It only hurts when he laughs.
I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Coming back to an estranged husband after his accident, only to find "my" home in a state of complete and utter filth; blood-soaked pillows and urine-soaked linens stuffed in garbage bags in the garage; trash piled on countertops and cigarette butts in every toilet. All this, thanks to the woman who claimed to care so much for him after I left. You see, he fell one night taking out the trash and hit his head. She left him lying, bleeding, in a bed for three full days before calling an ambulance.
But I digress. I'm here now. It will all be OK, right?
My daughters nursed him through the roughest part. They found him tied to a hospital bed unable to walk or speak coherently. They gave him direction. They loved him. They cleaned him up and started the process of restablizing his thought process. "Today is Friday. Where are we?" "No, we aren't in Paris, we are in New York." "No, this isn't an apartment in France, it's a hospital room." You might wonder where is the woman who said she cared so much for him? She appeared at the hospital a few times. Drunk. Yelling at him. Yelling at the girls.
When he was well enough to be moved to a nursing facility and rehab center the girls were always there to keep him safe. Yes, safe. 200 pound toddlers can get into so much michief! He was making real progress. Sure, the diagnosis of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and alcohol-induced dementia were troubling but we were all there to take care of him. It was going to be OK.
Then, Stench reappeared. That's right, Stench. The name the girls felt best described this person who had infiltrated their family smelling of cigarette smoke and cheap purfume and booze. Seems she'd forged a Power of Attorney and Medical Proxy to claim her place in his life. Legal battles insued. But again, I digress.
After weeks of preparation, we brought him home. It was so hard at first. Stench had tried to poison him with lies about the family. Naturally, we forbid her access to him and that made him angry. He threw things. He spit at me. He tried leaving and I had to call the police and tell them a crazy person was on the loose. I kept the house alarm set at all times and a baby monitor in his room. I wasn't certain of my ability to keep this up long term.
Then something very strange happened. One night after I thought he was asleep and I had my rare and treasured moments of peace, he knocked on my door. With tears in his eyes he said he was so sorry for how he had been treating me. I told him it's OK. You are safe now. It will be OK.
Although he still has very little memory of the hospital or rehab he understands he almost died. He understands who took care of him. He knows I won't leave him alone and he is safe. Sometimes he is very confused and I need to redirect him to something he can control. Like a simple card game. Oh my, how he has developed a love of card games!
And sometimes, he laughs. That's when it hurts the most. When I see that glimmer of the man he once was with the huge smile and beautiful mouth and infectious laughter. It only hurts when he laughs.