In Memory of Emmer, August 28, 1915 – January 15, 2013

She was my Grandmother, my confidant, my best friend.
She was our matriarch, the queen of our castle, the caller of the shots.
She was my link to our past, my purpose in our present and my hope for our future.
She was a quiet strength and calm in any storm.
She loved a long dinner with her special friends.
She loved to play bridge, and she really loved winning the pot.
She loved fine classical music.
She loved to read good books.
She loved to learn.
She read the newspaper cover to cover everyday.
She never took for granted her right to vote and she never missed voting in an election, local or national.
She loved a good manicure with clear nail polish, because one should never call too much attention to themselves.
She loved a glass of wine in the afternoon.
She loved cheese biscuits.
She loved Hershey’s chocolate nuggets.
She loved coffee ice cream with caramel sauce on top.
She loved homegrown tomato sandwiches with mayo on thin white bread.
She loved salmon colored geraniums on her porch in the summer.
She loved to laugh until she cried.
She told you what she thought, yes indeed, she always told you what she thought.
Sometimes she didn’t tell you, she just groaned her opinion, and that was all it took.
She believed a lady should always be prepared to host guests.
She believed in the value of the past and the power of the future.
She believed tomorrow would always be better than today.
She taught by example.
She taught me the importance of a proper handshake.
She taught my boys how to properly make up a bed with hospital corners.
She taught my boys to pull out a chair and assist women as they are seated.
She taught them the manners of waiting to sit until all the women were seated.
She taught them never to eat until she had raised her fork at the dinner table.
She taught me to look past the outside and peer into the more valuable inside.
She taught me to speak less and listen more.
Her selflessness was limitless.
Her determination was unstoppable.
Her strength was constant.
Her grace and kindness had power that she never understood.
She said she was just herself, yet everyone else saw so much more.
Her eyes and her emotions told stories words could not tell.
She loved her family with every ounce of herself and then some.
My life, and the lives of all who knew her are forever better having known her.
She was exceptional, though she didn’t think so.
She was just herself, nothing more and nothing less.
Plain and simple and absolutely exceptional.
Our love extends beyond the grave.
We miss her every single day.
Our eyes still fill with tears when we talk about her, but the tears flow more from laughter rather than pain.
She is with her groom, her mama (whom she brought into her own home and cared for almost until her passing) a brother who died too early for her to know and her Lord.
She would not come back if she could.
She’s home.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, January 2014

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Sorting it out; a year later

A year ago I sat in front of this computer in complete anger and frustration. That’s when the seizures returned and I started the mad science lesson with medicine that really isn’t quite over just yet. A year ago I was mad at epilepsy and I was mad at brain injury and I was mad that they were messing with me again. Yes, I’m a control freak. I’ll admit it. Guess what? I can’t shake my finger at my own brain and tell it to shape up. Well, I can, but it doesn’t do any good.  I needed some time to release the anger and move on to acceptance before I could start working towards healing again. In so many ways that seems like yesterday and it seems like an entire lifetime ago. In all honestly, I’m not completely over my anger, I’ve just refocused that anger into something more worthwhile than self-destruction.

I have to give props to my family who put up with the likes of attitudes out of me of the last year that I probably would not believe I actually displayed. People who have never had to take drugs for your brain may never understand what it feels like to look in the mirror and not recognize the face, to answer a question and yet not understand your own the response, or to find yourself lost in the city you have called home for 35 years. I’m dealing with it all. I pound it all out in the pavement every week.

There’s one thing that I had hoped would come back over the last year, and it hasn’t. In fact, it has progressively gotten worse. I’m not so much mad, it just makes me sad. I lost a great deal of my ability to really express myself after my brain injury. I know…many of you may disagree, but Johnny, or my Mom or Sharon, (and they know it doesn’t hurt my feelings to be honest about it either) will agree with me on this point. They know. I lost the ability to verbally express myself, yet I found I could express myself through writing.  My blog was such a source of comfort and release for me.  But my new medicine has….well…I can’t find the words for it…now even my written words are a lot slower, or just not there at all. So now everything I feel, and experience stays pretty much bottled up inside me but is swelling in every direction. But I can’t comprehend the swells or begin to let the swells overflow onto paper, so the foam continues to bubble up. I’m not really mad about it anymore, maybe frustrated, maybe annoyed. The trade-off is that this medicine is keeping the seizures away. Seems like a small price to pay for life, right. I’m a mom, seizure free is my goal, I have to accept swelling foamy bubbles not matter how much they confuse me.

So, I’ll keep refocusing my ______ into something more worthwhile. Please don’t stop reading my blog just because I’m not posting as often, it’s just because I can’t figure out how to say what’s on my mind. I’m still busy though, If you haven’t already heard about my worthwhile venture…click the link below. I gotta do something to find a better drug than this one…this is the best way I know to do that!  http://epilepsytherapyproject.myetap.org/fundraiser/2012PHLMarathon/individual.do?participationRef=3917.0.251389979

Good thing there is a lot of pavement left in Huntersville and a lot of miles left on my shoes. I tend to have a lot of energy to burn, for good reason. Maybe one day I can explain.

Copyright © Gatewood Campbell, July 2012

The Decision to Walk Away Comes Full Circle

After my accident and Epilepsy diagnosis I tried to continue working. I put every ounce of energy I had into my job. I worked in a church and I had been there 12 years. I had seen tremendous growth over those years. It was a place and a community of people that had captured a huge part of my heart and my life.  My job was people driven. My ministry was about helping people feel welcome and comfortable. It was my responsibility to guide them into the church and help them find their niche. Ironic, given that I was working so hard to make people feel comfortable, yet I felt so incredibly uncomfortable. Post injury, I was different and I knew it. My brain functioned differently. Before the injury I could look at point A, envision point Z and immediately get to work on the plan to get there, no matter how complicated the task. Post injury, I could look at point A, envision point Z, but everything in the middle was blank. I had no idea how to do it, I mean I had absolutely no clue where to begin and I didn’t have anyone to help me. The expectations and demands placed on me did not change, but my ability did. I would stare at memos listing things I was supposed to work on, and the words blurred from the tears falling off my face. I didn’t know how to accomplish what needed to be done and I had no where to turn for help. Behind my blank stares, what people didn’t know was that I was afraid to even answer the phone. Many times I didn’t understand the questions people asked me and if it required my short term memory to form an answer I couldn’t do it. I relied on voicemail to take messages so I could replay the messages multiple times before attempting to devise a plan to answer the needs of the caller before calling them back. I rarely returned emails in the same day, because I was overwhelmed everytime the dumb computer dinged that I had a new message. I wanted to scream “I’m doing the best that I can!”  The stress of not being able to perform at work was detrimental to my recovery. I started having seizures in my office. Sometimes I could sense them coming and had enough time to call Johnny and manage to speak enough words that let him know I needed help. More than once he had to leave his job and come sit with me until the seizure passed.  Sometimes I wasn’t able to call Johnny or my Mom for help, so I would sit in my office, all alone, hoping that I had taken my anti-seizure meds soon enough to limit the seizure. As this routine became more frequent…work, stress, seizure…work, stress, seizure…my neurologist encouraged me to take a hard look at my life. She said it was no longer in the best interest of my health to try to work. This memo I understood…Point A was seizures…Point Z was seizure free. The path to get there meant eliminating unnecessary stressors in my life. The unnecessary stress was my job. I tried to make sense of her advice. Yes, it made logical sense, but it didn’t make heart sense. How could it be right to walk away from ministry? How could walking away from people who needed help be right?  For months my doctor and I would have the same discussion….”you need to quit your job”….”yeah, but it’s ministry and I can’t just walk away from ministry. How can it be God’s plan to walk away from ministry?”  This mental back and forth conversation was getting very old…and so were the seizures.

On a Thursday afternoon in January 2007, just shy of two years from the accident that caused the Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, I was again overwhelmed by the demands at work. I ate lunch at my desk and decided I needed a breather. I went for a drive and ended up at the cemetery in Davidson. I walked over to my Grandfather’s plot and plopped onto the grass in front of his grave marker. Slowly and deliberately I traced every single letter in his name with my fingers.              W I L L I A M  G A T E W O O D  W O R K M A N. One by one I pulled the blades of grass from the ground so that every edge of the marble slab was visible. I looked at the marker that will one day cover my Grandmother’s grave. I brushed my hand across the cold smoothe surface of the gray slab. I began to pray and then I began to cry. This was not a quiet gentle cry, this was the ugly kind of crying when your whole body gasps for air. I was so lost and confused and I began to tell my Grandfather all about it. I was talking out loud about my frustration with the accident, the injury, the diagnosis, my job and the constant criticism I faced  …blah blah blah. I remember uttering that no matter how hard I tried at work it was never enough, and that I just didn’t know what to do. I just needed someone to help me. And then…. I was interrupted. I froze, there were no more tears and the peace within and around me was palpable.  I heard a voice. I looked at the ground expecting to see a shadow cast in front of me. Nope, no shadow. I looked up to my right, expecting to see someone standing there. Nope, no one. But the voice remained. The voice, God? My Grandfather? I don’t know, but the direction given by the voice was unmistakably clear. The voice spoke to my head and to my heart. Very clearly, this is what I heard “Well done. Your ministry at the church is done. You have accomplished my plan for you and I am pleased. Your time there is over. Your family is your ministry and you must go to them.” Loud and clear…Yep, I heard this loud and clear. I hopped up from the ground, walked back to my car, drove back to my office and started drafting my letter of resignation. Sure, this didn’t really make logical sense, but I knew this was not a plan that I was going to argue with. Loud and clear…one door had just been closed. The following Monday I turned in my notice.

Four and a half years have passed since then. My days are indeed filled with ministering to my family. I could never have known what was to come or why it was vital that my time and energy be available for my family in the years after I walked away from my job. Of course, my time is full with my boys, playing Mom to various neighborhood kids when school lets out, chauffeuring back and forth between schools, sports and other activities. I knew my days would be filled with these things. I didn’t know that my Grandmother would come to depend on me so much. I didn’t know that my own brain injury would equip me to better help her and to better understand her needs. I didn’t know that right there, sitting in front of my Grandfather’s grave, God spoke to me because God knew that in a couple of short years, the love of my Grandfather’s life was going to need me to ensure that her life, however long it may be, is lived to the greatest extent possible.

Several months ago I was getting ready to leave my Grandmother’s room. I had finished her laundry and put everything away. I went through our routine of helping her put on her knee high pantyhose and shoes, filing and painting her fingernails, and her toenails (yes I even do toenails) opening and sorting her mail and clearing off all the voicemails on her answering machine, etc etc. We reviewed her plans for the rest of the day and talked about what she had planned. We made arrangements for her meals and even laid out clothes for the next day. I did a quick mental checklist and thought she was all set and I was ready to go. I gathered up my bags and told her we had taken care of everything and I was going to leave. She glanced at me and slowly lowered her chin towards her chest. She let out a long sigh and her chin started to tremble and I realized she was fighting back tears. She said “it’s just so hard getting old, being confused and trying to live on your own.” If ever there was an “ah ha” moment in my life, this was it for sure! In the blink of her eyes, the previous six years zoomed through my mind in picture pages. Her eyes reflected my own image. I recognized the blank stare looking back at me. I knew all too well the confusion and desperation she felt. I realized that my January visit to the cemetery four years ago was all about this moment. God had indeed planned my journey, accident, injury and all. He had equipped me to understand what others can’t. He had equipped me to care for my Grandmother and make her quality of life better. There, in 2007, at the foot of my Grandfather’s grave, though he had died 12 years earlier, he and God pointed me in the direction of my family, because they knew what the future held. So I looked back at my Grandmother, put my bags down and pulled my chair right up beside her. I took her calendar from her hand and said “I understand, now tell me what is confusing you and I will help you through this, one step at a time.”

© Gatewood Campbell, June 2011

Just When I Least Expected It

This is a copy of my first post on Facebook in March.  It was, for many, the very first time they had heard this story. Even for those that knew, they didn’t know the depths nor the details. I have never felt such love as I did when I began to read the comments that people shared with me having read my post.  Today, I share it on my blog, not within the safety of my FB friends list, but open on the web, for anyone to read. This is a big leap for me.

The seizure took me by surprise. It had been six months since my accident that left me with a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. I was finally beginning to learn how to face the world again. Brain injury is a curious thing. On the outside I looked the same. Beneath the surface, everything, and I mean EVERYTHING was completely different. Nothing was routine anymore and I could not remember anything. I had to keep notes in order to recall my birthday, my children’s birthdates and even my own home phone number. I would wake up each morning and put a sticky note on the phone with the current date and where my kids were that day. Justin was in Elementary School so usually I knew where he was. Hunter was almost two and naturally I wanted him to be with me as much as possible. The problem was that I couldn’t remember when he was with me or when he was at daycare.  I remember being downstairs and being frightened by his sudden appearance in the room because I had forgotten he was at home. If he was at daycare I would run frantically to his room multiple times each day looking for him. We decided it was safest for him to go to daycare everyday, at least until I had learned to cope with my new world. If I became confused during the day I learned to go to the phone and everything I needed to know was listed there. I remember the first time I went to the grocery store and I stood in the produce section with an empty cart and I had no idea how to go about filling the cart. I left the store empty handed with my head hung low and tears streaming down my face. I didn’t feel like I even knew who I was anymore. My body was the same, but my brain, my very own brain that I had always known, was suddenly foreign territory.

