I didn’t write a Christmas list this year. Sufficed to say, anything I could want for myself or my loved ones, or even the world at large, could never be boxed or wrapped or bowed. Still, I find myself wishing sometimes, that I could wake up Christmas morning and find those hopes and dreams beneath the Christmas tree. I wish that adult life could be as simple as it was when I was a child. I wish that shiny tinsel and half-eaten cookies were proof enough that the world was a magical place. I wish.
It’s been three years, but not a day goes by that I don’t think about the day that Patrick’s head was split open, and along with it, my heart. But at Christmastime, all my memories and the attached feelings of those early days in the hospital, intensify. The world is a busy, hurried place, and there is a lot of pressure to get on with the business of living as fast as you can. But anyone who has survived tragedy knows, that the scars never really fade. So while I have gotten very good at putting on a strong face, that is all it really is; a face. The reality is that when I drive my car at night down quiet streets, and see tiny cookie cutter houses dazzling with lights, all dressed up in their suburban glory, my heart nearly breaks. Something about being a caregiver these past few years, has made me see the world like a fragile little snow globe. I fiercely seek to protect all the beautiful things inside of it, knowing that is more precious than most inside could ever know.
I think of my time spent on a sorry excuse for a cot, sleeping by Patrick’s side. I remember staring up at the ceiling at the holiday ornaments I’d hung in an attempt to be cheery, and the awkward sound of his oxygen flowing through tubes in his nose. I remember girl scouts coming around to sing to the patients, and Patrick unable to even show emotion. I remember turning his body every four hours when the nurses were to0 busy, and giving him sponge baths and changing him. I remember driving to the airport, and seeing Palm trees wrapped in funky red christmas lights. Carols played on the radio, which sounded foreign in their merriment, while a balmy Florida breeze blew my hair through an open window.
I remember the miracle of his laugh.
I remember the first time he identified me.
And I remember spending 12 hours in an airport on Christmas day, desperately trying to get down to him from NJ, so that he wouldn’t be alone, despite others telling me he would have no idea I was there anyway.
I remember crawling into his bed when I arrived at almost 10 p.m and crying myself to sleep.
And here we are four christmases later and those memories are lost in time. There is an unspoken pressure to feel normal, and to be OK, because the time lapsed dictates it. But when I’m alone, and feel the pregnant silence in my heart, I know that I will never be the same. I fiercely hug the hurt inside, drawing it ever into my heart, keeping it quiet, and private as can be.
I wish that the world was better educated about brain injury. I wish that people knew about TBI. I wish they knew even 1/10th of what they know about cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s. TBI effects millions of people a year, but remains an unknown, invisible injury to the masses. And so do the soldiers of this ungodly war.
As Christmas draws near, I think about how hard I’ve worked these past three years so that Patrick could live again. I’ve never put more energy or spirit into anything than I did bringing him back, but in the end the final say belonged to God. I think back to that first holiday in the hospital, and wonder if anyone could have said anything to me to prepare me for the journey ahead. I remain grateful for my ignorance. I think about how caregiving is in a way, like treating every day as if it were Christmas. It means giving all you have to someone you love; constantly replenishing the packages under the tree with your physical, emotional, and mental energy. Giving your life over day after day, as unselfishly as you can, in an attempt that the one who has your heart might have life again. It means continually watering the tree of Hope, so that it stays alive, and somehow, evergreen.
Lastly, I think of the sobering fact, that today, Christmas Eve, many people are suffering TBI’s. Their mothers, husbands, daughters, brothers or friends are getting phone calls that will change their lives forever. I can never close my eyes to the brethren of warriors known as the TBI community; both the strong survivors, nor the caregivers who have given their lives to see them thrive.
All of you, every single one of you, have stolen my heart with your stories of unbelievable sorrow and strength. You are the bravest, boldest, kindest, and strongest people I have ever had the pleasure of getting to know. Thank you for blessing me with the honor of letting you into my life and journey as a caregiver. Thank you for giving me space to be weak, and applauding me when I am strong.
A Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a blessed and Happy New Year from my heart to yours.
Rememebr to keep your hope alive and always…evergreen.