Every day I love looking out my back door to my corner rose garden. I planted it two years ago and enjoy watching the changes that occur daily in the spring . I noticed my double pink rose was the first to bloom, but kept waiting for the pale pink and striped dark pink roses to bloom. I kept thinking to myself, "If only they would all bloom at the same time! Then it would be gorgeous!" Each day I would check to see if the numerous buds had bloomed yet, but I was disappointed. It was still a lovely view, but I was hoping for more.
This morning, I decided to take a walk around the fence into the lower backyard and see if the roses that get the morning sunshine might be in bloom. To my delight, this is what I found! The pale pink blossoms cascading down the trellis and even out the fence filled me with such joy! To my right, I happily noted that some of the dark striped blooms had emerged as well. Though this view is slightly interrupted by the chain link fence, I could thoroughly enjoy the beautiful combination of all three rose shades! To me it was splendid!
I then decided to walk a few more steps and take in my rose trellis from the third side. Again I was not disappointed. Once more I could enjoy all three rose varieties happily growing on my trellis with my gliding seat situated in the middle. I noted that this is the view my neighbor gets to enjoy of the garden and thought about the idea that we can both look at the same garden, and see different things. All three views are lovely, but each one gives the observer just a slightly unique view of what it entails. To truly enjoy it's majesty, we must view the garden from multiple angles.
I will keep my daily vigil to look for all three rose colors to appear from the front view. The striped rose is laden with blooms that will eventually break out if I am patient. But in the meantime, my little rose garden has taught me to walk around and see things from a different perspective. When we tackle a problem, it helps to explore it from many angles, looking for the source of light to guide us. Wayne Dyer said, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change." You might just see something that had been hidden from your view!
While reading John 15 this week, I thought about pruning and bearing fruit and how they related to my grape arbor. In verse 2 it says, "Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away." This made perfect sense to me. If a branch is not producing fruit or serving some other purpose for the vine, then it can be removed. You'll notice in the picture below 2 branches that I trimmed in the winter while the plant was dormant that are not producing leaves or fruit. When I pruned it, I could not tell that it was dead, but now it will need to be pruned away.
But then the verse continues, " and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth, that it may bring forth more fruit." Now wait a second. If the branch is producing fruit, why does it need to be purged? Well, here's an interesting thing about grapes. As I understand it, they produce fruit on a branch only once, and that branch is the new year's growth. Furthermore, the new branches form on last year's canes or branches. Thus, when a branch bears fruit one year, the cultivator must trim that branch, being particularly aware of how many buds are left on that cane where the new shoots will grow. This careful pruning, allows the vine to produce the best fruit. If the vine is not pruned, then there are shoots everywhere and perhaps even a lot of grapes, but the plant cannot fully sustain all of the fruit and many times the fruit is small and underdeveloped.
As I look at priorities in my life, this lesson is particularly poignant. If I try to do too many things at once, I may indeed produce fruit, but it is not the same caliber as if i focus my priorities on things that matter most. Sometimes, I may be able to prune my own plant, but often I find the Lord of the Vineyard has to help me. Sometimes, He even prunes me when I wasn't expecting it! Though this kind of pruning hurts most, in the end, it helps me to grow stronger and produce better fruit.
I learned another important lesson last year, when I was in the middle of my Master's Degree exams and final semester. That year, my structure holding up the netting to protect my grapes from the invading birds broke from the weight of the snow. I did not have time to fix it or prune my grapes. Thus, the vines grew up and through the bird netting that had collapsed on the roof. This year I tried to remove the netting, but found I had to cut much of it away to not damage the vines, and will need to eventually replace it before the fruit ripens. I have not been a good caretaker of my vineyard and am suffering the consequences of my neglect. It's a good thing that the true Lord of the Vineyard would never neglect us in this manner! He is always aware of our situation and wants us to grow in the best way possible. I truly believe that if we follow Him, we will be able to produce the most wonderful fruit. John 15:5, "I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bring forth much fruit; for without me ye can do nothing."
