How do you measure strength?

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STRENGTH.

There is power in that word, but without much of a definition. It’s subjective to interpretation, isn’t it?

How do you measure strength?

It’s an interesting concept…

How do others define it?

Physical strength may be among the easiest to measure, but even that is not black and white.

We’ve all said it, or at least probably most of us, at some point in our lives or another, haven’t we?

“I’m strong!”

Or perhaps we thought it.

Or perhaps you viewed another and deemed them strong.

Why?

What is it about them that makes you see strength?

What is it about yourself that makes you see strength?

Can you conceptualize it? Can you define it? Can you put it into words?

I went on a quest recently to understand this.

It originated because I heard:

“You’re the strongest person I’ve ever met.”

“I hope I can be strong like you.”

“You are so strong Christine.”

I heard this when I felt anything but strong. It made me mad to hear those words in the moment. I felt expectations were on me.  Expectations I didn’t want. Expectations I didn’t know if I could fulfill.

I didn’t feel strong. I didn’t want to be strong.

I know I can hear another’s story and measure what I view as strength. I can build on this strength with them. I can harness their strength. I can help empower, encourage, and promote growth.

But to put that into words, is tough.

Recently I started asking people: “How do you measure strength?”

These are some of the responses I received:

“…when life deals you the shittiest of hands and you’re still able to play the game.”

“…the ability to know what battles are worth fighting for. Sometimes it means fighting for what you want, while other times it means being strong enough to let something go.”

“…the strongest thing I ever did was forgive my sisters for what they did to me…they nearly ruined me…in fact they did ruin me. And I forgave them when they never asked for it…[that] was strength.”

“I think that strength is the ability to see the beauty in life regardless of the mountains we are climbing. I also believe that strength comes from the ability to view one’s own struggles in perspective of the struggles of others.”

“I think strength is being able to fight your battles, but knowing when to call for backup.”

“I would argue that strength is being able to view the mess of your own life in terms of feeling fortunate, rather than self-loathing.”

“Strength is the ability to be grateful when the mountain gets steep and we aren’t sure if we can make it over.”

“…knowing you’re going to lose the fight, but still standing up to your opponent and giving it your all.”

“…never giving up.”

“Strength is watching someone else do something, handle something, go through something, that you don’t know if you could do.”

“Genuineness.  If someone is honest and truthful that tells me they have a lot of strength because it takes strength to be vulnerable. I measure strength for one’s ability to be open and honest. Complete genuineness and vulnerability.”

“If people are able to work through tough times, do what needs to be done…”

“People that have endured hardships in their life and were able to get through it, making them a better person…going through bullshit and coming out of it with a positive outlook intact.”

Powerful isn’t it?

There are themes within.

Perseverance.

Endurance.

Forgiveness.

Wisdom.

Gratefulness.

Vulnerability.

What do you see?

I am hesitant to call myself strong. I know this. Seems the minute I do, life asks, “Oh yeah? What about now Christine?”

Life has a way of questioning our definition of strength. Or perhaps redefining or even refining our definition…

I’m still working through my own definition. I know for me, it is many of the things that others mention, but it is more. Truthfully, I think it grows with life experience, through hardship, through joys, through life….

To be continued…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A piece of my heart got out of the car and told me goodbye at 4:54…

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The time was 4:54 as I backed out of the driveway. I will never forget the moments and days leading up to the time.

A piece of my heart got out of the car and told me goodbye at 4:54.

About a half an hour earlier, she had finished packing up the car. She had one suitcase and a duffel bag. She had multiple boxes that were to be shipped out later. She came and told me she was ready to go. As I got into the car, she said, “Mom, don’t cry” I never responded. I couldn’t.

As I pulled in the driveway where she wanted me to drop her off, I put the car in park and pulled out the plastic baggy I had stashed in my purse while she was loading the car.  I had kept that baggy in my jewelry box for many years. It contained the diamond earrings from her great-grandmother who had passed away many years ago. I leaned over and put them in her ears one by one, telling her always to check the backs to make sure they are tight, not to take them out unless she gets a second hole and move them there, and never, ever sell or lose them.

I then handed her $100 and said, “If you ever get into a bind, you call me.”

She responded, “I will call you anyways Mom”.

She reached across the seat towards me. I grabbed onto her and lost it.

