Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Anger, and awakening

Just a day or so ago, a dear, much-admired friend wrote me an e-mail, a work of real honesty, hard to achieve in this difficult situation. She said, But it is you who my thoughts are for and why I find it difficult to write. Of course one does not know what one’s reactions will be when upsets happen, but I fear my reaction to all this would be rage. Anger at what can’t be reversed. Anger at feeling trapped. Anger at a dear spouse, however undeserved. And just plain old undirected anger, perhaps at helplessness and the tragedy of shattered hopes and plans.
She’s certainly right that one does not know what one’s reactions will be in situations like this, so I’m actually rather surprised to find that my own reaction seems to be entirely different. I can’t find the anger anywhere, just anguish when it seems to be so difficult for Brooke and when I see his whole big body stretched out motionless on the bed. It’s true that what’s happened can’t be reversed. And I suppose there’s a sense in which I’ll be trapped, though to tell the truth I’m sort of looking forward to a less frenetic, less globe-trotting, quieter home-based life. Anger at a dear spouse, however undeserved? I know this is an entirely natural reaction, but it is working just the other way—there’s room for oddly greater emotional intimacy at a deeper level than before, and I’m grateful for this, not angry, even if the reasons for it are so painful. And plain old undirected anger? I suppose one could be angry at the universe for being so unfair, but it doesn’t seem unfair, it just is, and since we’ve been so much luckier in life than so many people, it hardly seems unfair, except in that Brooke has to pay the whole price.

But even if I haven’t been reacting (yet?) in the same way that this wonderfully honest friend says she thinks she might, I think the range of reactions to Brooke’s situation must be hugely varied—anger, pity, horror, fear for oneself, grief, mute numbness, awe at the irreversibility of misfortune. What I keep remembering so vividly is that the image of Brooke’s quadriplegia hurts every one of you who cares about him, not just me, and I wish there were a way to sit with each of you to touch, to respect that wound.

But there is some good news today as well. The first is about food: we’ve finally taken him some pureed and mashed foods cooked by friends, not by the hospital—a butternut squash soup, a homemade paté, an Indonesian-flavored chicken soup, a bit of lasagne from Cucina, and more. All the swallowing problems seem to be evaporating: he is wolfing stuff down. So if you’re cooking something good that can be pureed or mashed, feel free to take a tiny little dish of it to him or leave it by our side door! No more hospital macaroni and cheese? Actually, there’s a medical reason to do this: it is claimed that success in weaning from the ventilator is associated with good nutrition, and it is clear that his nutritional status will be way better if he has food he really wants to eat.

The second bit of good news is about motion. At the end of The Winter’s Tale, what Leontes believes is a statue of his long-dead wife Hermione begins to awake, to come to life. Today, in a left arm that has been as motionless as a statute for a full six weeks, Brooke was able to move his thumb, arc his fingers ever so slightly, move his hand just slightly forward and then justly slightly backward on command. It is crucial not to race to conclusions about the whole statue awakening just like Hermione and we all know that Brooke will always have immense impairments, but just the same the sort of sense of amazement that Shakespeare conveys is there when you see his long-dead hand start ever so slightly to come to life. Here’s the passage; this is one of Brooke’s favorite passages in all of Shakespeare. That his own hand should “be stone no more” is something we can “look upon with marvel.”


Either forbear, 

Quit presently the chapel, or resolve you 

For more amazement. If you can behold it, 

I'll make the statue move indeed, descend 

And take you by the hand; but then you'll think-- 

Which I protest against--I am assisted 

By wicked powers. 


What you can make her do, 

I am content to look on: what to speak, 

I am content to hear; for 'tis as easy 

To make her speak as move. 


It is required 

You do awake your faith. Then all stand still; 

On: those that think it is unlawful business 

I am about, let them depart. 



No foot shall stir. 


Music, awake her; strike! 


'Tis time; descend; be stone no more; approach; 

Strike all that look upon with marvel. Come, 

I'll fill your grave up: stir, nay, come away, 

Bequeath to death your numbness, for from him 

Dear life redeems you. You perceive she stirs: 

HERMIONE comes down 

Start not; her actions shall be holy as 

You hear my spell is lawful: do not shun her 

Until you see her die again; for then 

You kill her double. Nay, present your hand: 

When she was young you woo'd her; now in age 

Is she become the suitor? 


