more than okay

Sometimes I’m just sad. And not only because Harrison and I don’t have everything we wanted out of life at this point. I’m sad because it’s not that weird to me. Let me explain. Many people I know live what I call the “conventional” life. They get married, they excel in their careers, they have babies, they build a three bedroom house and grow old and die in their 80s. But that’s not the world I’m living in. Not anymore at least.  No, these things are what make up my world…

A friend of mine from college just passed away last week from a brain tumor. She left behind a young husband, now a widower in his early twenties.

My grandmother sets one plate on the table for each meal now instead of two. That really breaks my heart. She’s totally alone.

Several members of my family struggle with mental illnesses that can be just as debilitating as physical ones.

Another friend of mine has a disease no one can cure and lives in constant physical pain.

My neighbor just asked my family and me to take care of her husband when she’s gone. She got bad news this week that her cancer has spread and she doesn’t have much time.

I know parents who lost their children years ago and still, they hurt more every day.

These things hurt, and I’m sad the hurt feels normal to me. And then there’s my beloved Harrison with so much to offer the world yet he’s trapped in his own body. Every night after I put him in bed, I have to find something to busy my mind so I don’t have to think about how much I miss his laugh or his arms around me or our conversations. But tonight I just sat down and started thinking and writing. Sometimes the hurt just spills out when I least expect it, and reality hits me in waves.

This is your life….boom.

This is your life….crash.

Sometimes I wake up in the morning expecting to hear Harrison grinding his coffee beans or feel him kiss me goodbye through my sleepy fog, but it all feels like a dream of a life we never had now. All these things feel like more than I can take.

Five years ago, one of my friends was killed in a car accident. That was my first introduction to the kind of hurt I feel now. I was angry with God because I couldn’t understand why He would let that happen. How could He let that happen? I was mad and confused for a while, but then I began to understand something both troubling and reassuring.

Bad things just happen. Bad things happen, and I’m not immune.

Because of sin and evil, the world is chaos. People get hurt, they get cancer, they lose their children, they lose their lives. I believe God makes beautiful things out of the terrible, and I’m thankful for that, but I also acknowledge the deep pain that I and others experience every day. It’s something that’s hard to forget about during this time in my life. Bad things happen and people hurt deeply.

I started wondering what it would be like if God answered all the world’s prayers the way people wanted Him to. Isn’t that what we expect of Him sometimes? Heal this cancer, save this baby, don’t let this mother of three children die. But you know what I discovered? If God answered our prayers the way we wanted every time, life would be a lot like Heaven. If God never let a bad thing happen to anyone, maybe we wouldn’t value the opportunity of eternal life in a place where there is no sorrow, evil or chaos as much as we do. So now when I pray, a prayer for Harrison and me is not sufficient. It wouldn’t satisfy me enough to have our life back to normal because that doesn’t fix the bigger problem. No, my prayer should be “Lord, come back soon. I’m ready for restoration for all. I’m ready for love and light and abundant life with you and with my cherished friends and loved ones.” I don’t just want the life the world can offer me. I want it all. I want Heaven. I want freedom. I want to see my friends again and meet my grandmother for the first time. I want all the people in pain feel it no more. I want to watch Harrison dance. I want to see God and thank Him face to face for all the things He’s given me. I want to experience the love and joy we’ll all share.

And as excited as I am to look forward, I have to remember to stay present. I firmly believe that if you have breath in your lungs, God has a special plan for your life, and I’m one of those people still breathing. Harrison is, too. Our life is purposeful, and we’ve got to do our jobs. Even though we struggle and want to give up sometimes, we have to run, with perseverance, the race marked out for us (Hebrews 12:1). We have to keep going. We were given THIS life, and now we’ve got to do our best with it. God will take care of the rest, and I believe it will be part of a beautiful plan. And one day we’ll hopefully get to see the fruit of that plan and find joy in knowing we never suffered in vain. As for now, we will keep at it. We will count our blessings and we will see God work in our lives. And when the going gets tough, we’ll help comfort others the way the Lord comforts us, by pointing them to Christ and to the beautiful life God has offered us all. We’ll remind them there’s more than this, and that we have renewed life, light and love through Jesus both now and forever. We are going to be okay, y’all. We are going to be MORE than okay.

