Struggles Develop Strengths

Strength`

Looking forward to the next segment of Laura’s Story on Wednesday. This quote reminded me of her and her family who supported and cared for her. We don’t know how strong we are until we go through hardships.

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Dancing with Class, part I

Written by, Neils Knudsen

2004, Neils Judith. Picture taken a few months before the accident.

Neils & Judith 2004, a few months before the accident.

I’m not sure who the caregiver is in this marriage. My wife, Judith, who suffered a serious spinal cord injury in 2004, has given back more than I’ve ever given her. It didn’t always seem that way. In fact we were near divorce at the time of her accident.

We met one cold Tuesday night in February, 1997 during a dance class at the Murray Arts Center. I was two years into the single life after divorcing my first wife of 23 years and still trying to rediscover myself. She had seen ten years since her marriage ended.

Since there were more women in the class than men we were supposed to change partners from time-to-time. I tried to avoid her. She was clearly too much for me. That tall, slender and quite buxom woman would eat me alive and steal my lunch money. She fit a stereotype which I couldn’t afford, financially or emotionally. No problem, I thought. Those other guys are clamoring for her attention.

They tried . . . oh how they tried, but to my horror she shunned them and zeroed in on me.

Why me? I don’t have anything she wants, I thought.

Over the course of that evening, and many more to come, we became partners. This woman actually had a sense of humor similar to mine. She bantered with me. She teased me and, more importantly, I could actually tease her back. I was hooked. We married in October 1997 and moved to New York City where she worked once again on Wall Street for a young man who was once her protégé.

Judith grew up in a large Wyoming farming family. They were poor which only made her stronger, harder working and more determined to pull herself out of that circumstance. She was the middle child between four brothers and four sisters who gave no quarter and expected none in return. Competition was not new to her, but ambition would pull her out of, not only poverty, but an abusive marriage.

I relate this part about her life because it helps illustrate who she really is . . . a woman of strength and good character, of love and deep compassion. It also helps to tell you of where she was in her life when the accident happened.

As usual, Judith was prickly, stubborn and controlling the morning of Friday, July 2, 2004. She didn’t want to be and said as much, but life had pushed her there and it was hard to put aside.

A year of marriage counseling and an on-again, off-again relationship was coming to a close. I was working a weekend graveyard shift. She was beginning a long Fourth of July weekend.

She had gone on a bike ride with her cycling club. When I got home that morning I unplugged my phone, closed the windows and drapes, went to bed and quickly fell asleep.

My daughter shook me. “Dad, wake up.”

I hated to be wakened during my work week for no good reason. There never had been before, why now? “What?”

“Judith’s been in an accident,” she said as she plugged my phone in. It rang.

I answered it. It was Judith’s best friend, Gloria. The story she told chilled my bones. “Judith lost control of her bike and flipped into a ditch. Her back is broken. She’ll never walk again.”

“Are you sure it’s permanent?” I asked, hoping for some good news. “Sometimes these injuries are temporary.”

“Yes,” Gloria said.

My heart sank, but I still held out some hope. I got dressed, called my workplace to let them know I wouldn’t be in that night and then drove to McKay Dee Hospital in Ogden with my daughter.

The news of Judith’s bicycle accident had preceded me. Her mother and most of her siblings waited in what I soon learned was the ‘cry room’. They told me others who lived in far flung states and countries were on their way.

I joined them as we waited and hoped for a chance to see her. I cried.

An eternity later Judith’s daughter, Aimee, emerged from the ICU. She updated us and then turned to me. “She wants to see you.”

“Me?” I searched the bewildered eyes of her family. They seemed as surprised as I was. I followed Aimee through those impassable doors that led to . . . what? I held onto a prayer that I could hold back the tears when I saw her.

The nurse came out of Judith’s room as we approached. She said something, warning me about something, and something, something, something and I could only stay five minutes. “So little?”

She seemed asleep when I saw her. Scrapes covered her face. Bandages shielded her nose and forehead. Tubes strung from her mouth.

I leaned over and caressed her temple.

She opened her eyes and looked at me.

God denied my prayer. I wept.

Her eyes glistened and smiled.

God answered a prayer I did not know I made.

I saw deeper into her soul than ever. I saw the gentleness she always wanted to have. She would let go of her past.

(Editorial Comment from Judith) “At this point, I have to give you the other side. I knew almost at once when the bicycle flipped me head over heels and I landed on my back that I was paralyzed. When Neils came in, I was battered and bruised and hadn’t even begun to deal with what it all meant. When our eyes locked I smiled mostly in wonder because I could see love, a physical manifestation, as a light with many colors streaming from his face. I knew that we were together, united and I was safe, as I had never before been safe.”

The five minutes I was given became an hour. I thanked the nurse for letting me stay.

Aimee would later ask me if I could deal with being her mother’s caregiver.