O, she's warm! 

If this be magic, let it be an art 

Lawful as eating. 



BJ McShane said...

Most of us have to learn not to be angry at everyone and everything. We must learn to realize that we're really angry with ourselves or, as you so wisely explain, to realize that we've been given a gift. I know that may sound perverse, but often a tragedy can bring growth, hope, peace, happiness--all of the good stuff that we crave and yet fail to find in our frenzied lives. Recently I've discovered that I spent most of my life wishing for things to be different. Different how? Different from what? I realized that I need to live my life *now* not in the past, not in the future. This kind of "being present" offers immense rewards, as you and Brooke have shown us. Thank you for your wisdom and daily reminders of life's precious gifts.

Dr. Lou's Blog said...


You have been a stalwart beacon of rationality and emotional honesty thought this whole process and a guide for those of us on the "outside" of Brooke's world and yours.

Some of us have wondered what we would do or how we would be in this situation. I have answered those with all too ready responses with, "You would not know until you are there."

Your insight and occasional anguish are compelling and help us all to understand a process no one expected and permits us to enter your world with care and hope.

Poecat said...

Brooke & Peggy, nice to find a place I can get information....... I just saw Cathy at the post office and she told me about the blog spot. Like most little towns Torrey's post office is where to get the scoop this time of year, and depending on who you talk to you may even get the truth.
Although I drive by your place on a daily basis headed to the ranch I am not sure if you can get out there yet because of the snow. The snow we received before Christmas is mostly gone here in town, sucked to Hanksville if you get my drift...
Progress continues on the LDS Ward house in the middle of town, it is a monster of a building, some of us are a bit nervous about its completion as we may be required to adjust our Sunday schedules to help fill he pews. Oh well, its not like I haven't been called on kicking and screaming to do some other things I am not a liberty to comment on. Speaking of being called on, man it has been cold. I mean like cold enough that my thermometer was wearing a parka the last couple of weeks, and when it gets this cold I can hear water lines freezing from house... The old message machine gets a real work out when it gets like this and I hate to press that button because I am a sucker for a desperate female voice. It's not like the summer when you can come home and hose yourself down to get the mud off, so I have three pair of stiff jeans standing like I left them outside the back door.
Can't wait to hear more progress reports.

Penny said...

Phyllis Rose uses material from Lear in her reflection on love in Parallel Lives. She comments that love is the refusal to think in terms of power. That kind of love comes through so clearly in your moving commentary. It sounds as if you have consented to be with Brooke in being powerless to determine your future--while hopeful that the two of you can navigate it together.
We appreciate your blog, and continue to hold you and Brooke in our thoughts and prayers.
Penny and Ken Jameson

sustainableElaine said...

Happy New Year and hooray for more snow! There is nothing quite as peaceful as watching snow falling, especially at night.
I wish you nothing for 2009..... that is no hassles or stresses. But I do wish you joy, peace and wonderment. That is the best of life. Brooke - your travails take me back to 1976, after a long diagnosis process and finally lung surgery at age 26 it was confirmed that I had a rather odd disease that sometimes takes people out right away and others kind of slowly. So, here I am still hanging in there and rather enjoying life more fully since that very traumatic time. I don't really recommend that people come to love life more fully through some horrible health crisis..... but I know that you love life no matter how difficult the path.
so for 2009 I wish you both the shared wonderment of being on earth and being in love.
hugs to you both, elaine and phil

norm said...

Brooke and Peggy - In October 2007 you got me interested in Winter's Tale, because Brooke said it was one of his favorites, and we saw the U.production of it. The significant connection, as I remember the play, is the Hermione comes to life as a result of the love and devotion of one person who made damn sure it would happen.

Good to hear of the hand motion, may it be a harbinger.

Happy New Year is a kind of strange wish at this difficult time, but perhaps more important and needed now than ever. So from us love and Happy New Year.

Nan and Norm

Claudia Hackworth said...

Dear Brooke & Peggy,
Thank you so much for continuing to post.
Your post about anger (and lack thereof) reminded me very clearly of when Israel's Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, and his granddaughter spoke at the funeral. She said that there was no room for hate in her heart for the killers, that there was only room for love. That the love crowded out all those terrible feelings of anger and helplessness.
More people than you imagine are reading and hoping for the best for you both.