This surreal moment was happening. She was leaving early in the morning on a plane out to L.A. She was flying across the country.  She was going to a place I did not agree with and staying with people I am unsure of. She was going against my wishes. She was leaving school. She was leaving everything behind her. I felt like she was walking into the lion’s den and it scared the shit out of me.

She too lost it and she cried, “Thank you Mom. Thank you for everything. I know you still believe in me and that’s the only thing that keeps me going. Just thank you Mom. I love you more than anything.”

My heart broke in a million pieces in that moment. I wanted to scream at her. I wanted to lock her up in her room. I wanted her to finish high school. I wanted my little girl back.

I did not scream at her. I held her tighter in that moment that I had her. I was the last to let go. I knew from the first day she told me what this was going to be and how it would play out.

She told me a few months ago that she was leaving home when she turned 18.

Originally, I told her over my dead body. I certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for her. But in my heart, I knew what she knew. She was going to leave and I couldn’t stop her. I had to let go. And I couldn’t burn the bridge with her, nor did I want to.

No, I absolutely do not agree with her choice in her life right now. Out of everyone, she knows this best, and she knows why. But she also knows that no matter what I will always believe in her. I will always love her. And I will always expect great things from her. I expect her to dig deep. I expect her to remember her roots and all the lessons I taught her. I expect her to make it. I expect her to ask for help if she needs it along the way.

And I also hope that she finds what she is desperately searching for. I had a million dreams for her, but perhaps those dreams were mine. I still don’t totally understand all why she needs to do this. Perhaps there is a part of her that needs to understand herself and what she’s made of. She told me she feels “stuck” here in this small town.  And honestly, there is a piece of me that understands that feeling. I too have felt that before at a time in my life.

I hope she learns herself as she needs to. I hope that God will keep his hand upon her. I hope that she will one day return, wiser, still thankful, and with growth.

I hope she receives grace along the way and can fully recognize and appreciate it.

And more than anything, I hope she gets what she needs when she needs it.

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Don’t let go Christine.”

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It was a long day at the hospital. I was alone.

It felt like the weight became mine to bear and it felt heavier when I was by myself.

I hated being alone.

He didn’t know who I was. On so many levels, it made me feel more alone.

The nurse came in to change him.

I walked out of the room and down the hall.

I needed to find a place to rest. I needed oxygen – if for only 5 minutes.

I found a little room down the hall with the words “Consult Room” on the door.

I pushed the door open and found no one in there.

Honestly, I was grateful. I wasn’t up to pleasantries. I didn’t want to talk to random strangers. My life had just flipped upside down and inside out. I was holding on by a thread.

The peacefulness of a quiet room ended within a few minutes.

Three people walked in. It was a mother, father, and their adolescent son. One of them asked me if it was okay if they came in and sat. I knew what it meant to find a place when you needed a place, despite my wanting to not share the space.

“Yeah, that’s fine. I’m just waiting here.”

The last thing I wanted to do was make small-talk. Yet, it began…

I probably initiated, though I don’t actually remember.

They asked me who I was visiting. I explained the situation. I probably went into too much detail. I usually do.

I learned that their young daughter had a tumor. The surgery went well. They removed the tumor. They found it because they noticed a large growth that kept growing on the side of her neck. They were beyond grateful it wasn’t cancer. They were taking her home in the morning.

I remember being envious of that… “taking her home in the morning”.

I had been at the hospital long enough that I knew my way around and was often helping people with directions. The ladies in the lobby that checked ID’s, no longer needed to ask who I was there to see; they knew the name and the floor.

They asked me where I was from. I told them about an hour away.

I learned that they were from my neighboring county.

We chatted for about 20 minutes, until they could go in and see their daughter. She had just gotten out of surgery.

I sat there for a few minutes in silence when they left. I thought about the journey I was on. I thought about how quickly life can flip upside down. I wondered how their lives had been changed, if at all. I thought about stories like their’s, albeit different endings. I wish I had asked them if they realized the grace they received.

I returned to see my father.

Around 9 pm, visiting hours were over. He had been sleeping most of the time I was there. I quietly slipped out and took the elevator down to the lobby.

As I stepped out of the elevator, I ran into the three individuals I had chatted with in the consult room. They had left at the same exact time and took another elevator down. We walked into the hall at the same moment.

The father told me to hang in there. The mother came up to me and gave me a hug. She also said, “Don’t let go Christine.”

Sometimes we get what we need in life, not always what we want, but often what we need…

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

You know that place where you are the daughter and making decisions for your father?