On the 4th of July, I posted this picture of us celebrating Laurent's 20th NEW birthday (20 years since his motorcycle accident on July 4, 1998). See my post "A Neu Birthday or a NEW Birthday" to see how and why we decided to celebrate this anniversary.
As I posted the picture, many thoughts swirled around in my head and I felt I wanted to write a bit more about this time. First of all, let me acknowledge to anyone that has a traumatic anniversary that this date still conjures up painful feelings of grief, loss, heartache, and even a bit of discouragement. We will have been married 26 years on the 24th of this month, and 20 of those years a traumatic brain injury (TBI) has also been our companion. Those who have been acquainted with this thief, know how it robs life and steals joy. However, two years ago, I was taught a lesson that has helped me look past the grief and loss and try to focus on gratitude and celebrate the true moments in life that exist, the moments that TBI could not take away from us. In looking back on the incredible journey of the last 20 years, I realized just how many beautiful moments in life we have been able to experience that we would not have had Laurent passed away in that accident.
My first thoughts when to some big moments in Laurent's life since the accident. Singing the solo to Betelehemu with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Carnegie Hall in 2015 and again in Europe in 2016 stood out first.
Or there's the time in 2011 that Laurent got to sing at the 22nd annual Families and Professionals Conference sponsored by the Brain Injury Association of Utah with Michael Ballam. You can watch a video of the performance below by skipping to minute 11 of the video.
And while those are incredible moments and experiences in our life that brought great joy that we will never forget, they are not the experiences in our life since 1998 that matter most. To me the moments we are most grateful for relate to family relationships. Laurent was there to baptize both our son and our daughter. He was able to celebrate their birthdays with them. He played with the kids on family vacations each summer. He teased them with pillow fights and towel fights.. He came to high school and college graduation ceremonies. In looking back over the last 20 years, our life has been filled with a series of "little moments" that fill our life with joy and help to compensate for the sad ones. We have been blessed to have Laurent's smiling face and warm-hearted personality with us!
Today I was invited to share some ideas of how to replenish, recharge, and renew as a caregiver. We talked about how to find joy among the challenges of being a caregiver of a TBI survivor. I'm so grateful for this opportunity as it gave me a chance to reflect back on the last 19 years as well as talk with other caregiver friends for ideas. Although every situation is different, we brainstormed lots of ideas in order to find those things that would work for each one. Here are some ideas we talked about.
Just like my grandmother's button box, we have to find the right button that fits the situation. What may fit with one person, may not fit with another. Don't feel guilty if you try something that other people like to do, but it just doesn't bring you joy. It's okay. I once attended a quilting class that many of my friends love. I see their excitement and love their quilts. However, the first month I went I stressed so much about trying to get my block ready for the next month, that I finally realized this was causing me more stress than joy. For me, it was not the right button. Instead of acting like Cinderella's wicked stepsisters who tried to make the glass slipper fit, we can simply find another shoe. We don't have to fit the shoe in order to find joy and a happy ending, we can find the shoe that fits us and our situations.
Let's talk about some buttons then. First of all, Brenet Brown talks about buttons we have to be careful of. These are the easy buttons or escape buttons that we use to numb and not think about stress. Often they are self-destructive and don't replenish us. We may think they momentarily help us forget or be happy, but in the end they usually don't. For me, one of those is binge watching. I find when I binge watch tv shows I ended up becoming cranky with my family and snippety. The TV shows themselves aren't bad, but what I do with them does not nourish me. So I have to be careful of how often I use those easy buttons.
On the flip side, Brenet Brown talks about reset buttons, or what I called recharge buttons. These are things that we can do to recharge and replenish ourselves. As caregivers these are critical in order to help us be able to continue to give to our loved ones. We talked about the lesson learned from Lightning McQueen in the movie Cars. When he chose to skip his pit stop in the race at the beginning of the movie, he suffered the consequence in the last lap when he blew two tires and ended up at the finish line with his tongue hanging out and his car in sad shape. He had to learn the lesson of working with others and taking time for maintenance. Steven R. Covey calls his his 7th habit of "Sharpening the Saw". As caregivers, we must regularly take time to find joy and renew ourselves.
