Life as a caregiver is not a path anyone willingly chooses. Rather, we are often thrust into this role through a traumatic event. In my case, it was a car accident caused by an impaired driver. A young lady under the influence of prescription narcotics and alcohol plowed into my husband’s car at a high rate of speed. The impact caused my husband, David, to spin across the highway median and he was hit head-on by a semi traveling 65 mph in the opposite direction. It’s a miracle he survived.
If you had told me the day before June 7, 2011 that we would endure such a major upheaval, I would have said that God would never allow such a thing to happen to me, knowing I wouldn’t be able to handle the aftermath. That’s what I know now to be a faithless answer.
We have experienced nearly every scenario possible for a traumatic brain injury survivor – trauma ICU, rehabilitation hospital, brain injury treatment facility, in-home care, and nursing home care (where my husband has resided for the past 8 years). Our children have grown up with the realities of brain injury, having been only 10 and 12 when their dad was injured. I’ve moved from stay-at-home mom to part-time work, to full-time plus a side gig to meet our financial obligations. Life as we knew it before that June day exploded and it became my job to find the pieces we could still use and forge ahead with a new normal. It hasn’t been an easy road, but God is faithful.
You see, grace expands to meet the needs of every moment. I think that is why it is most often preceded with “amazing.” Our Heavenly Father meters out the grace we need, in the measure we need, exactly when it is needed. This is truly the only way I can explain how I’ve managed to survive the past ten years. There are numerous ways this grace has been evident to me:
Forgiveness: The girl who hit my husband was 23 years old and clearly made a horrible decision to be on the highway that fateful morning. She did not get injured at all – at least not physically. I knew immediately that I needed to forgive her. What good would it do me to harbor resentful thoughts and anger towards her? Or maybe it’s better to ask, “What good would I be to my husband and children if I had an angry countenance?” It’s only by the amazing grace of God that I didn’t do something that stupid when I was 23. Being free from bitterness and anger towards her has made a huge difference in how my whole family has been able to function.
Community: Not only did our friends, family, and strangers (angels unaware) rally around us then, but so many still uphold us today with prayer, cards, words of encouragement and love. I’ve met some incredible friends who share parts of my story as wives of traumatic brain injury patients. We support, listen, cry, laugh and teach each other in ways that can only be viewed as amazing. I’ve learned that God is still present despite my doubts and questions (Why, oh why, Lord didn’t David have the recovery we hoped for?). And I’ve seen that the people God uses do not always look or act the same way as me.
Perseverance: Life is not easy, but a life walking with God makes the dark days brighter. We’re never promised happiness and prosperity, at least not in this lifetime. However, we are promised that we will not be forsaken, that His ways are good, and that every one of us is special and loved. It is via those amazing promises that I have been able to keep looking bravely up.
Is my husband happy today? Yes and no. He is exasperated that his body doesn’t work. He wants so badly to walk and drive and do things for others. He wants to live with me, and I want the same, but that is not possible with his current needs. I’ve said for many years now that my job is to make him laugh or smile every day. I work hard at that. It’s a tough existence and one I would not be able to handle without God’s amazing grace.
Ambiguous loss is a loss that isn’t completed. It’s sometimes referred to as grieving for someone who isn’t gone. I refer to myself as a married widow and a single mom, but I’m neither widowed nor are single. The steps I’ve taken to live with this prolonged grief a consistent combination of forgiveness, community, and perseverance. I’m also a big fan of counseling and encourage everyone to find a professional to help you through feelings of grief.
Naturally, the usual recommendations for well-being are necessary too – get plenty of rest, eat wholesome, healthy foods, exercise on a regular basis, and take time out for yourself. These aren’t easy steps to follow, especially if you are a caregiver or advocate and a parent, so please remember to give yourself the same grace that God has extended to you. If you mess up one day, or for a whole week, month, whatever – start the next day anew and resolve to try again.
That’s grace, and it’s amazing.
Melanie Vadzemnieks is a wife, advocate, parent, and donor relations professional living in Erie, Pennsylvania. Her children are now 22 and 20 and are wonderful, beautiful humans. Melanie has been collecting dogs (she currently has 3) and refers to them always as “my therapy.” It is her greatest joy to be David’s wife. When she isn’t working, she usually has a book in hand.