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Little Update

Hello, everyone! We are still here and are sorry we have been quiet for a while. It’s just busy and most of what we are doing is what I would consider pretty normal, but I wanted to give you guys an update and just tell you what’s going on in our world right now.

We have a few exciting things going on right now! For one, the stem cells that Harrison got back in January should start showing some results here in the next month, so we are excited about that! I will say that since receiving the stem cells, Harrison has regained more control of his eyes. They used to dart around all day, and now they only do that when he’s really tired. It’s been very helpful for him to be able to control where he looks again. This also makes him look more like himself. That gets better everyday and we are very thankful! He is also gaining more control of his right side. He is now more active with kicking the soccer ball with his right foot, and his arm and hand seem better as well.

One of the most exciting developments of the past few weeks has been our new FES (functional electrical stimulator) bike. This bike has a motor (which rotates both arms and legs) and also has e-stim function. We place electrodes on certain muscles (for example, if we’re working out his legs, we’ll put them on quads, hamstrings and tibialis anterior), hook them up to wires called “channels” and his muscles receive stimulation from a very customized program to help him power the bike himself. All of this occurs while the motor is rotating his legs, and the goal is for him to overpower the motor and bike on his own. He probably did that at least 15 times in the 2 miles he rode today, and it was only his third time on the bike in over a year. He used this bike at Shepherd several times and we decided that it would be a great investment for home therapy since it forces his muscles to move in certain ways and helps his brain learn those motions again. I really hope I explained this well enough! It’s a really great thing that I believe will help Harrison immensely, especially his weaker right side.

One obstacle we’ve dealt with this month was pieces of H’s wheelchair becoming rickety or completely breaking off. I know, right? How does this happen? Well the short answer is that tone causes Harrison to put a lot of pressure on certain areas of his wheelchair, and after a year of doing this, it literally reached its breaking point. The rickety part was his head rest and the completely broken piece was his left lateral (laterals are on each side of his torso and help hold him up and maintain a decent posture). So you can imagine that the struggle has been real for the past week. We were trying to hold Harrison up while swallowing and doing things on the bike, and it was just hard to get anything done. We also couldn’t really go anywhere. Thankfully, our wheelchair repair man came on Tuesday and fixed/reinforced everything and Harrison’s chair looks better than ever. And that day, we went to a movie and didn’t have to worry about Harry falling out of his chair! It’s the little things!

I also want to take this opportunity to answer a few FAQs:

The most common question I get is “What are you doing right now?” I get this one a lot and it tells me that I’ve been doing a poor job at updating! Currently, we are just doing a bunch of therapy at home. We usually stand Harrison up for about an hour in his sit-to-stand, sit on the edge of the bed for 30 minutes to an hour, swallow anything from applesauce to soda twice a day, and lately we’ve been doing at least one mile on the bike (alternating arms and legs). We are also seeing a speech therapist again, and she gives us lots of homework. That keeps us pretty busy and then we have normal things to do! It really is a full time job or more like an “all the time” job, but I love it, and I love getting to be with Harrison every day!

Another question we get a lot is “When are y’all going back to Jackson?” Well, we were supposed to go back in April for another stem cell transfer, but my Mom actually has a little part time job helping inner city students learn to read more efficiently. Go, Lisa! I’m glad she has a little something to put her time and energy into. It also gets her out of the house and gives her another purpose and I’m thankful for that. However, this is going to push our Jackson trip back on to May when’s she finished with school. We will only be there a week this time, completing 10 dives and getting Harrison to 100 total dives!

And of course everyone also asks,“How is Harrison?”

Hey I wonder the same thing every day! I always ask him what he is thinking. It usually pertains to what Mom and I have been talking about, but one time when I asked he typed, “I’m just thinking about how our life didn’t turn out the way we planned.” I’m sure there are moments everyday when Harrison thinks about that. I’m usually so caught up in what I’m doing that I don’t allow myself to go to that place. He also expresses his emotional and social struggles and that breaks my heart. He is such a social person and I know he misses being able to communicate with everyone. He just wants to be free to do and say what he wants. So I want to ask you guys to pray specifically for him to speak soon. It would change our whole world. He says “uh-huh” to me and sometimes I can tell he’s saying “I love you” by the way he moves his mouth and grunts out syllables. That’s always very exciting! But even so, Harrison just shines. That’s the best way I can describe it. He just wants to love others, love me and love God. His heart is so beautiful and he keeps typing about “pointing others to Christ.” He feels purposeful and that his life has meaning, just in a very different way than we anticipated. And as his wife, I just couldn’t be prouder. It’s so easy to love him because he is simply amazing. He is my hero and my best friend, and man I just love him. Every time he types about his personal journey through this experience, he shines in a way that reminds me of Jesus. I have always seen him as a great spiritual leader and ally, and as I look at him now, all I see and hear is God. Every word he types points me to heaven, to God, to Christ, to serving others, to looking on to a greater purpose. I am a blessed woman, y’all. So that’s how Harrison is doing. I can’t wait until he can tell you about it more easily. He has so much to say that will transform this world for the better.

