Empty Spaces

This blog is a continuation in a series I am writing about my husband’s brain injury.  If you wish to read the story in order, go back in my archives and find Begin at the Beginning…all the ones in the category brain injury tell my story. Some are longer than others…they come in chunks of time…sometimes quickly and others much slower.  Thanks for taking the time to read and being patient as I walk through the one of the toughest parts of my life again with new eyes to see how God used the broken pieces to create something beautiful.

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I fled the elderly couple’s room and headed to the nurses’ station to see if Bill had been assigned a room yet.  I was ushered right across the hallway to a room with a big window in the door.  The room with the window-door was within the sight of the nurses so they could keep an eye on him.  It was a double but he didn’t have a roommate.  I thought at first it might work like the room on the surgical unit, where I could sleep in the second bed.  However, I soon found out that rehab is different than other units in the hospital.  Their visiting hours were 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.  In order for the patient to have the required therapies, medical checks and such they did not allow family to come any other time than visiting hours.  It is designed to begin to help patients develop a daily routine and to try to increase their abilities so they can re-enter life.  At the same time, the family is weaned from the constant care by only coming a few hours a day.

I must say this part was one of the scariest things to me.  That surprises me now as I look back.  I mean, I was exhausted, burned out even.  I desperately needed a break.  You would think that this new schedule would be a welcome change in a positive direction. Instead I felt fear.  Leaving Bill alone when he was so needy seemed like abandonment.  I knew there would be medical personnel there but in my mind I thought it would be difficult for him because he did not know them.  What a scary thing to wake up, confused with unfamiliar faces all around you.  I didn’t want that for him.  However, I did not have a choice to come when I wanted to.  I had to abide by the rules.  I chose instead to focus on figuring out how to make some money.  I had worked a couple of days at a tea room in Roswell to help out my friends Rose and Mitchell.  When Bill had his accident they came to me and said they would hold a job for me whenever I needed it. Waiting tables wouldn’t bring much money, but the lunch-only hours were perfect for hospital visits in the evening.  I called them up and true to their word Mitch told me to come in the next day.

I prepared to leave the hospital in the evening and was stunned by Bill’s reaction to my imminent departure. I shouldn’t have been, but being caught off guard was a regular part of this new life I was living.  I guess all the change of the day was causing him some anxiety.  When I told him I was leaving he clung to my hand, and refused to let it go.  He begged me to stay which eventually resulted in his crying like a child afraid to leave its mother.  He would not let me go.  I could not break free.  He was afraid and this just confirmed my own fears that this new schedule would not be an easy adjustment for either of us.  I climbed in the bed next to him trying to calm him down.  I thought maybe if I could get him to sleep I could sneak out.  (A preview of many nights in my future as a mother of four small children.) Only my plan did not work, he would not rest.  Finally, a nurse had to come and distract him so that I could leave.  I left the room hearing him call my name all the way down the hallway. “Shell, don’t leave me!”  I do not have to tell you the tears I shed.  All the way home…to our empty house.

It was dark when I arrived home for the first time since that day.  Pulling in the garage the first thing I noticed was the empty spot where the van was supposed to be.  Only it was not.  My hands were trembling when I opened the kitchen door, but not from fear.  I felt utterly alone as I turned on the lights.  The happy kitchen, which we recently wallpapered, greeted me.  Everything was the way I had left it the day of the accident.  Now I was home and I felt a sense of relief even as I silently took in my surroundings.  My tutoring stuff still sat on the kitchen table.  There was a glass of water on the counter, ice long since melted.  The mail was on the chest behind the sofa, stacked neatly by someone trying to be helpful.  There was a chill in the air, though I am not sure if it was the temperature or the empty, quiet space that caused it.  I rubbed my arms in an effort to warm myself. I was unsuccessful so I turned the heat up.  Climbing the stairs my feet slowed near the top.  The stopped all together at the bedroom doorway.  Bill’s shoes on the floor on his side of the bed.  His jacket draped hanging on the bedpost.  A book of some kind on the bedside table.  The space was full of him, yet it was silent. I readied myself for bed, trying to ignore the knot in my stomach and the tightness in my throat.  I stood beside his sink taking out a bottle of his cologne and breathed his scent into me.  I put some on my wrists and neck so I could smell him through the night.  The answering machine flickered about a million messages.  I didn’t have the heart to listen.  Not on this night.  This night I was acutely aware of the empty spaces, most noticeably the spot in the bed next to me.

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