There are many ways to recharge. Sometimes we can do little things that only take moments like drinking a glass of water, breathing, watching wildlife, enjoying nature, watching a child, or reading a poem or inspiring quote. Other times we carve out a little more time to connect with a friend, take a walk, play a game, read a book, or create something. Periodically, it's also good to plan for some extended time to get away and visit with family, attend a conference, or take a vacation. Some of these things we need to do by ourselves to have a break from caregiving, and other things we can learn to do with our TBI survivor in order to experience joy in our lives. It's important to find a balance in our life because we cannot give from an empty cup.
Over the last 19 years, we have explored many things to see what brings us joy. Some of our explorations were quite successful, like our bike trip to the Hiawatha Trail in Montana. Others were not so successful, like our bike tour of London. In each case, though, we learned something important and kept exploring. Never give up. Just this year we discovered that Laurent loves to listen to audio books and to do puzzles. We didn't figure that out before. Now, we have new ways besides music that bring him joy in his life. Together, we have also discovered that we like to visit places like Thanksgiving Point Gardens and the Living Aquarium. Sometimes it takes a little thought, creativity, and extra planning to be able to do something with your TBI survivor, but in the end it is so worth it.
Wes Stafford, former president and CEO of Compassion International once said, "Joy is a decision, a really brave one, about how you are going to respond to life." Life's hard. Choose joy anyway.
As to the soap-opera kind of episode of amnesia for 2 days, we hope that it is indeed an episode that does not return. Laurent saw the neurologist a week after being discharged from the hospital and he was cleared to drive once more. Furthermore the doctor did not have anything else to say about the incident. They do not believe it was a seizure and there wasn't any new damage to his brain that would indicate a stroke. Furthermore, Laurent seems to be back at his baseline before the amnesia. He can rattle off his name and birthday without a thought. As near as we can figure out, his body reacted to the A Fib by reducing blood flow to non-critical parts of the brain to keep his heart beating and lungs breathing... you know little things like that. For other people the reduced blood flow would probably not cause such serious impairments. However, for Laurent with his brain injury damaging key sections of his brain, it meant that probably all of his learning post-accident took place in peripheral zones of his brain. When the body went into red alert, it "rerouted all power from auxiliary functions to the main engines" until he was stabilized. (I'm pretty sure Scotty was in there declaring in his Scottish brogue, "Aye, Captain. I'm givin' her all I got!") We have not seen any lasting effects since the episode and are extremely grateful for that.
Laurent went back to work within a week and was back to choir that Sunday. He has been shaken up a bit and is determined to be healthier. If you need a walking partner or have some yummy healthy recipes to share, we are on the hunt. Other than that, we are so grateful not to be starting Book 2 in such a declined state. We spoke and sang at a fireside shortly afterward and are grateful that his story turned out much differently this time.
We wish to express an immense thank you to so many of you who shared your faith, prayers, and positive thoughts in our behalf. We know it made a difference. We also are grateful once more for the healing power of music. Laurent's favorite t-shirt says "Music saved my life". Once more this has proven to be true. All day Thursday we played music and Friday he "woke up". Combining prayer and music so far has proven to be a life-changing combination for us and we hope to continue to share our music with others in the future. Thank you once more for your love.
Our sincerest gratitude to all.
Laurent and Kerrie
Night and day. It’s an expression we often use to illustrate stark contrast. For me I strongly felt this contrast from Thursday night when I left the hospital and Friday morning when I returned. Even my 4:30 a.m. attitude and musings differed vastly from those just 4 hours later when I found Laurent’s sitting up at the edge of his hospital bed and he responded to my question of “What are you doing?” with a full sentence, “I eat breakfast.” I did not care whether or not it was grammatically correct or if the verb was conjugated accurately for the past tense. I was simply elated that he had indeed completed a sentence! I had not heard a complete sentence for 2 full days from this man! I began to pepper him with questions to see just how far his new-found communication skills extended.