 

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My father made it through emergency neurosurgery that technically “saved his life”.  The surgery lasted about 4 ½ hours.

There have been times in my life where time seems to stand still. I can remember distinct words, smells, feelings, etc. This was one of those times.

The doctors placed him in a medically induced coma following the surgery. His body was in shock and storming. If you’ve never experienced a traumatic brain injury, you may be unfamiliar with storming. It’s basically where the brain can no longer regulate systems. Everything is off the charts – heart rate, blood pressure, etc. It’s intense to watch.

I will never forget the day I saw him cry while in the coma. I’m not sure there are words that can describe the pain and helplessness I felt that day.

After a few days, they reduced the sedation. His body wasn’t ready. He slipped into a coma on his own. On the 8th day, he opened his eyes.

I updated his friends and our family.

What I neglected to report was although his eyes opened, they didn’t align. It was in that moment that I again questioned whether I should have signed those papers for emergency surgery and instead said our goodbyes.

That moment scared me almost as much as the moment when I got the call and realized what was happening.

His right eye was looking all the way to the right – though it wasn’t “looking”.

His left eye was staring straight ahead – thought it wasn’t “staring”.

I began to wonder in that moment in the trauma ICU, if my father would remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. It was the first time I had wondered that since the accident. To be honest, I hadn’t really considered that when I signed the papers.

I had imagined many things, but a vegetative state wasn’t one of them.

On the 9th day, his pupils aligned, though he still didn’t ‘see’ us.

While all this was occurring, there were other angles.

The first night, my little sister cried herself to sleep in our father’s bed. I knew I could not leave her alone. But also, I wanted to be close to her and close to Dad.

I never went home the first 7 days. I slept in my father’s bed and stayed close by my baby sister’s side.

I later told my father that I owed him a few bottles of wine. I drank all but the Chardonnay in his house. Considering the circumstances, I don’t think he cares.

Weeks after the accident, he made out of the trauma ICU. On Christmas day, we watched him walk with assistance from nurses. He amazed us when he again repeated this the following day.

And then, he regressed. He slid back to a minimally conscious state. It was then that I realized this was bigger than anything I have ever experienced.

Without a doubt, I was not ready to say goodbye to my father on the day that he fell from the 2nd or 3rd step of a step-ladder. I signed those papers with a heavy heart and a head full of questions. But I wasn’t ready to tell him goodbye. I know this.

I also know that loss is hard.

About three weeks after the accident, I returned to my practicum site. I am a 3rd year doctoral student who happened to be almost done with the fall semester when the accident occurred, though my practicum, my clinical internship, was to keep going through the semester break. I couldn’t do it.

My supervisor asked me upon my return if I had ever experienced loss.

“I’ve had my share. In some ways, I am old before my time…”

It would’ve been easier if my father would’ve died that day. That may sound crass to many or it may be misinterpreted by those who simply don’t get it.

It would’ve been awful. It would’ve tore a piece of my heart out. But it would’ve been easier.

However, life happens. We roll with our choices. We roll with what life brings us.

And we do the best with what we have most of the time.

I’m at that place I never expected to be for at least another 20 years. You know that place where you are the daughter and making decisions for your father? Yeah, that place.

I’ve gotten the flak from some. Decisions aren’t understood. Updates aren’t appreciated because they look too “negative”. Assumptions and expectations happen.

And there are others who have given me grace. Those ones I can never repay. But some already know this. For it’s not about money or even repayment. It is simply grace…

 

© LifeasChristine, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do you want a turkey?

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Me: “What are you doing tonight?”

Dad: “Sitting by the fireplace.”

Me: “And doing what?”

Dad: “Absolutely nothing. What are you doing tonight?”

Me: “Grabbing wine and relaxing.”

Dad: “So why do you want to know what I’m doing?”

Me: “Are you alone?”

Dad: “No. Jennie will be home. Do you wanna come over?”

That was one of the last text conversations I had with my father pre-traumatic brain injury. I have scrolled through our texting conversations about a hundred times since the accident. I have reflected on many years of conversation we have had. He used to joke that I was adopted. He has always been a man of few words. He referred to me as “one that never lets anything fester”.

The week leading up to his accident, I confided in him about possible cancer in the family and an emergency appointment we had to go. He responded with, “Do you want a turkey?”, followed up with “I’m going to help your husband cut some wood”.

The day before the accident, he brought wood over to my house against me telling him not to. He was stubborn and strong-willed. He also wanted to do something, but talking about things isn’t his niche. He ‘does’ instead.