“I will do this,” I said.

The next day Judith’s daughter April arrived from Arizona. The day after that her son flew in from New Zealand. The three of them took charge of insurance, doctors, the hospital and things I knew nothing about.

A week later she moved to a regular hospital room. The family continued to visit and her friends and coworkers often filled her room. As word of Judith’s accident spread, flowers flooded in and spilled into the hallway.

I did not, until that moment, know how well loved and respected she was.

“Why me? Of all the men on that dance floor, why did she pick me?” This woman who was so well regarded at her work and had such a wide ranging set of friends chose some dolt like me. Doubts about my ability to be a suitable caregiver crept in. She had a lot more support and resources available than I could give her.

Judith, 2004

Judith with her granddaughter, 2004

Eventually she left the hospital and went to a rehab center. We put our home up for sale and began looking for something more wheelchair friendly. At this point my real caregiving skills were yet to be tested.

The day finally came for her to come home wearing a clamshell brace which covered her from chin to tailbone. She hated that device, but at least she was out of the hospital. Home healthcare services were set up and I continued to go to work. My shift work and 14 hour workdays weighed me down. The physical issues Judith had were not unlike that of a newborn baby. The changes in her body functions required frequent attention. Preparing meals, bathing and nurturing were not unfamiliar, but the intensity of it was.

Judith has never been a complainer, but she did have days when her outlook suffered terribly. I tried to give her some hope of new adventures with stories about the wonders I’d seen while in the Navy. We soon planned a cruise to the inside passage of Alaska.

More doctor visits, hospital stays and surgeries added to the time demands. The emotional impact on Judith of these trials stressed her ability to cope. There seemed no end in sight.

Word soon came that my mother, who lived near Seattle, had developed dementia. She wanted to return to Utah. I couldn’t deal with it. Fortunately, after weeks of searching for a facility to care for her, my brother accepted that challenge and looked after her. Nevertheless, as the years went by, watching her decline was difficult. We were by her side when she passed away peacefully in 2010. I’ll always be grateful for that.

Thank you Neils and Judith for sharing your story. We look forward to next Sunday, part 2.

 

Blessings From Grief

Sometimes it’s hard to see the blessings given to us when we are in pain. These three inspiring thoughts reminded me of some I received which helped me move forward through my sorrow.

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God Promises

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grief Changes Us

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our experience with grief gives us the ability to truly empathize with another in similar circumstances. What blessings have you received or have been able to give another during sorrowful times?

Four Thoughts on Resilience

Resilience3

Great thoughts which accentuate my article, The Importance of Raising Resilient Children. 

 

 

 

Resilience“The strongest oak of the forest is not the one that is protected from the storm and hidden from the sun. It is the one that stands in the open where it’s compelled to struggle for its existence. Against the winds, rains and the scorching sun.”

Resilience2

Resilience1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What thoughts can you share on the importance of being resilient?

 

Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grief

Keep Moving Forward

Grief is not easily discussed or thought about, yet it is something we all experience. My Sunday post, The Dreaded Phone Calls, caused me to reflect on the grieving process. Twenty-three years ago I had limited experience with grief and I’m still learning about the grieving process. I’ve done some research and realize it’s helpful to know what you’re facing and to know you’re not alone. For that reason I’d like to share what I have learned through my experience and research.

1) Grief is a normal part of life. If you love, it is inevitable and it doesn’t take the death of a loved one for it to come. It can appear with the loss of a job, relationship, and opportunities. A life altering accident or illness will cause one or possibly all three, which compounds the grief.

2) The pain is intense. I was not prepared for the emotional pain level I felt. It far out-weighed the physical pain of a broken collarbone and bruised body. Don’t be surprised when emotional pain manifests itself more severe than any physical pain you have experienced.

3) It takes time to heal. My world as I knew it ended, but life does go on, slowly. A new normal does come. You may be okay one minute, one hour or one day and not the next. Learn to accept what your heart and mind are feeling and work through it. Each of us grieves differently. Some situations and circumstances take longer than others. Be patient with yourself and others.

4) It’s okay to cry. No apology is necessary and you should do it as often as you need without feeling weak or embarrassed. But it’s okay to laugh, too. Don’t feel guilty for feeling positive emotions even when dealing with a loss.

5) Take care of yourself. Do healthy things you love even if you don’t feel like it. Eat healthy and take time to exercise. You may feel like you’re just going through the paces of life. Remember, you are still living and need to take care of yourself.

6) Don’t shut people out. It may appear by doing so you will save yourself from more pain and the self-pride of doing it alone. Most people want to be strong and do things on their own. However, cutting yourself off from relationships or refusing someone’s help can hurt you and others. It’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to need people. Tell friends and family specifically what you need. They will probably thank you for doing so.

