51: It’s Personal

51: It’s Personal

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

It’s Personal

A single rose can be my garden . . . a single friend my world.

~Leo Buscaglia

Day after day, I asked myself the same question. Are people callous toward those with disabilities or do they just feel helpless? It has taken me a long time to realize that most feel powerless and uncomfortable. Even so, when one by one all of my adult daughter’s friends disappeared, it didn’t ease the hurt and disappointment.

It has been eighteen months since my daughter suffered a traumatic brain injury after falling down the basement stairs. She was given little chance to survive. But, through surgery, and later, therapy at a rehab hospital, she miraculously lived and is physically fit and as beautiful as ever. She was blessed in this regard and we choose to focus on this instead of dwelling on the significant cognitive problems and not just a speech impairment with which she still struggles.

I’ve learned to deal with the speech and cognitive issues myself, but the reaction from her friends has been tough. I admit it is difficult to have a conversation with her, as she doesn’t always understand what people are saying and tries to sort it out by asking them questions again and again. It takes patience, I know.

At first, she was surrounded by friends who offered encouragement and support. But once they met her for lunch or talked to her at their children’s school events, they began to vanish. One of her friends called and arranged to take her to work out at the gym, but after a couple of times, dropped out of sight. At her son’s basketball and baseball games, my heart broke watching the other mothers ignore her, when before the accident they would sit with her and enjoy laughter and good conversation. When my daughter tried to be a part of the group, the reaction was anything but compassionate. They would tell her they had to go, or simply stare at her. It wasn’t long before her friends no longer called to visit or go places. Within a few months, she was left without friends and even lost primary custody of her son when his father cited her deficiencies in court.

For me, it has taken months, and I admit it is still a constant struggle to give her friends the benefit of the doubt. After all, when she walks into a room, no one would ever suspect there is anything wrong with her—that is, until she talks. Maybe they were afraid they’d say something wrong. Or it could be that they didn’t want to be bothered. My emotions bounced from one explanation to the other, wishing I’d been prepared for this. But human nature can never be predicted.

I suffered from a combination of hurt, bitterness and the emotions of a lioness trying to protect her cub. I wanted to strangle them and scream, “Have you no compassion? How would you want to be treated if you were in this position? Can’t you see she needs you now more than ever?” I was indignant. As far as I was concerned, this was prejudice towards the disabled.

Days and weeks stretched into months with no word from her friends. Then, one day, a friend from childhood whom she hadn’t seen for many years began calling. My heart swelled with gratitude. She came by weekly and took my daughter for walks, shopping, and lunch. I marveled at the gesture, and it was heartwarming to see my daughter’s eyes light up each week. The woman treated her the same as she always had, as if nothing were amiss. She didn’t talk over her but straight to her, and seemed unfazed by any deficits.

Today, my daughter is making a new life for herself, surrounded by a supportive family and a few new friends plus her loyal childhood friend. She volunteers, works out at the local gym, and participates in her son’s school activities—even though many people are reserved around her.

For me, I’ve learned that you can’t make people do what you want them to. But most of all I’ve learned to take things one day at a time and to focus on the positive, like that dear friend who chose to help instead of withdrawing. Even though I have tried to tell her, she will never truly know what a difference she has made just being there for us, reminding us that there are folks out there who overlook deficiencies and focus on friendship.

~Arlene Rains Graber

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