“What did you eat?”
“I eat fruit.” Marvelous! Another sentence.
“I eat….” A pause. I waited , holding g my breath. Would this be the end of his speech abilities? I tried a backup strategy that had failed on Wednesday.
“Can you draw a picture of it?” I asked while holding out a pencil and paper I had brought just for this purpose today. He took the pencil, thought for a moment, and drew two triangles for me. I peeked at the menu and saw French Toast and asked him if that was what he ate. He replied affirmatively and repeated, “I eat french toast.” We were on a roll!
Next he pointed at a covered bowl and simply said “Yuck” while making a noticeably displeased face. Taking advantage of another skill I wanted to probe today, I picked up the menu and asked him to read it and tell me which item he found to be yucky. Rapidly he began reading out loud each of the items and then iNcoated the oatmeal was yucky. Now I knew he could read for information and he could translate that reading into expressive speech. This was fabulous progress!
I showed him the communication board I had printed off at home with words and pictures of common things he might need to say in a hospital. He read through it and told me several things he needed to do, including take a shower. I wholeheartedly agreed since it had been 3 days since his last shower. I noted his new ability to express personal needs and kept probing. Over the next hour he was able to shower independently and chat with the male nurse assigned to care for him today about his scrubs and Nike shoes. The nurse had read notes in his chart about Laurent’s expressive aphasia but was as pleasantly surprised about his speech as we were.
It was if major parts of Laurent’s brain had been unplugged for 2 days and we’re now reconnected! Those sections involving nouns, initiation, motivation, and even independent movement that lay dormant for. That time suddenly awoke. Like the song Wick from the Secret Garden they must have been waiting for the right time to re-emerge. I felt just as much delight in hearing l speak and seeing his bubbly personality return as I do when I see the first crocus break through the snow in Spring. Amazing!
Night and day. At 4:30 am I had resolved that we were in this for the long haul and I was determined to conquer this once more. I felt somber yet resolute. By 9:00 a.m. I could barely contain my joy and hope! This is how I imagined Abraham felt when asked to sacrifice his only son Isaac. I’m guessing he too was somber and yet resolved to follow God’s command and submit his will to a Higher Power. I’m fairly certain I can also feel the joy and relief at finding the ram in the thicket and being told he didn’t have to go through with it. In the terms of teenagers today, it was if I was being told, “JK!” (Just kidding). “You don’t really have to go through it either.”
As I write this at 10:30 p.m., I am so grateful it was a JK. For whatever reason, we were remindeed of the darkness of night and the deficits associated with brain injuries and then gI enjoy
the beautiful gift of relief and renewal. I don’t know how his brain was plugged back in. I don’t believe the doctors are certain either. Howeve, it just confirms to us the importance of hope and faith.
Laurent is home now. He was discharged this evening. We have several things to watch and follow up on over the next few weeks. However, he is home. We love his smile and cheerful personality. We empathize with those who remain in night a lot longer and pray for the renewing light of dawn for them and their families.. Thank you to all who helped at home and at the hospital. We appreciate your positive thoughts and faith-filled prayers. God bless you for your kindness ad service.
Kerrie and Laurent Neu
I am normally not a hash tag user on social media. I'm not opposed to them. I just don't usually use them. This morning, however, as I created an entry on yesterday's events in a journaling app called "Journey", I remembered I could add a tag to group the entries under a similar topic. I began to do so and suddenly halted as I had no idea what to tag this experience. Previous experiences were always labeled "The Accident", and we just knew it referred to anything related to July 4, 1998. However I am stumped as to what to call this one. It’s not " The Stroke" or "The Fall". There’s no aneurism or car wreck. As I don't have a cause yet to his expressive speech loss and cognitive impairments, I don’t have a label.
