On November 8th, 2015, Patrick and I happily celebrated his 2nd re-birthday with friends and family. We sat through one hell of an overture however the week before; a 48 hour hospital stay, anti-convulsant holiday, his first seizure, and a trip to the ER. While TBI buzzed around us like an mess of angry hornets, we were simultaneously preparing for a fundraiser to be held in his honor. All of which kept me from something extremely important: the time to process my thoughts and emotions.
Maybe that had been the subconscious point of it? To distract myself from the feelings? We had chosen to have Patrick’s fundraiser on the two-year-annivesary of his accident, so that like last year, the day would be associated with only good things. But as the day approached and donations came in, I felt the numerous blessings juxtaposed with the worry, grief, exhaustion, frustration and fear, heading for each other like two high-speed trains. I wondered what would happened when they finally collided together.
At last the day arrived. The morning flew by in a blur, and soon it was time to head to the benefit. I had no idea what to expect for a turn out, but as we entered the restaurant, we were surrounded by over 150 supporters. Patrick and I were immediately lifted up into the arms of overflowing good-will and love.
About an hour before the fundraiser was ending, a friend whom Patrick used to live with, handed me what looked like a bill, that had come to her house. Occasionally, she would drop off envelopes to us, and they were usually junk mail or letters addressed to Patrick from the Starbucks Corporation, where he worked until the day of his accident. But when I took it in my hand, the envelope felt different. I looked down at it, and recognized a handwriting that I could not immediately place. It was so familiar that I got a chill. I opened it, and as I held the paper in my hands, the noise and chaos of the party fell away to a hush. The people moved in slow motion around me as I read the words. I felt my heart fluttering and then pounding. My breath caught in my throat. It wasn’t a bill. It was a letter….
Astonishingly, it was a letter from my pre-TBI Patrick, written to the future Patrick, dated back two years. (Yep. This is a true story). He had been living in Florida at that time, and struggling personally, and had decided to write a letter to his future self. I suppose he asked it to be sent two years later, to someone he knew would get the letter to him, regardless of where he was at in his life. And here I was, unbelievably, receiving it on the two-year anniversary of his accident. Was this serendipitous? Destiny? Coincidence? I didn’t know. All I knew, was that for a moment, I communing with the “ghost of Patrick past”.
The friend who gave me the letter saw the emotion on my face, and in an attempt to help me, ripped the letter in two. “It doesn’t matter anymore, Anj. That is in the past. This..(motioning to the people around us)… THIS is what matters.”
The truth was, she may have been right, but in that moment that piece of paper was deeply important to me. I picked up the pieces and clutched them to my chest. “You don’t understand,” I said. “This…this matters too.”
At that moment, I was suddenly called up to thank all of our guests for coming out to the event. Standing there, with scraps of paper in my left hand, and the mic in the other, I couldn’t breathe or think. As I looked out over the audience, I was completely overwhelmed. Somehow I got through the speech, we cut the cake, and the night went on to be a complete success.
Much later on that evening, while Patrick lay in bed sleeping, I rose and went to the kitchen table. I turned on a lamp, and sat down in the stillness. I pulled out the scraps of paper and got some tape, and I put the letter back together. As my eyes welled up I began to read the words…
“Hey, Patrick?” it read… “How are you doing? What has happened in this short period of time? I don’t know…but you know what works though, right? You know what doesn’t? Keep working on tolerance, spirituality, and being grounded. Keep being awesome.
P.S. Is the thing with Anj still going on?”
I smirked, unsure whether to laugh or cry.
“Yes, Patrick. It most definitely is,” I said.
I ran my fingers over the ink. Slowly, I began to hear the ocean outside of my window. I began to hear the sound of my heart in my ears. I felt my mouth quivering, my eyes wet, and a pain in my heart. Finally… I began to process. I realized in that moment, that for a letter like that to come into my hands on November 8, 2015 from Patrick, who two years ago could never have known that he’d have a TBI let alone the significance of that date… had to be a divine act of God.
He was telling us that this was His plan. Not that he would give Patrick a brain injury, but that by it’s occurrence through the free-will of the universe, He would still bring good from it, if we promised to hold onto each other. He was also telling Patrick, that he was indeed the man he had hoped he would be in two years; the kind of man who inspires others, takes care of his girlfriend, is kind to animals, honest and true, and never gives up.
What a way to end a year, I thought, and God…what a year it has been.
I crept into bed softly, careful not to wake Patrick. Staring at the ceiling I thought back on his 1rst rebirth-day. Patrick was in a wheelchair and unable to walk or stand from a chair without assistance. His left hand and arm functioned at 50%. He was tested and found to have severe impairments in just about all areas of cognitive function, except memory. He didn’t have a skull cap in place, and he wore a helmet everywhere. He couldn’t be left alone. His attention was so poor that he had to have therapy in a private room. He had Clonus in his left leg, and couldn’t put his ankle down on the floor when standing barefoot. He couldn’t properly weight-shift onto his left leg. He needed assistance in the shower, bathroom, and with dressing. He wore a full, molded AFO. He was unable to play the drums anymore, and his awareness of his own injury was severely lacking.
Then, I reflected on all of the achievements worth celebrating at the two-year mark. Patrick now walks with a walker unassisted, using a Bioness walk-aide that has increased the range of motion in his ankle from -10 degrees to 10 degrees past neutral. He is able to stand up and sit down on his own, and stand unassisted for 10 minutes. He no longer has Clonus in his leg. He has full use of his left arm, shoulder and forearm, with only his fine motor skills still impaired. Cognitively, he now shows moderate impairments in some areas, with a few in the normal range, and a few still in the severe range. His attention has improved immensely, and he now has therapy in a gym with others. His mind/body connection and awareness of his injury have both improved. He walks every day to the convenience store alone. He is writing again. He is playing drums again, and has three of his four limbs active on the drum set. And finally, after enduring a tissue expansion surgery, 6 weeks of injections, a 2nd Cranioplasty, a c-diff infection and another under the plate in his skull, 4 weeks of IV antibiotics and a grueling hospital stay….Patrick NO LONGER wears a helmet!!!
So as we begin the 3rd year of our journey, I just want to say how grateful I am to every person who helped make each of those gains possible. I’m grateful for every person who came out to our event a week ago, and for the money we raised, which will keep us moving forward with his recovery. And lastly, I am so grateful for that priceless letter, from a Patrick who lived in a different space and time. Because, it allowed me to correspond for a moment with who he was, while at the same moment holding the hand of who he is today. It reminded me that while they are different, they are still the same. It is the never-ending paradox of TBI, and it is peace with that paradigm, that all of us in the TBI world spend a life time seeking out.
It’s been two years, and against all odds, we’re still here. I didn’t know what it would look like when I flew to Florida to be by his side on that awful night, and could never have imagined this arduous, heart-opening journey. I just knew I loved him, and that I had to be there.
After two years, I wish I possessed some immense wisdom to share with all of you. However, I still have mostly questions, not answers. All I can really say, is that what was true then, is still true now. I don’t know what this journey will look like two years from now. But I love him, and I still have to be here with him and for him, to find out.