I’ve been through some experiences in my life where the person I once knew is no longer the same – figuratively and literally. It doesn’t make it any easier. You’d think it would, wouldn’t you? As if having experienced the concept of the person that was is no more, would prepare one. Make it easier somehow. Feel as though you know what to expect in some way. And yet, it doesn’t.

What it does is throw me for a loop. Every time. There is a lot of processing. An enormous amount of reflection. A search for meaning. A quest for understanding. And finally, a peace of come what may – I’ll do my best and roll with it.

I’m glad that I never let things fester. I talked to him about my feelings. I talked to him about some of his life choices that I needed to understand. I talked to him about his faith. I questioned him on things. I needed to know what he wanted when he died and I made him give me specifics. I counseled him when he was in dark places. I fussed at him when he acted out of values. I dissected his values – to myself and with him. I had lengthy talks about Christa with him. I asked questions some never asked. I always asked the questions on my heart.

I spoke in depth about my teenage years during the ‘christian school days’. I reflected to him about my parenting and the differences between him and I, as well as to the ‘whys’. I always voiced my concerns, my fears, and my love. Knowing him, he wasn’t always crazy about these conversations, but he always met me where I was.

I wish that I had more time. I suppose in some ways, I had all the important conversations with him. You know the conversations we all wish we had? Yeah I had those. I made a point in having them and he actually got pretty good at doing the same when he needed to. He called me a lot during some difficult times in his life. For a strong, stoic man that rarely made himself vulnerable, he became human throughout the years. He became vulnerable to me. He voiced his fears. He admitted his short-comings. He apologized for mistakes. He made me promise to help him in times of weakness. He became human.

He has told me numerous times throughout life, “You did good Sis”.

The playing field has filled with mines, potholes, and mountains. Not sure if I’ll hear those words from him again, or if he’ll even understand what it means. But I made a promise to him years ago and he once knew that I evaluate my values like few do. I will do what I can.

The other day, I asked him, “Do you know who I am?”

He answered, “You’re Sis”

I’m rolling…

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fight Dad! Fight!

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“How are you Christine?”

“You got about an hour?”

“(insert annoying laugh here) no, I don’t”

“Then you don’t care how I really am and you are asking how I am based on pleasantries. I know you’re a resident and you’re still learning. That’s okay. I too am learning, but in the future, don’t ever ask family members in a trauma ICU how they are if you aren’t really interested in hearing how they are!”

Yeah, I fussed at a Trauma ICU resident doctor. It wasn’t the first time I fussed at him.

He offered me papers to sign. They wanted to give my dad a PICC line. I made him go through the risks thoroughly and asked more questions than he wanted to answer. When he finished explaining the risks, I noticed he checked a box that was not for him to check.

I questioned him on this.

“Why did you check this box for me? Isn’t this my choice?”

“Well… uh.. yeah, but most people just check it and don’t really care.”

“First off, I’m not most people and you have no right to check that box. That box is for me to check and that is my decision, not yours!”

I was livid about that little check mark. I let him know this. I hope in his future career he becomes a little more aware of what is his right and what is not. I get it though, he’s still learning. I too am learning.

I let him keep that box checked, but not until I expressed all of my concerns on the matter. It was about principle.

Principles matter.

This was the same resident who told me that I need to be aware of what’s to come. He told me he wanted to prepare me for the inevitable.

“Your father will most likely have a trach for the rest of his life. He will have a feeding tube for the rest of his life. He will need to move to a skilled nursing facility and require 24-hour care for the rest of his life. His injuries are that severe. You will never have your father back”

I resisted the urge to punch him.

I resisted the urge to drop kick him.

But in that moment, I hated him.

I hated what he said. I hated what he represented. I hated him for his words. I hated all that he had given me up to this point.

He read the reports. He saw the injuries. He knew the odds. He was rehearsed in the literature.

But what he lacked was faith.

He was a typical medical resident in training with a head full of stats.

For the record, I hate stats. Always have and always will.

Mainly because the outliers are ignored or dropped.

I have a thing for outliers. There is hope in the outliers; though I suppose to be fair, it depends on the situation and what it is we are looking for.

Regardless, I hate stats and I have issues with those who place faith in stats alone.

Stats don’t tell the whole story.

Science and stats go hand in hand in many ways.

My dad was placed in a medically induced coma for a few days.

I was there every day. At every visiting hour. I had no idea what to talk about. He couldn’t talk back. I was scared out of my mind.

You know what I did?

I repeated myself most of the time.

“Ed plowed the driveway.”

“Ed said you owe him a dinner at Sporty’s because you stood him up”

“Remember that time I wanted to drive the lawnmower and I ran over the softball breaking a window?”

“Remember that time you drove to Virginia when I was in a bind?”

When I ran out of words, I read. I also told him if he didn’t like the book, he would need to wake up and tell me so…but until then, I was gonna keep reading.

I read the The Traveler’s Gift by Andy Andrews. I skipped over any words of death.

I also told him that he better wake up or I was gonna play country music.

He hates country music.

“Jen’s here Dad”

“Tim’s here Dad”

“We love you. You got to hang on. You got to fight.”

It was in the Trauma ICU that I saw his tears.

The nurse said it was a body reflex.

I called bullshit.

I dried his tears.

Dad, I know it hurts. I know you’re scared. But it’s not over. It’s gonna suck, but you gotta fight. It’s not your time. Fight…. We got you and we will be here for you.

Fight Dad! Fight!

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

I’m only human…

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I signed the papers with a heavy heart and a head full of questions.

Will he make it?

Will he be in a coma?

Will I have to make a decision to pull the plug?

Will he ever be close to the same?

Will he be mad at me for signing the papers?

Will he have quality of life?

I remembered the night Dad woke me in the middle of the night. He never even said hello. He said, “Promise me something”. He asked me to promise him to never put him in a nursing home. He told me to take him into the woods with a gun. He told me he wants to be cremated. He told me to give his ashes to his best friend. He said Ed would know where to spread his ashes.

Come to find out, Ed isn’t really sure.

Since the morning my father fell off a ladder and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI), that phone call from a few years ago has materialized in my head. I go over our words. I think about our beliefs. I consider our values. I get angry at the irony.

The emergency neurosurgery lasted about 4 ½ hours. I sat in the trauma ICU family waiting room holding my breath. I barely spoke to anyone.

I wanted to run. I wanted to run like hell. I wanted to run away from that hospital as far as I could. I wanted to run away from the day. I wanted to run away from the tragedy. I wanted to run more than anything.

I didn’t run. I knew I couldn’t yet.

We were allowed in to see him in the trauma ICU once he made it out of surgery. He was in a medically induced coma. He was on a ventilator. There were tubes coming out of his head draining blood. The left side of his skull was removed. I later learned they placed it under the skin in his stomach. This is a common procedure to keep the bone viable for later placement. His vitals were out of control. Constant flashing of a heart-rate beating too fast, blood pressure that fluctuated dangerously close to death… the list goes on. The beeping never stopped on that machine.

I wanted to throw that machine out into the hallway. I wanted to smash it. I wanted to scream at it.

STOP BEEPING!

STOP FLASHING!

God, I hated that machine.

One nurse told me to ignore the machine. I laughed at her.

I knew what those numbers meant.

I walked out of that ICU room one day when his systolic blood pressure hit 225. I looked at my little sister and said, “I’ve got to go”. I ran.

I ran to my car out in the parking lot.

I don’t know how to do this. I don’t know if I can do this.

But truthfully, life didn’t care if I knew how to do it or not. It didn’t care if I wanted it. It was here and it was happening. I was in the middle of the biggest shit storm of my life. Yeah, that’s real. I’ve been through some challenges in my life previously, but nothing like this.

Can I be strong for my little sister? Our mom died 10 years ago. She needs me to be strong for her. She needs me to be strong for Dad.

Can I be strong for my brother? He lives out of state. There’s only so much he can do. He needs me to be strong for Dad.

Can I be strong for Dad? He needs me now. He needs me to fight for him. He needs me to believe in him. He needs me to push him.

He wants me to be strong.

I’m not even a fan of the word ‘strong’. “Oh, you’re so strong” – what the hell does that even mean?

And those people who…without batting an eye testifying  their own strength, “I am strong”…. Please, they drive me nuts.

I’ve appeased others and gave them those words when they needed the reassurance that I too was “strong”, but truthfully I am scared. I will keep going. I will do what needs to be done. I’ll probably make some mistakes along the way. I’ll probably break down. Hell, I already have.

I’m not strong. I’m not weak.

I’m only human.

I’m just me.. Christine…

© LifeasChristine, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to LifeasChristine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.