Their Compass

One of the many photos my friend has sent of his wife on the road to recovery.

One of the many photos my friend has sent of his wife on the road to recovery.

Yesterday, for the first time since October, my friend’s wife remembered his name.

See, toward the end of October she died—or as near to it as one can come and not. Her heart stopped. Then all of her brain except that most primal part, the part that keeps the smallest hint of breath going and the organs living, stopped. This happened during the birth of their first child.

For two weeks she lay completely unresponsive except to “nauxious stimuli,” the medical term for aggressive rubbing of the sternum or pinching of the nail beds. Even her newborn baby girl lying on her chest didn’t bring a stir. My friend sent me a photo of Rose, his beautiful, teeny baby girl, lying on his wife’s chest while she lay oblivious, her eyes closed and her face lifeless. There was no chin nuzzled into that precious baby smell.

Eventually, just as the doctors were planning her discharge to a long term nursing home with feedings through a tube directly to her stomach and no hope for any further recovery, she began to respond the least little bit. She kept her eyes open sometimes and closed others in enough of a semblance of a sleep/wake cycle that she got credit for one. Sometimes, she even looked directly at people in her room. These painfully small advances were enough to gain her entrance into a center for rehabilitation of brain injury. November 19th she started that next leg of her journey.

My friend has been with her every step of the way.

Before Rose was born, they were best friends, one of those couples who did everything together, spent weekends snuggled up on their small loveseat in each others’ arms. When he originally told me of the incident, of course my first worry was that she would never come back to us. My next worry, though, was that if she did, her personality would be changed in such a way that she would no longer see him the way she did before.

I went to visit them as soon as I could, a little over two weeks into her stay at the rehab, and my fears were quickly laid to rest. At that point, she could say only single syllables. Purposeful movement was minimal. She held her thin arms curled, fists close to her face. Turning her head to a sound or a movement was slow and laborious and the light in her eyes often dim. But not when she looked at him. When she saw him, her face brightened, and she came to life. So did he. She smiled, and her eyes twinkled. He booped her nose and stood for hours by her side. She could say no words to him, and he couldn’t be sure she understood his, but they didn’t need them. Whatever else of her was gone, her love for my friend remained.

Until yesterday, she couldn’t call to mind his name when she saw him, but her heart knew who he was.

My friend and his wife are on the wrong journey. Instead of watching Rose laugh and coo and learn to roll over and crawl and walk and talk, they are hoping that her mama will be able to do all of those things. They are in uncharted territory because so few people cheat the grim reaper that every battle leaves the victor in a different world from the last who won. Their compass is the same, though, and it will lead them through. Love will continue to guide them.

And how could that be wrong?


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