I took a leave from work and worked hard to recover from my brain trauma and go through extensive cognitive rehabilitation. In six months I was finally making positive steps in recovery. I was learning to accept the changes and I was learning to incorporate strategies to compensate for my deficiencies. And then, just when I thought I could manage to face a day without as many sticky notes and reminders….the seizure that brought another new diagnosis.

I remember looking across the rack of clothes in Gymboree at my two year old and thinking to myself “I’m in trouble and I need help. I need someone to help me. I need someone to help my son!” I tried to speak but nothing would come out of my mouth. I desperately wanted to get the attention of the people in the store, but I couldn’t. Then, I remember staring up into the lights in the ceiling and crying out for my baby boy. The Gymboree manager was staring deep into my eyes with a calm spirit and a gentle voice. She repeatedly told me that he was ok. From the corner of my eye I could see his stroller and he was surrounded by women who had come to our aid and distracted him from the scene that had just unfolded. There must have been four or five women smiling at him, singing to him, covering him head to toe in stickers and batting balloons back and forth with him. He was fine. I was not, but I didn’t know why. I wanted to get up but my head was pounding, my shoulder was hurt and I could barely speak because my tongue hurt so much(I had chomped down on it very hard during the seizure).  There was chaos and confusion. I could hear people talking on two-way radios and cell phones. I was scared and confused. I tried to stay focused on the young store manager with the gentle voice. She kept telling me to stay still and help was on the way. The EMT arrived quickly and started asking me as well as everyone in the store a gazillion questions. If you are going to have an emergency, evidently it is helpful to do so in a new mall with state of the art security and a complete emergency response plan in place. I thought to myself “Ok, you have got to be kidding me! Am I on candid camera? Is this a dream….or maybe a nightmare? I finally got up the nerve to venture outside of my safety zone and go try going somewhere new, on my own…and THIS is what happens? I just wanted to check the clearance rack in Gymboree!” I heard a familiar voice and arched my neck back towards the front of the store. I wanted to be sure the face matched the voice. Yes, it was Johnny!  After my accident, I programmed his phone number as the “In Case of Emergency” contact in my cell phone and I had put his contact information directly underneath my driver’s license in my wallet. Someone in the store called him right away. He rushed to the mall and flagged down security in the parking lot and told them he had received a call from Gymboree. Security said they knew about the situation and escorted him right to my side. He was with me within minutes of my seizure. I remember Johnny’s calm demeanor and easy, but controlled voice telling me that I had a seizure and that everything was going to be ok. Ah yes, another escort in the ambulance for me while Johnny was off and running to farm out our kids to our relatives and then meet me at the hospital. Here we go…again. I was tired of this becoming the new normal in our life.

 Somehow, given the events of the previous six months, the current circumstances probably should not have been a surprise. Regardless, I was surprised by the seizure and even more surprised that a slip and fall would lead to Epilepsy. Now I had a chronic condition that would require medicine for the rest of my life. To say the seizure was a setback in my recovery from the initial brain injury is an understatement. This was only the beginning of a journey I did not choose, but one which God chose for me. It’s only now that I’m beginning to understand why He has taken me on this long road and how I can still flourish, even within my own safe world.

 Why am I telling this story now?  In the last six years few people had a room with a view my world. I’ve spent years paddling through muddy water and I’m finally beginning to see clear beautiful water ahead. A dear friend suggested I start putting my thoughts on paper and sharing my experience. It may only help me to digest my life, or maybe it will help someone else. Perhaps it is simply that for several years I functioned under the false belief that I should keep my injury and my diagnosis a secret. That false belief delayed my ability to recover and it’s time to make some changes. I am not damaged goods. In fact I am a better person having been through these experiences. I still have lots to learn, lots of positive things to share and beautiful family and friends to walk this road with me.

© Gatewood Campbell, June 2011