After I stopped teaching in the public schools, I lost touch with most of my "work friends." After years of cultivating relationships and sharing the joys and tragedies of life, I maintain contact with only two people. I suppose that's normal. After all, it was difficult to get together and, when our schedules did mesh, the conversations felt strained and uncomfortable. Apparently the only thing we really all had in common was work.
friendship with Bonnie is one that has survived all of the transitions
in life. When we taught together, I would have been hard pressed to find a
stronger ally. She was a strong instructor and a great source of
information, ideas, and advice. Work and her eclectic hobbies consumed
her life. She was a gifted weaver, beekeeper, sculptor, teacher of the blind, wood carver, and
quilter. She had such a fascinating perspective on the world and such
Several years ago Bonnie was in a
horrific automobile accident. Although she survived, the person that I
knew was gone forever. Bonnie suffered a traumatic brain injury.
a moment her entire life changed. She used to be able to look at a
piece of wood and imagine the artistic possibilities. Now she becomes
lost in the grocery store. Bonnie could device and implement intricate
and beautiful weaving patterns. She now becomes confused handling money
and is not able to maintain a checkbook. Although she can read the words
in a cookbook, Bonnie cannot organize her thoughts enough to prepare a
simple meal. She has gone from being fiercely independent and the person
whom everybody relied upon to living in an assisted living facility and
dependent upon others to help with the most mundane tasks.
called on Saturday and asked me if I could come to visit. When I stopped by her apartment on
Sunday, she had tears in her eyes and was shaking
uncontrollably. She was struggling to talk and I knew she was
overwhelmed and scared. I gave her a hug and reassured her that it was
going to be okay.
During that embrace I think I finally
accepted that my independent, quick-witted, and talented friend was gone.
The woman that I was hugging looked like my friend, but that is where
the resemblance ended. I felt a wave of sadness overtake me, but I tried
not to let it show. I owe it to my friend to help her in anyway
possible. I have no doubt that she would have done the same for me!
at her kitchen table I saw piles of note cards throughout the room. She
explained that her Brain Injury therapist has recommended writing down
everything, and that the technique has been helpful. She is trying so
hard, and I know that this must be so difficult for her. She is aware of
everything that she has lost and can explain her limitations. It is
heartbreaking to see the grief in her eyes, but she hasn't given up. I'm
so proud of my friend.
I have always believed that everybody has something "wrong" with
them. Mine is extremely visible and people can identify me as an amputee
immediately. Bonnie looks normal and most who see her wouldn't know
that she is struggling. She is suffering from an invisible disability
which is occurring in her mind, not in her physical body. My physical
disability is a walk in the park compared to what Bonnie endures
everyday. Traumatic Brain Injuries are one of the cruelest disabilities,
leaving the individual with memories of their previous life but
rendering them without the ability to return to the same passions and
joys. There is little I can do for my friend except to help in
completing daily activity tasks such as grocery shopping and continue to
be a presence in her life offering care and support.