Why do you speak about such a painful subject?
I won’t lie—talking about the stroke and recovery experience and reliving the pain and emotion is hard. However, we decided it is worth doing. Gordon’s options for gainful employment were pretty much taken away by the stroke but doing nothing was not acceptable to us. At every speech we have given, someone from the audience has shared their own painful experience with us and thanked us for giving them hope and encouragement. That is reason enough for us.
How did you get started with public speaking?
Early in Gordon’s stroke recovery, when we knew nothing of the journey ahead of us, we naively thought he would be fully recovered in 1 year. We thought we would have a party for all the wonderful people who helped us and we would all celebrate the end of a horrible year. At the 1-year anniversary of the stroke, Gordon was nowhere near recovered so we decided to postpone the party until the 2-year mark. He had to be recovered by then, right? At the 2-year anniversary, Gordon was still in terrible shape so we agreed we would celebrate full recovery at 3 years. At the 3-year anniversary, we finally understood that recovery was probably going to be a lifetime pursuit and that maybe we should just have the party anyway. Gordon agreed but he said he wanted to talk about the experience at the party. It took 6 months to write “My Brain Has A Hole In It” and 8 months for Gordon to practice enough to deliver the speech. On the 4-year anniversary, we had the party and Gordon spoke. The overwhelming feedback was that Gordon needed to tell more people—and here we are!
How are the kids?
When the stroke happened, Rachel was 14 years old and Tommy was 12. If those years weren’t hard enough, adding the chaos and devastation of their dad’s stroke pushed them in ways I never wanted for them. The threat of losing their father and their home as well as the loss our lifestyle and routines was life changing. It was painful, scary, and de-stabilizing. The good thing is that the kids were able to see their parents stay committed to their marriage, be supportive no matter the circumstances, and rely on their Christian faith in good times and in bad. Our kids are young adults now and are choosing their own paths. We are proud of them and the choices they are making. I don’t think we really know all the ways the stroke affected them. They don’t like to talk about it. Our hope is that they are able to move past the sad memories, have strong, stable marriages of their own, and appreciate the blessings of family and faith.
If 100% is full recovery, how recovered is Gordon?
I would rate Gordon as 80% recovered at the 9-year mark. His memory is quite good. We continue to see improvement in the right side of his body. While his right arm has movement, it isn’t useful, controlled movement. Language and cognition are the real problem. He has dramatically improved his ability to converse but extended thought and expression are still out of reach. Add any stress to the conversation and his language stops.
How is your marriage now?
Our marriage is good! It is a good thing because we spend all day, every day together. All the things that made our marriage good pre-stroke are the same things that make it good now. We appreciate each other’s strengths, work ethic, sense of humor, and willingness to compromise. We have created new routines that work for both of us, giving us some variety in our days. We have found our New Normal and we have found peace.
If you could give your pre-stroke self any advice, what would it be?
Buy more disability insurance!! The financial pressures of disability are not fun. Fortunately we had some disability insurance—thank God. Without it, we would have lost our home, I wouldn’t have been able to stay home and take care of Gordon or be there for the kids. Our outcome would have been completely different, and not in a good way. We don’t have much, but we have enough to provide a stable, relatively normal home environment. What a blessing.
How has stroke changed your lives?
Every part of our lives changed because of the stroke. Gordon’s active, successful, productive life as a sales consultant is over. My life of being active and involved in the community is over. The plans and vision we had for our future are gone. Our resources are limited so our opportunities are limited. It took time to make peace with these changes. We all mourned the loss of the life we worked so hard to build. However, our new life has its blessings: we appreciate each day we have together, we don’t worry about the future, we are grateful for what we have. It certainly is not the life we planned but it is a life still filled with joy, love, and meaning.
Why did Jill write Painful Blessing?
I wrote Painful Blessing for several specific reasons, none of which were that I was dying to be a published author. Reason #1: acquired brain injury, such as stroke, is devastating, scary, and lonely. We can’t be the only people to experience the crazy unpredictability brain injury brings, but it sure felt like it. Reason #2: even after all these years, recovery is ongoing. There have been no shortcuts, just relentless hard work. Reason #3: We want to bring hope to others going through their own challenges. We encourage people to examine their life’s foundations. Are those foundations unshakeable? Reason #4: to encourage people to persevere through their challenges. Life will probably be different on the other side but that is ok.
What role did your Christian faith play in your story?
Our Christian faith is the sole reason we are a success story. When Gordon was lost in the fog of his stroke and I was facing the terrible realities alone, only the knowledge that my loving Savior was carrying me kept me from stepping in front of a bus and making the whole thing end for me. Well, Jesus and love for my children kept me away from a bus. Gordon’s is a story of recovery, mine is a story of surrender. When I gave up thinking I had control, fully surrendered to God, fully acknowledged His power, and fully put my life and our future in His hands, everything was better. Trusting Him allows me to accept our new life and embrace each day as it comes. He has never failed me.
What are your favorite audiences?
My favorite audiences ask questions and engage in wonderful discussion after we speak. I love the interaction with those who are willing to share, question, and relate to our talk. Each audience listens from its own perspective: medical professionals, business professionals, young people, old people, men, women, survivors, caregivers, and everyone else. The questions and discussions reflect the personality of that audience. Everybody experiences obstacles at some time in their lives and our story is really about overcoming obstacles. Our time together is meaningful and interesting and we all leave the room with hope. I love that.
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