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Nearing the End of 2009

Well, Christmas has come and gone and we’re staring down the end of another year. I have mixed emotions about the New Year, for some reason. I think I’ve been sort of in a reflective mood lately – they come and go from time to time. It’s just so very hard to believe that it has been over 4 years…FOUR YEARS since our lives took this unexpected turn. Incredible. Impossible. Just so hard to believe. Matt had just turned 30…I was still in my 20’s…now we’re both approaching our MID thirties. Incredible. Impossible. And yet, here we are. Sometimes, like Christmas morning when we woke up to ice on top of snow and I was forced to dig us out on my own, I find myself completely consumed with self pity, sadness, and the overwhelming feeling of unimaginable loss. I hate to admit how pitiful I can be, especially to Matt. He had no idea how I struggled with the snow and ice as he showered and readied himself for the day. I pouted, whined, and fumed in the driveway…the snow blower no help against the frozen top layer. I chipped away and scooped…and chipped away some more. I stopped to pour myself a can of pop and slumped against the bumper of the Chevette in the garage. Sitting face to face with all the reminders of Matt in his former self, I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. Oh how I had taken him for granted. His strengths, his skills, his general willingness to tackle all manly projects…to swoop in and rescue me from my pitiful attempts to fix things, or handle heavy objects, or scoop ridiculous amounts of heavy, icy snow. He was my tall husband…able to reach anything, fix anything, and do anything I asked of him…even run to the store for a forgotten item. He was simply a wonderful, wonderful husband. And I completely took it all for granted. Eventually I’d wipe away the tears and return to the task at hand…resigned to the fact that he couldn’t help me now. I had to be strong – capable. I could do it…because I had to.

The terrible weather changed our plans and we knew we’d be home alone on Christmas, and neither of us tried to let that bother us, knowing we’d see our families on other days. As I took another break, halfway through the driveway clearing, Matt’s family called…on speakerphone to wish us a Merry Christmas. They were all snowed in together in Boone. I was relieved to hear their voices – to be reminded that we do have loving people all around us, all the time. I was so caught up in my own little funk, feeling alone and helpless…the phone call definitely helped ease my crumpled spirit. After they hung up I broke down in front of Matt, something I really hate to do. I never used to be this tough. Ask anyone. This whole experience has changed me, in ways I never expected. I’m sure sometimes I seem gruff, insensitive…with my ‘suck it up’ type attitude or answer to anyone else’s problems. I try to say I’m just taking after my Grandpa Lyle who was always a little cool on the exterior…though we knew how soft he was inside. But I’m not fooling myself…I put on the front sometimes to protect myself…and mostly to shield Matt from my moments of insecurity, grief, and self-wallow. I know how he yearns to be able to do the things he once could. I know how he hates that I have to be the one out there in the cold and wind. I know that he wishes he could swoop in and take care of me for a change…and I fear that in my own moments of weakness I will drag him down with me. And I would hate myself for doing that to him. So I try to focus on the positive. Remind myself and him of how much we still have to be thankful for – because truly we do. And it helps…helps to ease the ache in my heart.
In the past I know I’ve gotten angry at other people who would confide in me how much they felt they’d lost when Matt suffered his stroke. Their feelings of loss only fueled my desire to shield Matt from ever hearing them. How could anyone not see how much HE had lost? Sometimes it must weigh on him like nothing we can ever imagine. I sometimes can’t catch my breath when I think of how much I miss the way things used to be. How much worse can it be for him? I refused to let myself really feel my own loss…only in small increments…never letting it fully take hold of me. I pushed it away. But surely now, I must accept that we have all lost something in this situation. I’ve been so fiercely guarded of Matt’s feelings; I know I’ve neglected others…friends…family…you who read this and know Matt. For the loss you feel is tremendous, I’m sure. He’s not the same brother who could fix your car; the same son who would wrestle on the living room floor with you; the same friend you would drive around with and laugh and get into trouble with; the same uncle who would sweep your child up into his arms and lift her to the sky as she squealed and giggled, lowering her close for kisses and snuggles; not the same guy who would shoot the breeze all day long. He is not the same to anyone. I know this. And I’m sorry if I never let you grieve with me. I just didn’t think I could bear it. I want to see him now and celebrate all the things that are the same; his sense of humor, his easy going attitude, his caring eyes, his love for each and every one of you. I know he doesn’t show it the same way – but trust me when I say that he does. I wonder if he holds himself back for the same reasons I did…to protect himself from the floodgates of self pity and loss. I honestly don’t know. But as much as I love him, now and forever, I will always mourn the loss of what he once was. And as much as my actions have probably proved otherwise, I understand that everyone will mourn in their own ways. Our challenge is to not let the grief consume us. To not let it blur our vision of what we do have. We still have Matt. He still has much to offer…like when he opened the door as I scooped the front stoop and he asked if I wanted him to get me a fresh diet coke. It seems small, and insignificant, I realize…but in that moment I was flushed with gratitude for him…to him…for helping me in whatever way he could. I accept that he will always have physical limitations, and I will have to be stronger than I want to. I think I’ve proven that it can be done. But I also must admit that I am not made of stone…and I shouldn’t expect anyone else to be either. Together, we can be strong…for each other, and for Matt.

And so I guess as we look ahead to another year together, I can’t help but feel a little mixed. I don’t anticipate any great physical breakthroughs, like I once hoped for. I’ve stopped writing about treatments and appointments…and our blog has morphed yet again…into mostly random comings and goings. Our life has settled down…and this is the way it is. We’ll always be hopeful that someday something will spark a change and bring Matt some more healing, but at the same time, we accept the hand we’ve been dealt. Not always willing. Not always with a smile and a gracious heart. Often times in frustration and tears. But we cling to each other…and our faith to guide us. As much as we hate that this had to happen…we can’t deny the blessings that have sprung from it. We are both better for having gone through it…though given the chance I know we’d give it all back for a chance to live the life we once had.

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