I feel this wraps up just about everything that’s been developing over the past couple months, so I hope you guys feel more connected now, and please remember to keep praying. We are so grateful for your prayers for us. We love you guys and feel your support and love from near and far. Thank you all!

In the Dark, There’s Dark Too

Alright, this has been a long time coming this go around. A lot of the ladies on Facebook have been exhorting me to post an update, and since I love writing, here we go! There’s not a whole lot going on these days. We’re trying to recover from the holidays and make plans for this year, which has proven to be challenging. We know what we want to do but aren’t sure of when to do it. But I can tell you that the month of January is booked pretty solid. On Tuesday, Harrison, Mom and I will be heading back to Jackson for his third stem cell transfer with 10 HBOT treatments following. We should be home about a week after that just in time for Harrison’s trach revision surgery. The trach scar is one of the more evident scars that serves as a reminder of the trauma, and Harry has expressed not wanting to live the rest of his life with a giant dent in his neck. Fair enough! So January 26th is the day. The same plastic surgeon who did his cranioplasty will be performing the trach revision. But I don’t love that he is having another surgery, so if you guys could pray specifically for a safe surgery that day, I would be forever grateful. Dr. Kelly will remove the scar tissue that’s attached itself to the exterior of Harrison’s trachea and cut all the scarred skin away. After that, he will have a tiny horizontal line on his neck and wont ever have to look at that dent again. Thank God for that.

Another 2017 goal is to get to RIC, the nation’s leading brain rehab in Chicago. We are trying to get Harrison’s core stronger before we pursue Chicago any further. I feel pretty confident that they will accept him. He’s terrific in therapy and participates well. Just needs to get a little stronger and more controlled. So please be in prayer about that venture and that God will lead us there at the best time.

A question you’ve probably asked yourself and I know I’ve asked myself is “Why is this taking so long?” Well, we think we found some answers to that when we came across Harrison’s records from the trauma center. He sustained injuries in the brain stem in the midbrain and pons. These are not places you want to get hurt, y’all. It makes recoveries long and grueling, but the pons and midbrain heal just like any other part of the brain. That’s why stem cells are so important to us! They can help heal those places in a big way. On another note, my mom was reading that Harrison sustained good blood/oxygen flow in his brain after his injury. She believes this played a part in preserving his cognition. We are so thankful to God. Reading through all that information just confirmed again and again that this was a straight up miracle, and that Harrison must be pretty special to sustain the worst brain injury you can get and live, personality and cognition maintained, to recover from it.

It was very hard for me to read the records and see those scans. I relived that day (those days) all over again, and then I felt surprised. I think I’ve created my own reality, my own new normal, and when something reminds me that this isn’t normal, it surprises me. The gravity of this situation and of this life surprises me, but in the kind of way hearing Harrison was hurt for the first time surprised me. It’s almost unbearable, but expressing myself to my family and hug from my living husband is good medicine. That doesn’t make it go away but tempers it a while so we can go on living. The truth is that as much as life can be beautiful and fun and exciting, it can be equally as terrifying, dreadful and downright depressing. I discovered a new emotion in myself lately. It’s like a combination of enraged and “tear your clothes” sad, but all I want to do is scream and literally break things. It’s horrific. I feel like I’ve been wronged by something evil. I feel like I want to fight back. How could this awful thing happen to my Harrison, the best person I have ever known? I think I understand why I feel that way. We were never meant to experience something so terrible, so horrifying. Life was ruined for all of us by the sins of many, mine and Harrison’s included, and as a result, we will all experience the darkness that life can bring.

