Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Memoirs of a Survivor

Dear Jan,

I don't know if anyone other than me reads this blog anymore. The first intention was to keep everyone informed about your status right after the aneurysm. That was many months ago, when your life was a question in our hearts. Then as the days passed, people wanted to follow your progress, so I kept writing this blog. At some point, when I realized that you would not remember many of the events that followed, I decided to write these notes addressed to you so you would have a memory in the future of the months, the struggles, the hopes and the steps you have taken so far. One day, I hope you will read these lines and you will be grateful to be a survivor of an aneurysm.

Much has been written, much has been left out. The blog wanted to reflect on the complexity of life made more complex with a near-death event. Some days I just can’t write because of the pain to see you struggling with a lazy right side and the broken words. I look up and I am tempted to ask why? Then, in silence I wait for the comfort promised by our Friend. Other times, I feel hopeful when you show progress, then I realize how little are the little things that can make us happy. We learn, we pray, we argue, we become impatient, we forgive, and we continue loving each other in this dark back alley we have been walking. But, there is light, there is hope, there is song, and above all, there is peace and the certainty that somehow this is leading us to be closer to the Master.

One day, when you read these lines, you will read the memories of our joint path in this inexplicable living parable that we have been asked to write. True, they are written only by one of us, I wonder what they would be like if you were writing them, probably more frank and brutally honest. But I am going on limb here. I have never before exposed my private thoughts and pain as I have done here. So, I believe that even if this is my take on this story, it is as honest as a thickheaded, insensitive, one-dimensional, self-centered, one-track-mind man can do.


Monday, September 25, 2006

Quiet time

Dear Jan:

Although you have quite a bit of time surrounded by silence, the time you are taking this weekend to visit your sister is a time for quiet of a different kind. With five kids around, her house is not quiet, however, there is a certain tranquility, a certain ease and peace that you can feel as soon as we entered the door. It could be the freedom to be yourself or the open arms policy they have, I don't know for sure, but one thing is for certain: you and your sister do have a profound bond that requires little communication to be activated.

It was Louise's 29th (and holding) b'day. Warm, happy, hearthy. They love hosting and the guests love the food and the attentions. Your sister was radiant and beautiful, happy to be surrounded by the family. I think this is the first time I didn't feel like an outsider. We talked about moves and family plans. It is clear we are the "sandwich" generation, looking after Mom's business and looking after the next generation. How strange! It feels like it was only a few years back when I used to go to my grandma's home every Sunday to meet with the whole living in exile in this country, your family has become my definition of family.

You are so loved and very much a part of the Walton clan. I am glad to have been adopted by all of them. I wonder what role they play in your healing... everything is connected to an emotional base, and this is one of the strongest basis you have.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Broken words

Dear Jan,

Under normal circumstances a relationship between a man and a woman is difficult to say the least. As a man I have been told by women that I am not a good listener, that I am selfish, that I am insensitive, that I don't keep my word, that I don't understand what she wants at any given time and that if I understand, I pretend I didn't, that I don't help, that I don't really listen, that I am disconnected from my feelings, that I am a user, and so forth. There is some truth in all of this, but there is a great deal of misunderstanding as well.

Do you remember when we were married only for a couple of months under what everyone could call "normal circumstances"? We had decided that to ensure that we would not fall into the incommunication nightmares many couples experience; we were going to read together the book Secrets to Lasting Love, by G. Smalley and put into practice some of the basic rules of conversation suggested in the book. Well, we didn't quite make it past the fourth chapter before your aneurysm, but I did learn some valuable principles that kept me going during that time. We were learning the basis for our journey into a deeper, more intimate communication that would allow us to really understand each other and provide a strong foundation for our life as a couple. Eight months later and one year after our wedding I realize that some of those principles were useful under normal circumstances, however, our circumstances are all but normal.

Lately the Aphasia you are struggling with has found a way to get under our skins, and the level of frustration has risen. Not only you can't communicate your ideas fast and clear as they come to your mind, but also your feelings seem to come out scrambled and in pieces. Your sensitivity is heightened to the modulation of voice, to volume, to expressions; when fatigue comes to you, it also affects language and communicatoin, and at times, I find myself in the dog house without really knowing what happened, what did I do to cause your frustration or sadness. It feels like the normal complications in the communication within a couple are multiplied dozens of times. And so, feeling guilty, frustrated, and missunderstood, I question if I really learned anything from our early readings; if I am listening to the facts and beyond, to your feelings and needs. The conflict seems to come faster than it should and without any warning.

