39: Finding Hidden Messages of Hope

39: Finding Hidden Messages of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Finding Hidden Messages of Hope

Every flower is a soul blossoming in nature.

~Gérard de Nerval

Walking out of the hall to the moonlit forecourt I cradled the magnificent bouquet of flowers in my arms. Applause from the audience was still echoing in my head. What an enchanting evening it had been. As a past teacher at the school, I had been honored to be the guest speaker at the gala dinner to celebrate its 110th anniversary. I inhaled the perfume of the spring flowers—how wonderful it was to be alive!

Just a couple of hours before, when I’d entered this splendid hall I’d felt a shiver go down my spine as, out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the ghost of me. I heard my silent screams of two decades before, when I’d first entered this hall on my return to school, after a long absence following my horrific car accident.

Back then I was so ashamed, as I shuffled and wobbled my way in the doorway, my walking stick tap tap tapping as I tried to keep my balance, my black eye patch helping me cope with the swirling mad double world I inhabited. I was empty, lost, sad and crushed. I had no hope that things would improve in the future—indeed I’d been constantly told by the experts that “there is no cure for brain injury.” If you’d asked me to look into the future I would have numbly described a one dimensional, monotonous grey world peopled by grey figures. Boring to the power of ten. But ironically the boring world was also terrifying, scary, unpredictable and threatening. How I’d wanted to fall to my knees and howl with misery at the unfairness of life. Fortunately I had enough sense to realize that this would have made the students and other staff members jump out of their skins with fright!

Back then I had asked myself how I could possibly be a teacher again. My brain felt like it had been sucked out by a cruel monster. My emotions were scrambled like eggs. My students were now like the teacher and I was the pupil. Just now, taking a philosophy class, one pupil had taken the chalk out of my hands and said “I’ll write on the board for you, Mrs. D. You know you can’t spell anymore!”

What had helped me move from that poor broken creature to the person who had just moved an audience by speaking from the heart? Sitting in the car for the journey home I was enveloped by the perfume of the bouquet and I realized that flowers had played a silent role in this transformation.

Once I had moved from the intensive care unit, my new hospital room became a bower of flowers. On one level I felt ashamed that I had no words to thank people for their kindnesses and thoughtfulness (although I did get the message through to my children to write thank you notes which I “signed” with a scribble). But on a deeper level those flowers became symbols of all the people thinking of me, supporting me and wishing me well. Even though I had no sense of smell, and saw double, these flowers became my nonjudgmental companions in the long pain-filled days.

When I returned home I was astonished to be greeted by a shower of golden daffodils nodding their heads. The bulbs I had planted in a dozen pots the day before my accident were blooming, a reminder that life goes on. I was swamped with sadness that the woman who had planted those bulbs (the old me) was not the same woman who now viewed the golden blooms (the new me), but the miracle that those scruffy brown bulbs could be transformed into beautiful yellow trumpets was proof of the power of nature.

Once the daffodils had faded and I’d removed the bulbs to store for next year, I felt compelled to plant container after container of petunias in the pots. I was a tad confused, as I’d never been so extravagant with seedlings before—and then I realized that these annuals were like lucky charms or talismans to show me that one day I, too, just might flower into my old self.

Then came the time when my husband Ted said we should get away for a couple of days. I agreed. I was petrified to be in an automobile as we drove to a favorite seaside town. When we arrived at the cottage, he helped me out of the car and left me resting on the bed while he disappeared. He returned proudly carrying ten tulips in a borrowed vase. Just before the accident we’d been in New York State, and Ted had presented me with ten pink tulips in an empty milk carton. Same flowers, same message, different country, different container. Weeping, I removed my soggy eye patch, and now, with my double vision, there were twice as many tulips, twice the sentiment and twice the gratitude.

Seasons have come and gone, my flowering has continued from my first tentative steps to the letterbox, to returning to school, where I surprised not only myself but also the school manager, by continuing to teaching part-time for a dozen years. Taking philosophy workshops, I encouraged my students to grow new thoughts. At times I could picture their ideas like beautiful flowers spiraling up from their heads. My ideas flowered into my books Doing Up Buttons and Chasing Ideas, and into creating engaging talks to help people understand their own brain injury experience.

Time passed and I hoped that the fertile soil of my experience, watered by my tears, could produce another flower. At the age of sixty-three, in spite of my double vision, constant pain and memory problems, I embarked on an endeavor to try to discover ways to help brain-injured people make the best of living with brain injury. That is now behind me. My Ph.D is complete. As people with brain injury talked about their experience I was stunned when several participants expressed similar epiphanies: brain injury was both the worst and the best thing that had happened to them. They now appreciate being alive. They are aware of their strengths and their weaknesses and they now feel wise.

As Madeline put it: “Actually it was a flower that told me one day that the world is really worth being in. It was a memorable experience because I was walking around the side of my house and the world had been grey for a long, long time and I saw a red tulip, the bulb I’d put in a pot, and it had flowered red, and honestly, I stopped in my tracks, and it was like wow, and I’ll never forget that, and the world then had colour.”

When we see colour and hope in our world we can learn to bloom again.

~Dr. Christine Y. Durham

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners