The Giving Tree Effect

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I always imagined becoming a writer. From an early age, I was captivated by storytellers; their ability to weave a story through my consciousness, connecting my thoughts to theirs. It was pure magic. And I’ll admit, becoming a creative God over the land of words had its appeal.

But I never imagined writing a children’s book about brain injury.

It wasn’t exactly a mainstream topic. It would never make me rich or famous, or make its mark as a bed time favorite, but still I wrote it. There was a driving force pushing me forward, telling me to “keep going.”
Though now I have my doubts.

When I first became a mother, I remember reading the The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein to my son. It was a simply illustrated book about a boy and a tree. What could go wrong? Well, if you’ve ever read The Giving Tree you know that the tree loves the boy so much that she gives him everything until she is nothing more than a stump. While I wanted to love the book, at the end, I sat silent.

I didn’t know what to say. It was sad and touching; uncomfortable and real. I honestly hated the little boy for taking so much, and yet the tree and her boy ended up together in the end, both old and dying. In a way, it was a happy ending.

This sort of “Giving Tree” reaction is also occurring about my book, Daddy’s Different: A look at Brain Injury through a Child’s eyes. I knew upon writing it that it wasn’t going to be the lyrical styling’s of Dr. Seuss, leaving readers dancing off in rhyme. It’s about Brain Injury after all. Not just brain injury but the undeniable damage that occurs between a father and son’s relationship as a result. It is both sad and real.

But as a writer, seeing the silence of my readers after they finish that final page is, I’ll admit, insulting.

Does my book suck?

Did I miss the mark?

What reaction was I expecting?

I honestly don’t think I was expecting a reaction. I wrote the book for my sons who were having an impossible time adjusting to their father’s brain injury. But I’m a writer and I created something. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to know what readers thought of my book. It’s like having a baby and people saying nothing when they finally look at him. It makes you wonder.

My husband says it stuns people into silence. It’s an uncomfortable topic that most people don’t understand until they read my book.

He says for a writer, that’s a happy ending.

A “Giving Tree” sort of ending.

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The Silver Lining

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After countless words on the negative effects of brain injury, I’m going to say something surprising.

A brain injury isn’t all bad.

As life altering as it is, in some ways it made our lives better.

We used to take life for granted. Every vacation, every holiday, every goodbye; we lived our lives as if promised tomorrow. And we lived it in a hurry.

“Can’t talk right now, I’m busy.”

“Sorry we missed your birthday, maybe next year.”

“I’ll see Grandpa at Christmas. That’s only four months away.”

And so on and so on. We didn’t have time, but we had money and we were happy. Weren’t we?

But on June 6th, 2008, the accident stopped us in our tracks.

All of a sudden those bills we worked so hard to pay, that house I just had to keep clean, none of it mattered. Days of the week blended together in a cocktail of uncertainty. And that family we never had time for? They sat beside us in the hospital.

Five years later and they’re still sitting beside us.

While we wanted to race through the recovery, to get back on track with our sprint through life, the brain injury wouldn’t let us. We had to slow down. And as the world slowed and our eyes opened, we saw we had much to learn about happiness.

The brain injury taught us to be patient; to see the reward in the small milestones.

It taught us to embrace laughter, for there was a time when it forever eluded us.

We learned to be humble. To truly listen to the stories of others and not just wait for our time to speak. Everyone has something of value to share and our story, our struggles are no more great than anyone else’s. It’s all relative.

As cheesy as it sounds, we learned through this experience to be grateful for our life. We no longer have the money of our past, or take the vacations others envy, but we are grateful. Our house is warm, our children are healthy and our lives are simple.

After a chaotic five years of riding the brain injury storm, we embrace simple.

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Dancing through Hell

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We started out best friends.

Dancing that way for a year, we laughed at life, fought about the small things and learned to push buttons. We drew lines early, exposing our hearts and our quirks. We perfected our own little dance and while it wasn’t perfect, it was ours.

We married ten years ago.

The dance changed with a new house, new baby, new jobs. He’d step one way, I’d step another. Our dance became a give and take of stress and happiness, learning new ways to manage each other in our new roles.

He died five years ago.

While his body remained, all those steps we learned together, all those years dancing, gone. When he returned home, it was clear his brain injury had not only changed the steps, but the music too. Years of perfecting a dance together erased in a blink.

Living with him now is like dancing through a minefield. Every step can blast off another piece of my heart, of my soul until eventually there will be nothing left of me. I already fear that day has come as I often stare distantly at my own reflection, wondering where my dreams went.

I worry most for my boys; living in this war zone of recovery. Each day is different, each day the steps change.

This impossible dance of brain injury requires us to stay on our toes, to know when to move and when to be still. We know only to talk to him one at a time as a multiple conversation can send his brain into overload. We never interrupt him for fear his train of thought will be lost. We know to give him space when the door is closed, for his brain is tired and he needs to sleep. We tip toe alongside him now. We know how to survive.

Never drop a fork on the floor.

Don’t have the music up too loud.

Don’t watch movies with multiple/confusing plot lines.

Keep the stimulation down.

I have danced with this new man for five years now. Through ever changing moods and needs, I have perfected the art of caregiving and patience.

Sometimes when I’m alone though, I can still hear the music of our past. I feel the beat swaying in my heart and…
I miss it.

I miss him.

I miss us.

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Confidence Found

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Brain injury is a silent devil; a thief in the night stealing away the characteristics of a person, leaving them isolated and bare. For my husband, brain injury stole his self-confidence.

My husband was a man’s man. He was rugged and strong and confident. His confidence first drew me to him. With him I always felt safe and secure.

He used to fight forest fires. That was his thing, taking on fires so much bigger than him.
His confidence was the first thing to go.

Now he worries a lot.

Is the world laughing at him?

Do they think he’s stupid?

Will he understand this movie? This book? This conversation?

For five years now he has lived at the mercy of his own brain.

Will it fail him?

Will it cooperate?

Will he succeed?

His confidence to walk with his head held high, knowing without a doubt who he is…is gone.

Many of us don’t realize our confidence is there, until it’s not.

He can’t trust his own brain anymore. It fails him on the easiest of tasks, the most mundane skills in life, that even the simple things take concentration. Watching a movie with a difficult plot line (if he can even stay awake), reading more than one page of a book, having a conversation in a crowded room.

He is left to live a sort of half-life.

However, months ago he proved that when it matters most, his brain still works.

While having a garage sale on June seventh, we heard a loud scream coming from the backyard. We live in a neighborhood full of children including our own, so we had grown immune to the screams that serenaded the street. However, this scream was different.

It was desperate, terrified…chilling.

I ran to our backyard not knowing what I would find, when something caught the corner of my eye. I looked up. There, over our fence to our neighbor’s yard I saw our four year old neighbor, Bryn, hanging head first from her second story window. I screamed.

My husband came running at the sound of my voice and saw her hanging there, her face red with fear.

So there we were my husband and I, watching a four year old losing her battle with gravity and the only thing standing between us and her was a six foot high fence. I tried to get over the fence, but couldn’t. My flip flops kept slipping on the smooth slats of the wood. I looked to my husband.

This is when, on a typical post-injury day, his brain would have shut down. Instead, he gripped the top of the fence and hurled himself over in one bound, breaking the board along the way. He raced to the window, looking up at Bryn, who stared back down at him with one tiny hand amazingly still clutching the window sill. Both her legs were already out as she hung there in a sort of head stand toward the ground.

My husband said, “Let go and I’ll catch you, I promise.”

Bryn screamed, “NO!”

But seconds later, she had no choice. Her tiny fingers gave way and her body plummeted head first toward the hard ground. My husband reached out his arms, hoping to catch her.

And he did.

He bent down to soften the fall, his knuckles grazing the ground, but she was there, safe in his arms.

I ran around to the front door to alert her mother who had been in the shower. When my husband rounded the corner, he held a crying four year old in his arms with a relieved smile on his face. And for a brief moment, I saw a glimmer of what had been lost so many years ago.

I saw his confidence shining through him.

So much of my husband’s days now consist of the inner battle between him and his brain injury. Of trying to be who he used to be, and who he is forced to be now.

But when the moment counted, when he truly needed his brain the most, it worked.

He said “no” to the local news station for fear of his brain failing him in the interview, but the local newspaper did finally get a story out of him.

There was no mention of his brain injury in the article. He said he didn’t think it needed to be a part of the story.

I disagree.

To read the article, click here.

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The Day that Changed Everything…

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JUNE 6th

Today is the 5th Anniversary of my husband’s injury.

Five years…

Has it really been five years?

Has it only been five years?

