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.
Up until his good behavior earned him a trip home, day trips on Sundays had been for a couple of hours, just to get him out and back around people. We mostly spent those days at church or a nearby park and then out for lunch before heading back to the hospital. A couple of times we went to walk around the mall, mainly because he needed to keep moving and didn’t do well sitting still. We didn’t do it too often because he would get overly anxious. It was like it over stimulated his brain. He was constantly giving commentary on the human traffic around him. His volume was never low, so whatever he said about people around him they heard. I was constantly trying to get him to look at things instead of people. There was one day though, that as we were moving along he caught his reflection in a mirror while he was walking. It was the first time he realized he had a limp. He stopped and backed up and walked again.
He asked me, “My head is moving up and down in the mirror. Am I limping?” I told him that he hurt his hip in the accident…that was why he was in physical therapy doing walking exercises.
“So it was a bad accident then?” he asked with wide eyes.
“Yes it was bad, but you are better now.”
“Okay, good. I should practice walking.”
And so he did…over and over watching himself in the mirror trying to lessen the limp the whole time. It caused a bit of a traffic problem as he walked back and forth, back and forth. I tried to move him along but fixation was a big issue for him and it was quite difficult to distract him to move him on to something else. And if you pushed him before he was ready, there was likely to be an outburst, so I smiled and apologized to shoppers, making a note to myself…avoid malls.
Finally, after several weeks of day trips, he earned an overnight trip home. This is what we had been waiting for. I was convinced that getting him home would make all the difference in his mental state. He was so excited the day I came to pick him up that he had his bag packed and was standing waiting for me to arrive. He got frustrated right off the bat because he didn’t want me to even go let the nurse know we were leaving. Once I cleared him, we put his bag in the car and headed off. However, the closer we got to home the more withdrawn he became. Rather than the excitement I had expected, when we drove up the driveway he hardly said a word. When I started to get out, he just sat in the car. He suddenly wanted to drive to the mall. When I refused, he said he was hungry and we needed to go to a restaurant. I was perplexed. It was obvious he was avoiding home. I asked him what was up and eventually, after much discussion, he said, “I’m scared.”
Once again, I hadn’t figured on this. I was regularly having my expectations rearranged. We sat in the car as I talked him in, promising that I would tell him about anything he didn’t remember. He agreed to give it a go. I held his hand, and we stepped inside.
“It looks different,” he said. I reminded him that we had recently wallpapered the kitchen. He ran his hand along the counter tops, as if feeling them would make him remember. He looked out the window over the sink to the backyard, which he couldn’t remember. We stood silent for a long while in the kitchen as he took it all in. I was determined to go at his pace and not push past what he could cope with.
He dropped my hand and walked into the next room, stopping at the dining room table with a smile. “I remember this,” he said. It was the table he gave me for our one year anniversary, just a few months before. “See,” I said, “you do remember things.” He visibly relaxed and took a seat on the couch in the living room. He sat, just visually picturing the room, remembering furniture we had purchased for this, our first house.
For some reason he didn’t want to go upstairs, so we didn’t. We sat kind of awkwardly, not knowing what exactly to talk about. It was the first time we had been truly alone. He was shy and kept looking away from me. The reaction was so different from what I expected I was at a loss as to what to do or say. All familiarity between us seemed to disappear like smoke in the wind. It was this weird place of knowing each other, but not. It was a hint of what it would be like when he came home for good, and it was scary. I had assumed…planned even…for things to be ‘normal’ when he came home. In fact, I thought that coming home would remind him of everything we had. I was wrong and this was the first time I really saw that we might not find our way ‘back.’ Now, sitting on the couch, he was not the only one who was scared.
As we took his bag upstairs I gave Bill the tour, reminding him of the office and the guest room. When we went into the guest room, he said, “This will be the nursery right?” I nodded, but I was shaken. I could see, maybe for the first time since the accident, that things were not going to just settle right back to normal. That a nursery would be a long way off and staying home with a baby was out of the question. Work, for him, was also questionable…meaning I would be needing something more full time than what I currently was doing. I was coming face to face with some shattered dreams, and this was just one overnight visit. It was the first time I picked up the burden. My first reality check. I was going to have to carry it all and for how long, I had no idea. I was already exhausted but thinking I was near the end; on this weekend, I began…just barely…to realize I was only just beginning.
We did not cross the threshold of the master bedroom. We did not know how to work through this place where we found ourselves with an unseen, but very real distance between us. How do you rebuild something from scratch? How do you find something when one of you doesn’t even know it is missing? The rude awakening to me was the lack of any kind of intimacy; emotional, physical, spiritual…there wasn’t a connection for us. It was almost like two strangers. Almost. We had to work to find common ground, but there was some, and eventually we started to put the pieces back together. But nobody had prepared me for this new reality. Or for the fact, that awkward as it was that weekend, Bill would not want to go back to the hospital after being home again. I found out when I tried to get him in the car on Sunday evening. He was bigger than me, and stronger. He refused to get in the car. When I tried to physically move him to it, he exploded at me. I was cowering in the corner, with a volatile, angry man standing over me. The fire in his eyes made the hair on my neck stand up, but he did not hit me. He had some restraint physically, but verbally he lashed out at my heart which was already broken to pieces. I managed to call his parents, who came to “take us to dinner.” Once we were out, the taking him back was easier. He complained all the way there, but he did not fight us once we arrived. Until that day, I was thinking that overnight stays were for the patient to gradually adapt to regular life again, but found instead that they are for the caregiver to get a clue as to what was in store in a few short weeks.
I went home that night. Alone. So utterly alone. Scared to death of what my future held. Trembling as I cried out to God to hold me up. Tears and grief for my lost dreams were on the surface to overflowing. Curled up in a ball, under the covers of my bed, reality…my new reality, was peeking out from behind my denial like a ghost coming to haunt my dreams.