7) Grief is a mixture of emotions. I felt despair, numbness, emptiness, guilt, anger, confusion and sadness. These emotions materialized at different times and in different ways. I didn’t like it or want it, but there was no going around it. The only way to get through it is head on.

8) Don’t hide from the pain. If you do, it will fester and grow and consume you. It’s tempting to rationalize, if I don’t think about it, it’ll just go away. While I do believe being busy helps—it’s not an escape from grief. Some people use hobbies, work, relationships or even liquor, sex, drugs, in hopes it will take the pain away. If you are using anything to try to numb the pain, it will make things worse in the long run. Seek help if you’re dealing with the sorrow in unhealthy ways.

9) No one will respond perfectly to your grief. People, even people you love, will let you down. Possibly they are too full with their own grief. Friends you thought would be there won’t be there and people you hardly know will reach out. Be prepared to give others grace. Be prepared to work through hurt and forgiveness at others’ reactions.

10) God will be there for you. Prayer is the gateway of communication with Him. He understands your emotions better than anyone. Your prayers may not be answered the way you want them to be, but without a doubt, He is near to the brokenhearted.

11) You will ask “Why?” If you’re like me, you’ll ask it many times and you may never get an answer. What helps is asking, “How? How can I change and grow from this, how can I become better, how can I embrace others?”

12) Grief changes you. Life will not be normal and routines may need to be different. Try to keep as much structure as possible in your life and minimize the amount of change. Grieving takes most, if not all, of your strength. Do not worry if you don’t have as much energy as you did before your loss. Don’t feel guilty about doing less. Realize anniversaries, holidays, birthdays, places, objects and people may all trigger memories surrounding your loss. Be prepared for a gush of grief during these times. The process of grieving makes a person change who they are emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. It is okay to change. Embrace the change rather than fight it.

What things have you learned about grief that you wish you’d known before your loss?

Resources:

“What To Know About Grief” by Kelly Baltzell M.A. & Karin Baltzell Ph.D                                “15 Things I Wish I’d Known About Grief” by Teryn O’Brien

 

Let Go of the Things You Can’t Control

Let Go1

A few weeks ago I got a call from my daughter, Katie. “Hi Mom, Eldin and I are in the neighborhood. Can we stop by for a few minutes?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Just thought we’d return the book we borrowed.”

“Sounds good. I’ll look forward to seeing you soon.”

When they arrived she handed me the book and said they had some bad news and some good news. This news was the real reason for their visit.

I suggested we all sit down. Katie hesitated, then took a deep breath and looked at Eldin. He softly said, “You can do it.” She took another deep breath and announced they had just come from the doctor’s office and she had thyroid cancer.

In total shock a hundred thoughts darted quickly in my head: How could this happen to my daughter? How could I have had no warning? Why didn’t she tell me she wasn’t well? Am I so caught up in Mark’s health issues I don’t notice my own child’s health? Was she afraid to tell me because of Mark’s health? I want to be the kind of mother my kids can come to and count on. I thought we shared important things. We used to be close or at least in my mind. What have I done for her to keep such important information from me? Why wasn’t I there for her during the testing? The horrible thoughts kept darting in my brain and in my heart. I tried to fight the tears, I wanted to be strong for her, but they welled up anyway.

Katie said, “The good news is the doctor said if you’re going to have cancer, this is the best kind of cancer to have. It has a 95% cure rate.”

I thought of my dear friend, Michelle, who had part of her thyroid removed and I knew she lived a healthy life. But the tears kept coming, not just because of the diagnosis, but also because my daughter hadn’t turned to me for comfort or strength. I felt like a failure as a mother.

Katie said the testing just started a couple of weeks prior just as a precaution. She really didn’t think anything would become of it. She hadn’t been feeling pain. The only symptom she had been experiencing was fatigue. She was surprised when her doctor discovered the lumps in her neck.

I’m realizing once you’re a mother, you are always a mother. The feeling of wanting to make it all better never goes away. For an unreasonable moment I resented my son-in-law for taking away my daughter at the young age of nineteen. I wasn’t ready to let her go then and even now that she’s been married nearly eleven years—I still struggle with letting her go.

As my children age, I become less needed. Their lives are busy and filled with opportunity. I’ve heard my own mother warn about this cycle and know she struggled with it too, so at least I know I’m not alone.

When our children are young it’s physically draining meeting all their needs. As they get older and don’t need you it becomes emotionally hard. Letting go is a difficult thing to do and it starts when they become teenagers, struggling for independence. It wasn’t easy then and now that they’ve gained their independence, it’s still hard at times. My guess is it will never be easy.

Letting go

When you love someone it’s just hard to let go. I raised my children to be independent and productive adults, and they learned it well. I should be grateful. I am proud of them, and as hard as it is to let go, it’s rewarding to watch them fly independently!