment’, ‘wash’, ‘rinse’, ‘spin’, ‘cycle complete. By each task is a light and as the machine goes through the cycle, a light indicates where in the cycle it is.
In some ways your recovery is like that. We don’t know how long you will be at each phase of your recovery, we just know that the recovery is long. When one phase stops and another starts isn’t as clear as on the machine.
Your goal is measured by the tasks completed, not by the time passed.
You wanted to hear about the day of your stroke. I told you from my prospective, how the day played out. About your run on the Cobequid trail, and your red face, about the phone call from Uncle John, the EMTs in the house and the fireman talking to the children. I told you about me talking to the doctor and getting scared and about the ‘No hope’ conversation. I told you that somehow I managed to tell the children, though I don’t even remember it much. Then I called your parents. The phone call is a blank also. The only words I remember are “No hope.” I told you about what I thought and felt and my sorrow.
You wished you could have been there to help us through that rough day. “You were there in spirit and the next day you gave us a sign. The CT scan was the sign that you where going to live.
“We had a good life with our family in Truro. Our lives have changed forever. And we don’t even know the magnitude of it yet.” I try to say lightheartedly “Well when you are given lemons in life, you can make lemonade.” You take this concept one step further. “When someone deals you a load of shit … you make shittenade.”
We talk about the old you and the new you. “The old Chris died Aug 30th. He took the smoking, gambling, running and driving away with him.” You said and you worry that the funny Chris died too. I assure you that the funny Chris is alive and well and possibly better then ever.
“I might be better than ever.” A healthy mindset is developing. “I want to show all the great people who supported me that I am worthy of their support.” Your story has an aspect in it that a lot of people can relate to. The struggles to overcome your weaknesses and illness and still thrive – you have the potential to make it an inspirational story.
You have a problem with forgiveness. “The problem is that I made a decision that the cigarettes were more important then you, the family and even the possibilities for the future. I choose cigarettes over all of you.” I point out that you also choose cigarettes over yourself. Every time you lit up, you cheated on yourself. No wonder you can’t forgive yourself.
“What were your roles in life before your stroke.” I ask you. “A father, a husband, a friend, a runner, a woodworker, an employee.” I add to your list: “A son and a brother. Most of the really important roles you can still do.” I say. “ Some of the roles you won’t be able to do but you can replace them and recreate yourself. So instead of a runner, you are a walker, or a cyclist on a special bicycle. Instead of a woodworker, you are a one handed wood carver."
You are trying to picture your role in our family. A very special unique role – something I can be proud of. It will happen whether I want it to or not .
Beat the odds and make the best recovery or more disability
I leave to go home, parting is hard as usual. I head to Juanita’s for dinner and to pick up the children. They had a choir concert in Truro today. They were both very excited about the concert. “One song is going to be taped and put on youtube!” Tara says with her eye gleaming.
At dinner, Mum asks “What’s all this about smoking and gambling? Is he just joking.” Like most of us, Mum has never figured out when you are joking and when you are serious. “It’s true Mum. He gambled but he beat that a long time ago and he hasn’t smoked in over 5 months now.” The children wonder what the gambling is all about. Tara was six months when you gave up gambling the last time. We never really discussed it with the children.
I explain how poisonous gambling is and how it trains your brain to take money from one machine (bank machine) and fed it to another machine. “Well that’s just stupid!” Tara exclaims. “It may seem that way but smart people can be trained to have a gambling problem.”
I explain how the ‘Gotcha’ system, they have in their school, operates the same way. If a teacher sees a child do something good and follow the rules, then they get given a Gotcha ticket. At the end of the week, a Gotcha is drawn out of the box of all the earned Gotchas that accumulated in the classroom that week. One lucky child wins a prize! Both Tara and Quinn have been Gotcha winners in the past. Now, they feel good just to get a Gotcha – they don’t need to win a prize to feel good about themselves.
At bedtime, your phone call with Tara was about gambling. Tara asks a lot of thoughtful questions. She is trying to understand. I don’t hear your side of the conversation, just hers at the end of the call she says “You have a ton of determination Daddy!”
Tara is partly right you did have a ton of determination. I don’t see much of it now. There are flickers but no flame. Finding your determination is our next struggle. Without determination, you have nothing.