Do you believe it? The Epilogue is now complete! Jill didn’t want to write another book, so she agreed to write this 5 page Epilogue: her reflection of what happened over the past 12 years. Please send this to ANYBODY who has a book. I hope the email has a BUNCH of likes and gets wildly distributed. ENJOY!
Epilogue: Is It Over?
by Jill Krantz Viggiano
We now rounded the twelve-year anniversary of Gordon’s stroke. It is hard to believe our lives have been changed so dramatically for such a long time. The funny thing is that, even after all these years, it still feels strange to me. I still feel out of step with normal life. I struggle to explain our life to anyone who asks the generic question “What do you do?” We aren’t “working,” we aren’t retired, we aren’t sick, we aren’t making any big plans. If I say I am my husband’s caregiver, it sounds like he is incapable of caring for himself and that makes me feel like I am minimizing his tremendous accomplishments in recovery. He does need me for many things and I am his caregiver, but we are more than that. I still haven’t found the right words.
We Decided To Move
We did not stay in our home in Lake Oswego. It became too much for me to maintain our big, beautiful house and yard. As it became clear that Gordon would never return to work, it also became clear that we could no longer afford that life. I remembered that night when Gordon was still in the hospital and I walked around our dark house, saying goodbye to everything we owned. Fortunately, our time there did not end the way I envisioned it that night, but it did end. Our home of 15 years, with our children’s heights marked on their bedroom doorways, is now occupied by a lovely couple who have become friends. They did not paint over our kids’ markings in an act of kindness. I still miss our friends, our neighbors, and our old life, but I know we did the right thing. Like everything else, our new home and our new life is good—different, but good.
Our children are all grown up. Gordon’s stroke and the radical change in our lives affected them both. Their trajectories I described in Chapter 15 have continued in many ways. Neither Rachel nor Tom like to talk about what happened. They both still like to make fun of their dad when he messes up. Both pursue stability, order, and predictability. Both were happy we sold the house and moved to a new town.
Rachel has spent much more time with us and seems to have made peace with all that happened. We each have a strong relationship with her. She certainly bears scars from all that happened but she seems to be healing nicely.
From the beginning, Tom began to withdraw emotionally. Where there was once a warm, loving, sweet child, there became a cold, harsh, young man. I am happy to say that emotional wall he built to protect himself is slowly breaking down. It is always my hope and prayer that the wall will disappear completely. I hope his scars heal nicely too.
I am happy to report that Gordon’s recovery continues! His fingers on his right hand began to move at the 4-year mark. He was able to fully open his hand at the 8-year mark. We immediately rushed him into trying to shake hands with people he met. That created awkward moments as Gordon could only open his hand once, then it clamped shut again—tight. The poor sweet person on the other end of the handshake had to wait as we pried Gordon’s hand loose. At 10 years post-stroke, Gordon could open his hand twice, so handshaking has become possible without taking a prisoner.
A weird reflex common in stroke survivors is that every time they yawn, their affected arm raises up into the air, like they are volunteering for something or are dying to ask a question. For all these years, Gordon yawns, the right arm goes up, and he tries to hold it down with his left arm, like a battle with a possessed limb. Once we got over the strangeness of it, we embraced it as comic relief. Here at the 12-year mark, that reflex is starting to diminish. Positive change is still happening.
Gordon’s remaining deficits from the stroke have proven to be formidable obstacles. While he has improved dramatically, his cognition continues to be significantly impaired. Cognition refers to all the mental activities associated with thinking, knowing, remembering, and communicating. I often have to repeat myself when I introduce a new subject. At first, I thought he wasn’t hearing me. Now I suspect it is his ability to comprehend what is being said. His brain cannot focus on a new subject the way most of us do. He needs a moment, some context, and often a couple hearings to make sense of what is going on.
Gordon is great at conversation—I say something (“What do you want for dinner?”), he says something (“Meat.”). But open-ended questions are difficult if not impossible for him. An open-ended question requires a response that follows logical order: a beginning, middle, and an end. We try to make a game of it when he is struggling to tell me something. He says whatever words he can get out, then he starts over and tries again. We laugh. By the third time I have heard enough to piece the response together. I tell him what I think he is trying to say and we laugh again at how hard it was to get those four or five sentences out in the right order and with the correct words.
The physical disabilities aren’t the big deal I thought they were going to be. We still work on his right arm and we keep active so we don’t lose ground with his right-side strength and coordination. It has become second nature to me to help Gordon with all the things that require two hands. I don’t mind helping and he is always appreciative.
My Life Now
I rarely think of our pre-stroke life anymore. Once in a great while, my mind drifts to what our life might have been and I get that dull, sinking feeling of loss. It passes quickly as I remind myself of God’s generosity and care for us in bringing us to where we are now. We are healthy, we have a nice home, the bills are paid, we have all we need. All this is nothing short of a miracle. Who gets suddenly yanked out of normal life and career, has no ability to work ever again, and still has all he or she needs? We do, by the grace of our good Lord.
All those years ago, in the depths of my helplessness, I learned to fully surrender my life to Jesus. He has been faithful in His promise to care for us and to use our tragedy for good. We continue to do inspirational speaking around the country. We continue to engage with anyone who reaches out to us when they need encouragement in their struggle. It is gratifying to represent hope and possibility to those around us.
One of the greatest gifts of Surrender is contentment. I am not envious, I am not dissatisfied, I am not resentful. I am truly happy for others who are doing well. Forgiveness is easier. I don’t really worry. I am content. Life is short but my eternity is assured. I know I rest in God’s hand and one day I will see His smiling face. What could be better than that?
While I am here on earth, it is my hope that I can bring joy with me wherever I go. I hope Gordon and I can be good examples of marriage and commitment. I hope we are a blessing wherever we happen to be. I hope the love of Jesus is obvious to anyone who interacts with me. I hope the pain we experienced only magnifies the blessings we have received.
Pain and Blessing—Painful Blessing. Sounds like the perfect title for a book.
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