But that’s not the end of it. God has seen, is seeing and will see us all and take part in our struggle. But even more than that, He sent His only son, most beloved and perfect, to us to be hurt, to love, to bleed and then to die for us so we don’t have to live this way anymore. For some of you, life has been great for the most part. I can relate for sure. 2013 and 2014 were two of the best years of my life. I lived in Greece, travelled to Israel and Egypt with my best friends in the world, including Harrison. I cared for my baby nephew and witnessed the beauty of new life. I got engaged and married to my dearest love. I made priceless memories. Even with some bumps in the road, I thought life was just wonderful. And that’s the reality that some of you are living in, but right now, I’m just not there. There are wonderful moments and fun times, but there are more overwhelming times of regret, hopelessness, anxiety, frustration, and the “scream and break things” feeling. Some days the dark is more oppressive than others, and I want to be real about that, and I want to say it’s okay to be frustrated and to hurt deeply. That’s all part of it.

If life is hard for you right now and your days are dark, then understand this. There is hope for your future. If you’re still on the earth, you have a great purpose yet to be revealed, so just wait in excitement for the work you get to do for the kingdom. That’s what Harrison and I are doing. We’re doing our best with what we have and waiting to see just what God wants us to do with this new life. We can’t tell you where we will be in 10 years, but I can assure you of my confidence it’ll be more than we could have ever imagined, because that’s how my God works. That’s how He loves and blesses us. That doesn’t mean I don’t hurt or own my pain and suffering. It is there now and will always be, and it hurts. There’s a lot of darkness in our life, but there is light somewhere when we know how to see it. I see the light every day, some days brighter than others. Some days just enough to make it. Suffering is a real thing, but so is God. He is there with you, working with you to pick up the pieces and create something new and beautiful. And let me tell you, that’s not usually a fun experience. But my greatest point of encouragement is that at the end of this, we get to be with together and be with God and have all the beauty of life forever. No darkness, no suffering, no damage. Just light and life and love.

one year

One year. I can’t even wrap my mind around it. When I look back on this past year, it seems like 60. But it also seems like no time at all. I have grown and been tested in so many ways. I have been the best and ugliest versions of myself. I have been angry, sad and supremely happy. I have worried myself into physical pain and I have known the freedom given by the Spirit indwelling when I just breathe and trust. I have complicated and simplified my life. I have been all over the place. But I am still here, and at the end of the day, I am still very much Hayley Smith Waldron. I’m silly and joyous and I’m not cynical, and I’m proud of that. I’m proud of all of us (Harrison’s and my families). We made it one whole year.

There have been countless moments of heartbreak these past 365 days, but there have been many nights where I fell asleep counting my blessings, and it would be hard to paint you a picture of the last year without exploring both. This time on the blog, you will hear not only from me, but also from my guy, Harrison. He and I have written about our greatest challenges and blessings and everything in between. I know Harrison being able to express this so publicly means a lot to him, because he spent hours typing everything out, and I hope anyone who reads this can be blessed by it.

Harrison

Some of my greatest challenges have been physical ones. I can’t do everything I want or need done, and that can make me feel useless and dependent on others for everything. I want to brush my own teeth and wash my own face, but I haven’t done anything like that for a whole year. I want to hold Hayley so badly, but I’ve had to learn to be content being held by her right now. And these things are hard to deal with in my mind. I don’t understand my role as husband anymore because it looks completely different from my new vantage point. I can’t just hug or kiss Hayley whenever I want. I have to wait and have help for any act of love I show her. And that can be one of the most heartbreaking things I have to face these days. But the greatest challenge I’ve had to endure has been the testing of my faith. I have asked God a million times why I had to get a brain injury of all things. But I know this injury isn’t from God but rather an outcome of living in a fallen world. I do ask why He didn’t intervene and save me all this suffering, but I also believe He has a plan for my life that can transform this suffering into something meaningful. And after all this is over and I’m able to function again, I will have an opportunity to testify to the world about God’s presence and healing in my life. And that makes all the pain and loss worth it.

