Graduation and party time of year can be a stressful time for many. This year is a significant milestone in the life for a young man who entered into this world after my injury. He does not have any idea of what I was like before he was born. He loves me for who I am and not who I was. He knows nothing different. He gave me hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.
I will highlight ways children can help survivors of brain injury recover as this recent Graduate helped me during his 18 years of life without even being aware how he has helped. He wasn’t even aware I had a TBI and I’m not sure he knows now unless someone else told him.
Two-and a-half years following traumatic brain injury/subarachnoid hemorrhage, on June 16, 1994, my youngest nephew was born. He provided me the opportunity with an additional perspective on life. I had 3 other people in the home that helped with his needs when he was with me. It was the best feeling to see this most beautiful infant that I could love, hug, kiss, hold, feed, change, and just cuddle him.
When I smiled, he smiled back. When I talked to him he began his baby sounds in response. When I swaddled him and put him down to sleep he had a peacefulness and calm of life yet to come. When I sang to him, he responded as though he liked my voice (and no one did)!
I learned so much about life in the recovery process while caring for this child. Sleep helped him grow. Sleep helped my brain repair. I thought about how much that sleep helped him grow in his first year and visualized how much my brain was recovering at the same time. I massaged every muscle in his infant body, and that helped improve my fine motor coordination. Massage and touch helped him relax and sleep. He was growing fast, and I was recovering slowly.
I provided excellent nutrition to his little body to grow and to my injured brain to recover. Two souls of very different ages that grew in very different ways, but yet together.
I exercised this child to help give him the strength he needed to grow physically strong, mentally fit and overall healthy. That helped with my ability to exercise with him. Exercise was playtime for him. We learned eye-hand coordination together. We learned walking and balancing together. We played ball countless times over many years. From simply bouncing the ball to baseball. This improved my coordination and provided him with gross motor coordination.
We put countless puzzles together. He helped me and I helped him. The games we played were healing to the soul. I would remove a magnet from the kitchen refrigerator and he would identify the missing piece. He would do the same for me. What he didn’t know…it really wasn’t a game as he thought it was. It was real. I didn’t know what was missing and it helped heal my brain and my soul. Little did he know how important every interaction was in both our lives. I don’t think he knows yet.
I repeatedly watched Winnie-the-Pooh and Veggie-Tales videos as I rocked him as a toddler. What he doesn’t know is this: I cannot even follow a movie to this date two decades later. What he does know is that I could laugh and watch children videos and he loved that. I learned the theme songs of so many children’s themes and he learned to sing.
I was able to read, but when I had difficulty and couldn’t focus I could make up my own version of the story according to the pictures and he loved it. He didn’t care what the words said, he cared most about how I told the story.
Over time he loved books and reading. He eventually began reading to me. Now he would question me about the story. It was a cognitive challenge he gave me without even being aware. He would correct me when I was wrong. I would correct him as well.
We learned together. He was so innocent and helpful all from his heart and soul. This is a fine example of how we know young children do not discriminate.
He was my “partner” everywhere I went. I told him I might get lost without him, and he never left my side. He was my constant. He has a huge heart, a great soul, and this is a young man everyone should meet. He will make this world a better place. He provided me the strength and hope for a better tomorrow. I provided him with an abundance of love, security, and trust. He has taught me many lessons in life, and I hope I have taught him.
This is what we learned together…nearly everything. This was about two lives that grew simultaneously, both souls being in different phases of life. Growth occurred through determination, motivation, love, hope, prayer and God’s blessing. In the end, the infant has grown to be a remarkable young adult and the injured continues to recover significantly and is teaching others about traumatic brain injury and recovery. Two lives: an innocent newborn and another life of his aunt that was nearly destroyed before his birth. It’s time for celebration for all the accomplishments that have occurred over the years.