Nonetheless, every time I am surprised at the resilience of the love in both of us that started this relationship, and at that misterious healing that occurs when we set our concerns and expectations aside and really hear each other's feelings and needs. Your convalescence imposes more understanding from my part. I was told early at the hospital not to take attacks or rejection from you as something personal, but to see it as the "injury" talking its pain out. At first, it was very difficult to do this, but I would pick the shattered pieces of my sensitive self off the pavement and I would come back with a fresh mind and no grudges. I learned to hear you beyond the words; to hear your needs and your feelings. This was sufficient ground upon which I could stand and from which I could embrace you again and again.

I still use the same approach, but it doesn't work always. Sometimes we both end up crushed by the broken words from your Aphasia and the broken words from my emotional incompetence.

We continue loving each other because we both believe in the divine source and nature of any kind of love and we both share a sense of call to love eah other. It is perhaps the intentionality of our love, the determination beyond-reason to extend each other grace time and time again what keeps us together more than anything else. Broken words can only break communication and broken communication breaks relationships. Some friends have told me that when they were broken and in need their partners left them. I suppose they expected that I would do the same. But here I am, still at your side and inexplicably loving you each day more.

Thank you Jan for helping me to patch my broken emotions as I help you patch your words.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Dear Jan:

It's been a while since the last blog. No excuses, because we have spent a lot of time together in the past two weeks. I cannot say that life with you boring or dull, on the contrary, since I met you, I receive everyday with expectation and the certainty that you will not let me go empty-handed without some form of adventure or excitement for the day.

One major event this week was that on September 17, we celebrated the first anniversay of our wedding! Steve and Sue took us to the Old Mill, a beautiful restaurant in the west. It's hard to believe that one year has passed. My perception of time feels off because of the time spent in the hospital. But here we are! Only one year and with so much learned. I reafffirm in my heart that you are the best blessing in my life. I celebrate your character that does not give up in front of adversity. I embrace your love for life and for me. I dance of joy for the strength of your faith which is the way you love your Master, I delight in the love of our families and friends. One year with you has taught me so much about life and death, pain and hope, and above all about the power of love. I look forward to the future knowing that you will be by my side, always ready to fill my days with adventure and life.

I love you Jan. I am glad you said yes a year ago.


Friday, September 08, 2006

1st week of school

Dear Jan:

You did not have to rush Tuesday morning to the first day of classes; in fact, you slept in peacefully to let your healing continue. However, I noticed your glances and sensed some nostalgia when we walked past the high shool in the neighbourhood. Heavy sights, happy memories of days past when you looked forward to this day, I don't know what kind of struggle went on in your mind, but the sense of loss was obvious in your eyes. Your desire has not diminish in the least, this year you can't teach because you still can't read much, you can't teach or be able to control or even be in a classroom with more than 3 or 4 people at a time. Your energy lasts you 4

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Love and Rehab

Dear Jan,

Of the more than 16,000 days of your life the last 200 days have been without a doubt the most challenging. Some have been unbearable, full of pain; others have been lonely and disorienting, your brain trying to define your self and those around you; still others have been full of hope and joy, basking in the love of those who felt loved by you in the past and love you in return. Your resistance has been tested, your character observed, your faith and your capacity to trust put to the ultimate test. And you have beat the odds, the pain, the uncertainty, the loneliness and have challenged the prognosis that talked of things that you would not do and functions you had lost that now persistently you want to prove you can rebuild. At times it feels like you trained all your life to run this race, and that you have set your mind to win, that the race is about something higher than just recovering functions, that it reaches deeper and is changing your thinking, your believing and your doing. You have come a long way, you moved from the emergency operating room to critical care to intensive care to a general ward, then transferred to a rehabilitation hospital from which you were sent home last June and where you are still receive out-patient re-hab therapies. The trip has not been pleasant, the lack of a map makes it uncertain, but the abundance of love from relatives, church-friends, colleagues and even your boss has made it more bearable. In 200 days you have seen a life of an unknown quality; you have amazed everyone with your determination and continue to fight the grey of everyday life with a smile.

The days after the operation you laid unconscious, your life hanging from a thread, the medical team keeping all expectations to a minimum, because all of the blood vessels in your brain could react “angrily” to the injury, and just seize-up, kill the brain. Your body kept breathing in, breathing out, with help; the ventilator and dozens of sensors connected to monitors detected every small sign of life from your body; they told an electro-mechanical story of your fight for life. Then, one day you opened your eyes. I remember the excitement I felt when slowly you scanned your surroundings with your eyes, then found my face and looked straight into my eyes. For a few seconds you stopped all movement, like trying to find in your memory who was this person and when you had found me your lips hinted a smile. Slowly you came back from the unknown ocean where you had been. From there on, I knew you were going to live.