So then I began to think of other terms I could call this. At first words like "The Setback" came to mind. However, we've been down this road before and I refuse to use a negative term to define us right now. We need something more inspiring to keep us going. "The setback" implies defeat and I need one that will help us overcome. I then scrapped that idea and kept searching.
A vision of the childhood game Chutes and Ladders popped into my head. This certainly was not a ladder, but more of a chute sending us back to a previous state of being. However, calling this whole experience "The Chute" doesn’t seem to work. I'll just have to keep thinking.
Next my Sci-Fi brain thought of time travel shows in which the characters live in an alternate time continuum for the episode. Sometimes they are thrown there in a wormhole. "Yes", I thought. We could tag this "The Wormhole". One moment we celebrated New Years Day with family playing games, singing, and laughing - and the next we were transported back to the world of hospitals, medical tests, and therapies. The challenge then would be to find the opening of another wormhole that leads back to the old life and skills. However, I know that wishing for our old lives back is not productive and wastes valuable mental energy. I've been there and done that. It didn’t work. What worked was rolling up our sleeves and digging in to make the most of the new situation and trusting in a God who loves me and would help me through this experience. There is no magic wormhole that will take me back and magically end this sci-fi episode in 47 minutes. We are more like the crew of the starship Voyager, who were thrown 75,000 light years from home and had to brave the journey back home with courage, determination, and ingenuity. I could call this "The Voyage" and try to apply the same principles on our own journey, but perhaps only my Trekkie friends would appreciate the tag.
That puts me back at the drawing board looking for a tag for what lies ahead. Brene Brown says there is power in identifying and writing our own story. Each story, she says, has 3 acts. I thought we had made it through the first two acts and were enjoying the experiences of the third. In fact, in my own private writings I've been laying out pieces of his book for our children and calling it "How Can I Keep From Singing?" It chronicles his journey from motorcycle accident to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, culminating with performances in Carnegie Hall and Europe. Maybe we have begun Book 2, "The Sequel" and are sitting now on the edge of a new 3 act story. We are experiencing the opening event and now we get to write the rest. The first book covered 18 years. Who knows how long the second one will take. I only pray I am up to this arduous task. I know I have the help of family and friends. They've been there for me before and are currently by my side again. Most importantly, I believe in a Higher Power, a Divine Author, a loving Heavenly Father and His Son, who do know the end and will guide me through it. I'm sure it will be a tale of heartache and struggle, but probably it will also chronicle personal growth and ultimately victory. It has to.
I've found my tag. We'll call this Book 2 and see where the story takes us.
Over the years we have heard many jokes and puns on our name. We may be the "neu" family in the neighborhood, or the "neu" kids at school. "What's 'Neu'?" People ask with a chortle and we good-naturedly reply, "We are!" It's not often we hear a "neu" one anymore. Today, though, I found significance in pondering the date and the meaning of the use of these two words "new" and "Neu". As we celebrated the birth of our nation, our friend also celebrated his own birthday. I realized how grateful I was for an opportunity to be joyous and celebrate someone's birth and life rather than mourn the loss of Laurent's former life before the accident. Anniversaries of accidents can typically be sorrowful and somber days filled with anxiety and even a bit of stress. I find myself waiting throughout the day for that phone call or news of something traumatic. Our daughter this year broke down in her car on the way home from visiting her brother in Provo on the 4th and I couldn't help but notice the eery similarities to Laurent's fateful journey home from Provo visiting his brother in Provo 18 years ago. I am truly grateful that for her the outcome was much different and she is safe.
I share this to illustrate the worry and heavy heart that often accompanies the anniversary of the accident. And it is exactly for that reason that I have made a conscious decision to try to create new traditions and mindset for this day. I don't want to be forever held captive by a number and date. In celebrating our friend's birthday, I realized in a way it is also Laurent's birthday. His Neu Birthday (the day he became a Neu and was born into this world) is in the Fall. However, July 4th can now become his New Birthday as we celebrate the day he was given a second chance at life and his new life in essence began. Why not celebrate this New Birthday with happy traditions filled with gratitude for another year of experiences and time with family? Whether we incorporate the traditional cake and candles or not waits to be seen, but I have now vowed to approach this day with a grateful heart rather than a fearful one.
