November 29, 2014. “This is Fairfax Hospital ER. Your husband has had a bicycle accident and is very confused.” This is the call that everyone dreads, me especially. Five years ago my husband had a serious accident bike accident, where he was hospitalized for five days. Ever since, I notice in me a pretty constant, back-burner concern for his safety.
Here I was, five years later. The burst of fearsome feelings felt so uncomfortably familiar…like all the ground vanishing underneath me. Flying down the beltway to the hospital, I found my husband Dan bloodied and banged up, in a neck brace, unconscious. He stayed unconscious for five days and was in ICU for ten days. The attending neurologist in ER told us that Dan had a bleed in his brain and a very serious concussion, but the good news was that he had no broken bones and had facial fractures that would probably heal on their own. A brain injury. My first reaction was dark~ worry, anxiety, and a deep unwillingness to entertain the idea of a seemingly unpredictable future. And then realized that the only way through it was through it, and I began to practice being present – to myself, to him, to our family – as a way of trying to stay centered and aware.
During those ten days when Dan was in ICU, I noticed that worry would invade. I felt in myself a contracted energy that I had to consciously work to open up. I wished I didn’t have to call the hospital and found that going there every day felt, at least some of the days, like my own private act of courage. I hung on the words of doctors and nurses who seemingly see this ‘all the time’ and shared with me that people routinely recover from the type of brain injury Dan incurred. What a thought – he may actually walk, see, talk, and even go back to work someday. It was incredibly hard to believe.
It was easy to get ahead of myself – get out of being present and into being a worrier. Fortunately, my practice of stilling myself that has been a daily practice over many years helped me tremendously. I could notice myself getting anxious about the future, and I could pretty easily bring myself back to being present. Being.Here.Now. Telling myself that I had weathered difficult things before, and that I came out more whole and more resilient helped. Remembering my strength helped. Self care helped. Trusting in the belief, however constructed it was, that Dan and I still had work to do in the world as a couple and things to contribute that we hadn’t gotten to yet – this thought helped too. Opening my heart to the outpouring of support from family, friends, and colleagues, and even people whom we don’t know intimately, showed me a huge healing circle for Dan and for our family.
Dan is home after 16 days of being hospitalized. He is better every day. He can do everything he used to be able to do, by and large, and the remaining healing is going towards activating his short term memory. Though he still needs a lot of rest, when he is awake it seems he is almost ready to be back to work. We may never know what caused this accident – there were no witnesses, and every doctor has asserted that Dan will likely never remember it.
The lessons for me are numerous. A quieting practice really helped me sustain a positive and optimistic attitude, one that I could call back into being whenever the worry road beckoned. I’ve always said that the reason to meditate and get quiet, daily, is to have that reserve capability when life inevitably knocks me off balance. Quiet presence was my anchor.
Opening to the hearts of others was an incredible help to keeping my own heart open. I had so many friends and colleagues writing me the most beautiful, uplifting, sustaining words that I felt at times light as a feather in the midst of the darkness I was experiencing. Many friends brought food – such a comforting act of love that my son, who lives with us, and I so thoroughly appreciated. Others sent plants or flowers to brighten our home. There were healers in the east, midwest, and west working on Dan’s behalf. Other friends offered many prayers for Dan’s recovery and for our strength.
Recognizing the positive energy around me and our family was warm consolation on dark cold nights when being able to imagine any recognizable future was elusive. Opening to the concern and suffering of our young adult ‘children’ helped all of us see and feel how knitted together we are, and how love in our family is shared in so many beautiful and unique ways. Bringing positive and optimistic energy into the hospital room was contagious for Dan, his nurses, and his doctors. Inviting them into the healing circle, quietly, helped me feel there was a community of angel-like caregivers always near Dan.
To all of you, and each of you, and you know who you are, my most deep appreciation for your constancy, support, and love during this difficult time. I will pay it forward, you’ve all shown me what open-heartedness really looks like and feels like~ I am immensely grateful.