These days are truly full of mystery, full of questions larger than life. There are some questions that everyone thinks but few dare to ask them aloud. I will ask them on another day because you have already given me the answers. For now, let me remind you that you cried yesterday when I told you are deeply loved as you were, as you are and as you will become. Then, we just laid quietly side by side holding hands knowing that love has healed us and will continue to do so.


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Private pain, public praise

Dear Jan,

I was thinking this morning about how much of our lives are kept private, and how much lost potential this represents to grow as human beings for both the one keeping the pain secret and the ones who don’t get to hear about it. This thought came from the exposition of the concept that we all are part of one body, and that when one part hurts, all the parts hurt…even if the other parts are kept in the dark about the pain of this one.

Last night Monika and Wolf invited us to join them at the Sanctuary in Oakville. I’m sorry I didn’t have a camera. When we arrived you were greeted with an incredible joy and love. Moved deeply, you were sobbing and laughing at the same time as you hugged those dear friends. Somehow, they seemed to have a secret passage to your core. How tender the love extended to you also from the pastor himself. I have absolutely no doubt that you are loved beyond measure and that this love stimulates and heal something deep inside of you. Perhaps it is the demonstration of the corollary that the pastor was talking about: we are one because that is how God designed us. The skeptic only needs to see God’s fingerprints in you and those in the Sanctuary, [and in other similar groups] the many faces of the God within moving closer each one to embrace with this divine love the other. This is why it seemed paradoxical the fact that we still keep much of our pain private, when the greatly needed relief and healing can only come by sharing the pain or its causes with those who love us they way these friends love you.

And I am trying not to suffer or to rejoice in secret because of setbacks or triumphs in your healing. In fact, this is one of the side benefits of writing this blog, to share with everyone interested enough to read it not only a cold occasional report about you, but also a slice of our journey complete with the joy, the sadness and the paradoxical nature of real life. It is true that we forfeit our privacy in these matters, but the love we gain far outweighs the loss. How much private [individualistic] do we want to be when the preacher said it so clearly: we are one in Jesus. It seems that our unhealthy emphasis on privacy often can be a thin disguise of selfishness. Either we are one or we are not. In any case, I am glad that we share our private pain with those who care for you, these can only generate public praise for the Master who makes us one, and for your many faithful and generous friends.

You were so radiant after the meeting in that movie theater where this soul-and heart-family meets. You were so happy to go to Wolf and Monika’s place for brunch. The joy overflowing all over your face, the intense participation in the conversation after tea, the sheer freedom you felt basking in their love made my day. We even forgot you have Aphasia…


Friday, September 01, 2006


Remember to read the blog from August 30 about the Benefit Dance.

Dear Jan,

You can talk at so many levels of conversation and use such a ample range of concepts that I often forget that you are struggling with Aphasia. The other night LL came for dinner and to warch a movie with us. You were so pleased and relaxed. You helped set up the table and explain the food in a very complete way. Then we watched an insightful movie about the need to find in yourself the drive to excel in life. LL commented after the movie that we are incomplete by design so we can go back to the designer to continue the life-long process of becoming more complete. You were so enthusiastic with your comments that not even the language breakdowns could stop you from participating. I enjoy so much watching you interact with your visiting friends. I wished that this was the tone of all of our interactions.

Nevertheless, the next morning at breakfast I experienced the exact opposite when I served some yogurt whitout asking first if you wanted some. You pushed the container and said 'NO, NO, NO! I always have told you so' in a loud voice. I replied impatiently: 'at least you could be more polite and say 'no, thanks' . What followed was a sample of how each of us brought our own incompleteness to the relationship and could have wrecked the whole day if we didn't become conscious of the needs of the other before reacting. We pushed each other's buttons and the trip to the hospital was made in complete silence.

I know that part of the healing is the magnification of emotions. I know that it is not your heart but a broken brain that is talking. I know I don't need to personalize your reactions; instead I need to reground myself and read in between the lines. I know. I know... but tiredness or frustration or feeling not valued in my efforts to feed you just hit me the wrong way.

And so the incompleteness became very apparent. You have an excuse. I don't.

If it wasn't for the love and the grace that we extend to each other after a "cooling time", I don't know how else we would be able to survive.

I suspect that frustration is part of living with others. Only the hermits don't have someone else to frustrate or be ticked-off and then have the chance to forgive and love them back again. We both experience our share of frustration these days. I don't know if it will get better with time, because even the Master felt frustrated and sad with those who rejected his message. Whwat we can learn is more patience with each other.

Thank you Jan for being so aware of your part and mine and for being open to take the next step together before sending me to fly a kite.

Yes, there is still a lot to complete in your rehabilitation, and also a lot to complete in my growth as a person. On a daily basis, we both receive that extra portion of patience we need and more...