In that spirit, let me celebrate Laurent's 18th New Birthday. In this 18th year we have been blessed to join with family for the marriage of our son to a beautiful bride. We are grateful for the memory of seeing our entire immediate family together as the two were joined together forever and reflecting on our our own wedding and sealing almost 24 years ago. We arethankful for our faith in a God who allows families the opportunity to be joined together for eternity even if not all get to remain together on earth. On this birthday we remember the importance of family in our lives and the source of our greatest joys.
On this New Birthday, we also celebrate Laurent's blessed gift of music. He continues to sing and bring the spirit of music to the hearts of those around him. Around the time of his 18th New Birthday, he fortuitously had the opportunity to share his love of music with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on tour in Europe. In fact, on the day before his New Birthday, he sang the solo part in Betelehemu with that choir in the beautiful and historical Musikverein concert hall in Vienna, Austria. This performance was a favorite of Laurent's for many reasons. His mother was baptized in Vienna back in the 60s and so we had come full circle with the gospel of Jesus Christ in our life. Mostly , though, Laurent reveled in the opportunity to sing that solo in the marvelous concert hall without a microphone. Now those who know Laurent are familiar with his powerful voice. In fact he is quite proud of the volume he can project. Normally, while singing with the choir, he has to pull back to blend with the 300 voices. But at this concert, he got to sing out fully in order to project over those 300 voices and rejoice in the freedom of expression and praise in the music. He loved it! He filled that hall with music! So on this 18th New Birthday, we celebrate that Laurent is here with us and able to experience these moments and memories with us. We gratefully acknowledge the 18 extra years he has been given to live with his family and find joy with others. Happy 18th New Birthday, Laurent. May you celebrate many more joyous occasions in the future and find ways to share your love and light with others.
We recently returned from a visit to Laurent's brother, Jon, and his wife in Minnesota over New Years. We had a wonderful time and I was struck once more with the positive attitude and indomitable spirit of the two. If you haven't had a chance to read their blog, Neu_ology, you will want to do so. Jon was diagnosed with ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease in 2013. On the pages of their blog, you can read their words of wisdom, humorous quips, and unique perspective on life. On my page today, however, I wanted to share some of the stories from our brief week with them that touched me and buoyed my spirit.
Lightning Fast Reactions
The first day we arrived, I got out my camera as usual to take pictures of everyone. Pretty much everyone in the family knows that I'm going to take pictures of our gatherings. I can't help myself. I want to remember as many of the moments as I can, and I love the challenge of trying to capture special memories. I'm definitely an amateur, but gratefully my family puts up with me while I practice. On this particular day I had gotten a new camera recently and was showing it to Jon. While standing next to him, the tiny lens cap on my mirror-less camera fell off and landed on Jon's arm laying on his wheel chair arm rests. Since Jon is unable to move any part of his body except one finger to drive his wheel chair and his head, I reached down to pick up the lens. With a twinkle in his eye, Jon turned his head toward me and laughingly quipped, "Did you see how fast my arm reached out to catch that lens cap?" And then he flashed me one of his famous Jon Neu charming grins! What an example he is of maintaining a positive attitude and sharing his wit and humor with us even in the midst of trials that would sink many of us. I am truly grateful for his example and cheerfulness!
"You made us all cry!"
Perhaps the highlight of the visit was attending the baptism of their daughter, Katie. Her older brother, Jacob, performed the baptism while Jon acted as a witness. Following the baptism, Katie sat on Jon's lap as the men in the circle placed Jon's hands upon her head and held them there while Jon performed the confirmation. I'm pretty sure there wasn't a dry eye in the room as Jon spoke lovingly and pronounced a blessing on her. We are truly grateful to have been in attendance and witness this beautiful experience.
Laurent and Kerrie Neu love sharing music with others. It's such a blessing to be able to interact with people through music.