Brain Injury

A Letter to My Son

Days became words, months became sentences, and years became paragraphs.

It’s been almost two months since I’ve put together any words to share with the world. My apologies for those of you who might have been curious if I had more to say on the intricacies of life. My writing is something I take great pride in, whether I hear back from my audience or not. I’m careful and deliberate in the crafting of each piece before I choose to publish it. The time and space required to create worthy works has been scarce in my life lately.

I could blame it on pandemic fatigue, parental fatigue or employee fatigue, but it all comes down to this for me: my deep written expression needs time to develop itself. A few snatched minutes here and there doesn’t produce the same work as sustained concentration in solitude. My mind needs to slow down, to be silent from the outside concerns, to make space for the depth to surface.

Unfortunately, too much has been crowding my mind and soul lately. It began with an innocent question asked by my son that deserved a fair and honest answer. As he recognized that his fear of the unknown and the anxiety surrounding it was affecting his enjoyment of life, he wanted to know if there was any particular event in his history that may have been the beginning of his anxious responses. In my head I thought “Just your whole life, kid. From the time you were born into a home with a parent with an undiagnosed brain injury, uncertainty was everywhere.” Of course, this is not what I said. Instead, I fled to the kitchen. He followed me, unaware of the swirling emotions in my body that he’d just set loose. Those things that I thought I’d kept tightly wrapped and secured away from the eyes and ears of the outside world.

Vaguely sensing my discomfort, he opened his arms wide to me, beckoning with our shared gesture of an offer for a hug. I obliged, and held my tears in check until I could get away to privacy. Oh, my child, my dear son, if only you knew. But it wasn’t for him to know. Or maybe it was.

I struggled with how much of our story and it’s variations because of his dad’s brain injury could safely be revealed to him. Factual, but not frightening. I had done my best to shield our child from the pervasive and persistent uncertainty that inevitably comes when a parent isn’t able to fully participate in life because of the damage to their brain. But inside, I was anxious, stressed, and scared as I managed our life single handedly, with no place to show my own frailty. I wondered how well I’d done.

And now his question, asked as a young man learning about himself, not a young child to protect, hung out there waiting for an answer from me: Was there anything in his life that had happened to make him experience anxiety before? It was time. Time to tell him a little about my perspective of raising him while struggling to understand and compensate for the effects of the cognitive and physical struggles of the man we both loved dearly as a husband and a father.

And so I wrote my son a letter, explaining the journey of the past 15 years and it’s detours along the way. I was careful to be factual, but not frightening. This was for him. But it was also for me. To acknowledge what we had lived through, and live with today. It took me a couple weeks, with many stops and starts as I wrestled with sharing my pain. In the end, it was only about two pages long. All those moments compressed and refined into 1000 words. Days became words, months became sentences, and years became paragraphs. Our life in two dimensional black and white. Clean, processed, and technical. It could be deleted, tossed in the garbage, or stored for later retrieval. It was now his choice. By answering his question honestly and thoroughly, I gave him a choice. But it was now his choice to make as a young man, not my choice as the mother of young boy.

What did he choose? For now, he skimmed it to get a sample of what he needed to fill the gaps in his understanding of his childhood. He remembered the part about me being sick with Graves’ disease and I stayed at my parents overnight needing to be near someone to care for me. He’s kept the letter for later retrieval. I last saw it on his bedroom floor, with his other papers from school, next to his pile of clothes. We haven’t spoken of it since, but it has opened the box of our shared story. It’s our story. And it’s truth will not be denied anymore.

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