Hayley

Harrison’s and my challenges obviously look very different, but I can absolutely identify with feeling dependent. One of my greatest challenges has been taking what seems like 3 steps back into being a child again. Harrison and I have lost our independence as our own family, and we have a hard time recalling what we were like when it was “just us.” It’s not that we aren’t grateful to have my parents’ help each day at home, appointments, etc., but we miss when it was just the two of us and we were our own family (my parents probably feel the same way). The lines have been blurred there in a way that hurts. And in an attempt to protect any last bit of independence and distinction that we have, I may have seemed particular or controlling to others at times. I have been annoyed, frustrated and sassy for the same reason, and now that’s something I have to work on daily. Another challenge that has oppressively presented itself is feeling left behind. Many of my friends are newly married, and I can totally relate to them, but only that which pertains to my memories up to a year ago. Married couples are traveling and posting pictures while they ride bikes together or hike/camp together. And I think, “I would give anything to do that with Harrison right now.” I’m at home trying to teach Harrison how to say “hi” or bend his right leg more easily, which I am so happy to do. I just want us to look like us again and live like us again. And seeing everyone else live and move can hurt just because it reminds me that we aren’t living a normal life and things aren’t as they should be. But you know, when I focus on my life and don’t look at anyone else’s too closely, I have so so much to be thankful for.  And like Harrison mentions above, I know each challenge we face will make us better and stronger as we find ways to bring glory to God through this suffering.

Harrison

There have been too many blessings to count these past 12 months, but there are a few that stand out looking back. One in particular that has resulted from the past year is Hayley’s and my deepening love and appreciation for one another. We have been through more in our 2-year marriage than most people twice our age, and we are still committed to loving each other with each challenge presented to us. I’m so glad I married such a beautiful soul and constant source of joy and hope. I love her with all my heart and I’m so proud of her for all she does to care for me. As for a more obvious blessing, how I’m alive is a mystery to me and everyone else. I count myself very blessed to still be on this earth because people die or never wake up from injuries like mine every day. I consider it a miracle that I’m here and I’m who I’ve always been. I know that God saved my life and has great plans for me, whatever they may be, and I’m full of joy because of that.

Hayley

For every time I felt weary facing my reality, there were probably 10 more times that I found joy in recognizing my blessings. God has been so good to Harrison, me and our families. I always knew that God would take care of me, but I haven’t fully understood that truth until this past year. God’s presence manifested in different ways than I had ever experienced before. I could feel peace and hope in times where people thought I shouldn’t be getting out of bed, and that didn’t come from me or any other human. That came from the Holy Spirit. It was like walking around with an umbrella over my head. No rain, no darkness could touch me. I was always full of hope. But, of course, there were times in which my fear crept in and grabbed hold of me for the night, but I never stayed down for long. I learned early on how to recognize my fear and understand its destructive relationship to my faith, and I determined to overcome that fear by speaking truth. I would say, “I know God loves me. I know God loves Harrison, and I know God has a plan for our life.” Harrison’s journey to healing has been nothing short of miraculous, and I believe God saved Harry’s life for a purpose, so I have always operated under that assumption. Having confidence in God’s plan (even if it looks strange to me) is one of the greatest blessings of this past year without a doubt. I still hold to that confidence. God will go before us and care for us as He has time and time again.

From Both of Us (written by Hayley)

Another way God has blessed us is through His people. We have rarely been the recipients of such love from groups of strangers, but that love and support often kept us putting one foot in front of the other. We could sit and think all day about the wonderful people who have touched our life in the past year. More personally, people have fed me, housed me, loved me when I wasn’t so lovable, prayed for me and encouraged me. I wish I could call upon each person who loved me in a special way, but I don’t want to leave anyone out and I know I would. Just know this: Every card, donation, meal, hospital visit, prayer, hug and roof over my head did not go unnoticed or unappreciated. I wanted to write “thank you” cards for everyone, but I just couldn’t keep up. So many people were loving us that I couldn’t keep up, you guys! Harrison added, “I can’t express my gratitude for all that people have done for my families and me. You all have been the hands and feet of Christ, and I’m so thankful for your love and support.” What we have seen from our brothers and sisters this year is beautiful and special and is the body of Christ at work. We are so thankful.

