A letter for the woman whose husband just became paralyzed | Reeve blogger Heather Krill

Posted by Reeve Staff in Life After Paralysis on October 14, 2016 # Caregiving

Atticus Finch, the respected father and lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird, always told his children to never judge a person unless they walked in their shoes a while. But sometimes, we try to be empathetic and try them on for size. I have never walked in your shoes, nor would I ever try. We are different people with various life experiences which have brought us to this place-- that place of being married to a husband who is paralyzed.

My husband was already paralyzed when we fell in love. Yours was not. He, maybe, was an incredible athlete. Maybe he was a passionate lover who always held your hand while walking on the beach. Maybe he dreamed of hiking Kilimanjaro or sailing around the world.

So for me, the wheelchair was a package deal, but for you, I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. What I can tell you is that your world doesn't have to end even if it isn’t how you first imagined. Life rarely works out the way we think it will as teenagers thinking about the future.

So please remember:

  1. He is still the person and partner you married, filled with hopes and dreams of your life together.
  2. He is still an athlete, or musician, or fill in the blank, at heart depending on his level of injury; together you can figure out options for activities that provide outlets for humor, community, and determination.
  3. He is still a passionate lover, but there may be a problem-solving period requiring patience, time and creativity. This kind of practice can be fun as long as you are both able to persevere.
  4. But attitude is attitude. Chances are if he was a positive person before his accident, he will remain a positive person; if he surrounded himself with good people before his spinal cord injury, that will serve him well in the recovery and transition time back to regular life. Life can be hard regardless of whether we are sitting down or standing up. Taking a team approach and maintaining a sense of humor is what can make a difference between happiness and misery. When I first started dating Geoff, he came to my house for dinner. At the time, my house was a split level condo with bazillion stairs to go anywhere. In trying to help him upstairs, we basically spilled out onto the floor, and I landed on top of him. His comment was that he didn't think I would be so forward. How could I not fall in love with him instantly in that moment?
  5. Build your community. Your friendship crew, if they are worthy of you, will sustain you even in the most complex or difficult of situations. Teamwork takes on a whole new meaning with recreation, with parenting, and with the adventures that make up the best parts of life together.

I’d be lying if I said it’s always easy. There are days I cry when I’m just so very tired of being the only one to put our kids to bed upstairs because our stair lift broke two years ago, and we can’t afford to replace it; or when I’ve shoveled four mornings in a row just so Geoff can get to his car after I leave for school. But everyone undergoes challenges and struggles in marriage; yours might even be less than someone else’s.

The term caregiver is an interesting one; it’s the category my Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation blog falls under. However, the term caregiver implies a one-sided-ness which is not always accurate. The one who provides the care. The one who gives the care to others. We are both caregivers, although the care we give may take different forms. I never had the honor of personally knowing Dana Reeve, but I’m pretty sure she didn’t view her marriage to Christopher ONLY in terms of caregiving. She loved him fiercely, and he loved her in all the ways a partner ought to love his or her wife-- and the rest they figured out along the way.

So, again, I won’t imagine what it feels like to be in your shoes right now. But I hope your shoes are strong. Your strong feet and your husband’s carbon fiber wheels might be the best foundation for your future, one you can’t even imagine.