Going back to that first day, I am amazed at how much I remember. It’s as if that day is forever frozen in my mind, my memory a camera capturing every detail. Our minds tend to do that though, absorb the significance of a tragedy. I remember the time on the clock when I got that first call, the clothes I put on to go to the hospital, the first site of him hooked to the machines. I remember every word spoken, every glance, every smell. That day stands out like a light house in a storm of mundane moments.

One beautifully vivid moment of that day was going down to the first floor and holding my newborn baby niece, Ry.

That’s right…on the very same day of JUNE 6th, in the very same hospital, my niece was born. I remember holding her, this perfect being emerging amidst the chaos, and crying.

She had come into this world at the exact same time my husband was trying to leave it.

Today is Ry’s 5th birthday. Her growth over the years, her changes, her strides have marked the passing of that day which held her and my husband so delicately. There has always been this invisible bond between the two of them, between us. This kiss of something greater…

That’s what the children in our lives do for us. They remind us that life really does go on. In that first year after the injury, we saw K attend his first day of kindergarten, play in his first soccer game and lose his first tooth. We watched T take his first steps, say his first words, and grow his first tooth. The wonders of life found them even when we weren’t looking, even when our eyes were fixed on brain injury. I used to fear my husband wouldn’t be there for any of it. And truthfully, he admits that first year of milestones is a blur.

The day of JUNE 6th has become the dividing point between one life and the next. It is the day we compare what was to what is, what used to be to what will never be. Every memory before that day has the letters “b.a.” attached to it; before accident.

As I sift through pictures of our family “b.a.” it feels like another life. A part of me wishes I could speak to those people in the photos and warn them, or at least remind them to enjoy every moment together because JUNE 6th is coming.

I don’t really know how I feel about this anniversary. In one way I am grateful for that day to be so far behind us, yet in another way I am realistic knowing that it will always be a part of us.

But I imagine we all have a JUNE 6th; a day that stands out in our minds as ‘the day that changed everything.’

Dadda and K on a hike  (1 month b.a.)

Dadda and K on a hike (1 month b.a.)

Dadda holding T  (3 months b.a.)

Dadda holding T (3 months b.a.)

Dadda and K              (1 month after accident)

Dadda and K (1 month after accident)

Dadda with K and T    (5 months after the accident)

Dadda with K and T (5 months after the accident)

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Local Newspaper Spotlights My New Book!

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The news is abuzz with the release of my children’s book, Daddy’s Different: A look at Brain Injury Through a Child’s Eyes.

Printed today, May 10th in the Columbian Newspaper:

“In the years following her husband’s car accident, Ginille Forest had to learn what she calls “the language of traumatic brain injury.”
But mere words didn’t seem adequate to explain his changed personality to the couple’s two small children, who were an infant and a 5 year old at the time of the 2008 crash, she said.
“I had a hard time explaining it to my 5-year-old when I didn’t even understand it,” said the 32-year-old from Battle Ground. “It’s been a long road, but I now consider myself a brain injury native.”
One issue among the many she faced was that there were no resources available to explain to her children what was happening.
There were books by people who had suffered brain injuries, and books about kids with brain injuries, but there was nothing out there to help explain to children how a parent’s demeanor would change after such an event.
So she decided to use her own experience from the past five years to remedy that situation…”

To read the complete article, please go here.

If you are interested in buying the book yourself or for a loved one, please click on the links below.

www.amazon.com

www.barnesandnoble.com

You can also type in any search engine the key words “Daddy’s Different brain injury” and it should lead you to the book as well as this blog.

Thanks again for following our story and for your overwhelming support!

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The Rumors are TRUE!!!

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I can’t believe it!

I can’t believe it!

I can’t believe it!

It’s here…it’s FINALLY here! My book, Daddy’s Different: A look at Brain Injury through a child’s eyes is available for purchase.

I must say, as a writer, it’s pretty amazing to see your creation displayed on the big book seller sites. It really doesn’t get better than that. Plus, to be able to say that we took the big box of lemons that is brain injury and turned it into beautiful lemonade is a mighty big victory.

So go ahead and pick up a copy.

Available now on:

www.amazon.com and www.barnesandnoble.com

Remember, while this is a children’s book, it’s not just for children. This is a book for anyone struggling to understand the life altering effects of a brain injury. It is a story that aims to simplify a complicated subject, in hopes of bridging the disconnect that often occurs with outsiders.

A special “look inside” feature will be added sometime this week for those who want a sneak peek before you buy.

Thanks to everyone for all your support and encouragement. Keep checking back for more updates on the book as well as new posts on brain injury, which are coming soon.

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