I definitely got to make a whole host of new friends throughout the year, but I also got to strengthen existing relationships, which included close friends, my parents (both sets) and my Harrison. My friends are amazing, like “drive all night to get to Erie, Pennsylvania” amazing. Like “sleep on the nasty ICU waiting room floor with you” kind of friends. I love them and they are the best. Thank you, God, for my friends. And then there are all 4 of my parents (this includes in-laws of course). They are great examples of courage and faith to me. They are all the type of people Harrison and I want to be like, and we are so thankful for God’s blessing in Mom, Dad, Donna and Phil. And of course, there are our sisters…all of them unique and special in their own way. They have been a great blessing and support to us all. Laura stayed glued to my hip for about 4 months while we bounced from hospital to hospital. I am forever grateful for that, because God knew I would need her in a special way, and she didn’t even hesitate to stay with me. And Katelyn and Sarah have shown us love and support in so many ways. We love you and are thankful for you both! And I can’t forget about the blessing in having my husband. I am so thankful for Harrison being here and being himself. We are grateful for God’s miracle in saving him and preserving his cognition and personality. There is a great love between H and me, and I am thankful that this tragedy has been an opportunity to love each other in new ways, always strengthening our bond and commitment to one another.

Like Harrison and I both mentioned, we know God goes before us and has loved and provided for us from day one. We believe in Him, and we believe in the power of prayer and God’s listening ear. I know He hears all who are praying, so please don’t stop! We need your prayers because even though we have conquered one year, we have many more days, months and even years of hardship and suffering ahead of us. But more importantly, we have the hope of eternity in heaven with healed brains and all abilities restored to look forward to. We are very excited about that! Until then, we will slay this recovery and live our life to its fullest potential and purpose. We love you all and thank you for sharing in this journey with us!

Contentment

I have been dreaming…like in my sleep. I guess they are bad dreams because I wake up and can’t stop crying for about an hour, but the dreams aren’t actually scary or terrible. In these dreams, Harrison is fine. He is walking around and talking. He’s painting a mural or planning a trip, but he is never anywhere near me. All I can understand from his absence is that the way I remember him from before August 14th is long gone…way back in the corners of my mind. It’s as if my dreams reflect that sort of forgetfulness too. Each time, in my more recent dreams, I have to call him on the phone to try to find him. So I am overjoyed by Harrison being fully restored, but where is he? That’s one component of these dreams that really upsets me. Another thing that I find difficult to face is that he is fully restored. I know what you’re thinking. “Hayley, isn’t that the best thing ever? This is what we’ve all been praying for.” And yes, in the dream, once I can get past trying to figure out why my husband is nowhere to be found, I am ecstatic to see him doing so well. It is the best thing I’ve ever seen. This is all I want.

But then, I wake up. And when I wake up, I look over and see Harry, and I’m reminded that he can’t walk or talk or hug me. It’s heartbreaking. I am given a little taste of what I want so badly and then it is taken away as quickly as I can open my eyes.  And I think what most upsets me once I wake up is that I can’t remember my Harrison. All the things that make him who he is are there, but they are hard to see. His mind is the same, and who he is at his core is the same, but there are things missing. Like the way he used to look at me when I was getting ready or the funny faces he made at my nephew, Liam, or how we used to fight about stupid things and then hug it out. I just want those things back…I miss those things. So many of the ways he loves and values me are difficult or impossible for him to show right now. And I’m used to how he is now, so it’s easy to forget what life used to be like and what Harry and I used to be like. I forget that this is not normal.

But I once heard a wife of another TBI victim talking about her husband and their new life through a Facebook video. She said that if you can be thankful for what you have, you will find contentment. From the moment I heard that, I already knew how true it was. When I think about how close Harrison was to death or the fact that I could be a widow trying to figure out how to live without my best friend right now, I am so thankful that I have my Harry, just how he is. And when I think about how Harrison could and should have serious cognitive deficits, memory loss and changes in personality, I am filled with thankfulness that he is who he always was, the man I fell in love with and pledged my life to.

And I think the concept of thankfulness bringing contentment is something that can apply to any part of our lives. Life will never be perfect, but there are so many things that I can be thankful for that will bring joy, happiness and laughter to my world. I sometimes get stuck thinking about how sad I am that Harrison is not where we want him to be physically, but he is HERE. God saved him and has big plans for him. And you know what, I am so happy that we could go to the zoo for our anniversary and that we could be part of Luke and Chloe’s wedding back in April. And I’m thankful that we can communicate and laugh together (though Harrison doesn’t laugh, he just tells me when things are funny and he laughs on the inside). And most of all, I couldn’t be happier because the love we share has never been greater, and the faith we have in our God has never been stronger. Nothing in the world can change the love we share with each other and the love share with God. Nothing can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:39)…not a brain injury, paralysis, cancer or even death. And isn’t that alone enough to bring contentment?  Isn’t that enough to make life worth living?

“I’m here. I’m awake.”

This next entry is going to give us all a little more perspective on Harrison’s time in what we believed to be comatose, vegetative and minimally conscious states. We thought that he made a natural (and slow) progression through these levels of consciousness because of the outward signs he was giving us with his body. This is just one of the flaws with testing someone’s mental status in these situations, because as we see with Harrison, he isn’t even able to follow simple commands like “squeeze my hand” at THIS point in time (because of motor planning problems), so forget about it 8 months ago. The more I talk to Harrison about those early days, the more insight I gain into what was really happening, and to me, it’s mind-blowing and could have saved me months of intense anxiety and fear. But that’s beside the point. Now let me take you back to the first days after Harrison’s accident.

The ATV accident happened at about 7:00 on Friday night. Boom, he is unconscious at the scene. He got to the hospital around 7:45, and I followed in a car shortly thereafter. The craniectomy (surgery in which the neurosurgeon removed Harry’s frontal skull bone) began sometime after that. It’s really hard for me to remember details but it was something like 10:00. I finally got in to see harrison in the ICU around midnight. The room was dark and the nurse told me to speak softly and barely touch him because it would overstimulate him. It’s hard for me to remember the next moments. I touched Harry, I cried and I told him I loved him. I hugged the nurse, Sharon. She told me the next 48 hours would be the worst of my life, and she was right. I tried to sleep on the floor of the ICU waiting area with those words resonating in my head. I kept seeing Harrison’s body laying still down in the ravine. Every time I woke up to use the bathroom (my body was just as upset as my mind), this disturbing reality would hit me again and again. I hated that night, but I was thankful that my friends Megan, Taylor, Emily and Sarah were there for me…sleeping next to me on that ICU floor. After being in and out of sleep and Harrison’s room, the morning finally came. I was called back to the ICU to speak with one of the trauma surgeons. He told me how terrible Harrison’s injury was and that he was sorry because he didn’t think he would ever wake up or even live. And you guys know the gist of the rest of those early days.

After he officially emerged in November, we started asking questions like “Do you remember this?” or “What about when I said this and you cried?” But in the craziness, we never really explored anymore of Harrison’s mind during the early days. Not until today. Today I actually sat down and thought about it and wondered if Harry was really just minimally conscious or totally conscious (because you have be conscious at some level to make memories and we knew there were certain things he remembered from his time “asleep”). So I asked Harrison, “What’s the first thing you remember after your accident?” and what he said blew me away. He said that he remembered “the doctors talking about my injuries in the ICU” and he “heard the doctor say he was very sorry because he didn’t think I would wake up or live.” When he typed this, I knew exactly what he was talking about.

It was the first morning when I talked (right beside Harrison’s bed) with the trauma surgeon. He is the only doctor I spoke with right beside Harry’s bed. The other doctors always took us into the conference room in the ICU waiting area. So I knew he had to be awake the next morning, Saturday, August 15th. Thinking about his inability to make his awareness known to us broke my heart, and I asked him what was going through his mind and he said, “I thought about how much you were hurting (he said he heard me crying) and I thought ‘I’m here. I’m awake.'””I also wondered how the doctors could tell I wasn’t awake. They couldn’t see that I was aware and doing fine in my mind, and nobody would know that for three more months.” When I asked him what it was like to be in there for three months without any way out and without anyone knowing, he said this: “It was the hardest thing I have ever been through, and everyday I wondered why no one could discern my awareness. I just wanted to comfort Hayley because she was heartbroken but she didn’t know the truth. I was awake the whole time.”

So there you have it. You are looking at a true miracle right here, friends. Harrison’s life and mind were spared from the beginning because God had (and has) a plan. And you know what makes me laugh about this? We prayed so fervently for God to wake Harrison. Some of you went outside each night at 9:30 and yelled “Wake up, Harrison.” I know I sure did. I asked him to wake up about a million times, and I asked God about a million more times than that. But God had already answered our prayer. We just didn’t know it yet. Talk about a God who goes before us, am I right? He answered my prayer before I even prayed it. And I could never be more thankful for His mercy and His miracles. He surely has something beautiful in mind for Harrison and me. We are thankful.

 

life as we knew it

This blog entry is long overdue. I have been wanting/needing to write for the last 8 months, but I guess I didn’t feel ready or maybe I just had too much going on, too much to think about. But here I am finally ready to share more than I already have. This blog will reach beyond my cheerful status updates but won’t be as developed as the book Harrison and I will write one day, Lord willing! I guess I should get some of you up to speed with what’s happened in the last 8 months-a brief overview if there is any such thing. I will do my best.

August 14th of last year was a special day. Harrison and I were visiting New York state for our good friends’ wedding. Zach and Alaina were our “couple friends,” and we were excited to finally be in a wedding together (other than our own). The morning after getting to NY, we went to Niagara Falls before we rushed back to Jamestown for the wedding rehearsal and dinner that followed soon after at Alaina’s house. We were just beaming with excitement for our friends. I, along with the other bridesmaids, went up to the house to get our gifts leaving Harrison with his camera (we were documenting the weekend with our new equipment) and the guys. I didn’t know that would be the last time I saw my Harry the way I had always known…that life as we knew it was about to be gone forever. My very thoughtful, sensitive and not at all risk-taking husband got in a terrible ATV accident that left him unconscious upon my arrival at the scene. Emergency responders deemed it a very serious head injury and Harrison went into respiratory failure as he was life-flighted to the trauma center in Erie, PA. The surgeon there said he would take out a portion of Harrison’s skull but implied that I should brace myself for the worst. I thought I was going to leave that hospital widowed at 22. I felt like I was dying, and it was too much to bear, but thankfully it was pretty short-lived (in the grand scheme of things).

Well, after 3 months of waiting for Harrison to wake up (from comatose, vegetative and minimally conscious states), an ugly encounter with hydrocephalus, discovering that he has full cognition, long and short term memory, same personality, and some serious physical deficits (for now), here we are. We are home…but things sure are different. When we left Nashville for the wedding, we were living in a quaint apartment a few miles from where I grew up. We loved that apartment, but we had stairs and Harrison is now bound to a wheelchair. The two of us lived there, but one of us now needed the care of two more. So we moved in with my parents, which was a comforting, familiar place for both of us. We were also both about to start our master’s programs. Mine was in counseling and Harrison’s in film and creative media. And then, all of it was just gone. No more school, no more apartment, no more independence for our little family. And for a while, there was no more Harry. I didn’t know how much of the man I loved was in his shell, but I always hoped and prayed for the best. I felt like I lost everything, and after taking a course in death, grief and loss, I was finally starting to understand all about non-death related loss. But in November, the long 3-month wait ended and Harry came back to me, and there is nothing better in the world than getting back the person you love most.

People say “bless your heart” and “your life must be so hard,” but I’m like…”Not as hard as thinking my husband would die” or “not as painful as imagining what I would do when I left that trauma center without the love of my life.” I have faced worse than this. Sure, it’s true that life is sometimes a struggle and that there are still so many things that Harrison and I can’t do right now. It’s incredibly painful to see him cry because he can’t hold me or dance with me. That’s all we want more than anything in the world. We want to go hiking, we want to go to school, have babies, and travel the world. Our life plans have been uprooted, but we are gratefully trying to embrace this new plan that God has laid out for us, and man, He sure has us taken care of.

I guess what I’m getting at is this: Don’t feel sorry for us because life as we knew it is gone. I am over that, and every time someone says “bless your heart,” I have to work through painful feelings all over again. We are happy. My husband is alive, and we share more love than many people will ever get to experience. Harrison is the same inside as he always has been, and though he is not physically restored, I say, “What’s stopping him? What’s stopping God?” There is no reason to give up now. Healing from this type of injury takes years and years. Harrison will walk again, talk again, teach our beautiful babies (who don’t exist yet) to play soccer in the backyard. YES, HE WILL! And it’s true, for now, that our lives are not quite normal or like everyone else’s, and there will definitely be days where we mourn what we have lost. But most days, I am counting my blessings. I am looking lovingly at my husband and telling him, through tears, of how I begged for his life and God answered my prayer. I am serving him in the most basic ways. I am taking nothing for granted and thanking God for every moment. And we are okay. We are persevering. We will not be shaken. And though life as we knew it is a distant memory, we look forward to life as we will know it. It’s sure to be beautiful.