I’ve been wanting to write you for some time now. In that strange phenomenon of life in the 21st century, I have come to know both you and your mother electronically. That is to say, while my husband knew your mom in-person, I have come to know her, and consequently you, through social media. I connected with your mother’s irreverence, straight-forwardness, and willingness to hang it all out there in a “what-the-hell, you only live once, loosen up your collar and share a shot with me,” perspective on the world.
My relationship with you (can I call it that?) has taken longer to develop. At first, you were merely ancillary – the handsome son about to graduate high school who graphically got some teeth severed from his jaw in a soccer match. Then, slowly, more of you began to emerge. The creative, intelligent boy who made a wonderfully entertaining and humorous mock ISIS recruitment video for a high school class. A couple months back (it seems like several years ago) you stole center stage, though, with the discovery of that bastard Homer who’d somehow made a nest in the core of your brain. For those of you who think I might be in Colorado smoking a little legal weed, Homer is the moniker Angie (Jack’s mom) gave to the brain tumor that had secretly been waging a life-long war on Jack. Your dream of continuing the family warrior tradition of fighting for your country’s ideals, was suddenly sidelined. Instead, you had been knighted to fight the dragon inside of you, in a strange Eastern medieval fashion.
You did not realize it, I’m not even sure I did, but that day you and I were connected. I’m not sure why, but the date of your battle became lodged in my head – even overriding my own life issues, like my husband’s absence and my children’s looming trip to Alaska. When Jim called to check in the day of your surgery, around midmorning, from a Forest Service cabin on Hebgen Lake, I said, “Jack’s been in surgery now for at least four hours, still no update from Angie.” I’d misunderstood that you were going in at 6:30 a.m. on May 18th. Jim, who was in his “I’m fishing” mode, paused, and had to do a mental shift before he could respond and reassure me. Clearly, the anxiety in my tone surprised him. We’d both talked about your surgery, and Jim was aware of it, but I didn’t really “know” Angie, I’d never met her and I’d never met you – why the level of concern? For some reason, I just felt a deep emotional connection with both you and your mom. I knew that both of you needed to feel connected to something stronger than yourselves, a force of love that was like a wall of soldiers standing ready behind you.
It was weird, Jack, and an entirely new use of social media that gave me a healthy respect for it as a new kind of support tool. Sure, I’d seen other postings about folks with health issues, etc., but none of them reached me like yours. Maybe it’s because your mom’s a writer I connect with, maybe it’s my own traumatic brain injury that I survived, maybe it’s because I’ve always had an affinity for the name Jack, or maybe it’s just because I’m a mom. Regardless, I stalked your mom’s Facebook page relentlessly that day and the following for updates – any sign that you’d fought Homer and won. Thankfully, your mom seemed to know that myself and many others needed updates from the battlefield, and she kept us well-informed. But, the immediate good news was followed by the realities of the inevitable side-effects of brain surgery. That night, the first, when your mom shared with us your degraded condition, I cried for you and for her. My children comforted me and as I told them about you, they too came to know Jack.
The next day, when I picked the children up from school, my 13-year-old daughter got in the car and the first thing she said was, “How’s Jack?” If you’ve had teenagers then you realize how amazing that is, given their entirely selfish natures. I thanked her for asking and then reassured her that although you’d slain the dragon, the injuries you’d received in the fight would take time to heal. That evening, as I was patiently waiting for a final update from your mom, the video came. That dancing Brain Surgery Boogie video. And, Jack, with that video I came to know all that is you. Your spirit was trying to tell your mom, and all of us, to have no fear you were celebrating the win. But, juxtaposed with that video was the comment from your school psychologist about two suicides in your school that week. Which made your video even more poignant. You chose to fight Jack. You stood and fought for your life and here you are, waiting for your body to catch up to your heart and spirit.
My message to you today is simple Jack. Be patient. Give your body time. Let it heal. The best advice I got after my Carotid Artery Dissection was from a nurse friend of mine who said, “Your body is running a marathon every day trying to heal. Listen to your body.” She told me this because I was so frustrated at what I couldn’t do. Before my dissection, I was cycling 100-mile weeks, running, and more. I’d never had my body fail me before. But, suddenly, it was like someone turning off a light switch. I’d announce, “I have to go to bed,” and I’d have all I could do to make it up the flight of stairs and onto my bed. My body took charge of me and that was a frightening feeling. What I’m telling you is to listen to your body. Don’t push too hard too soon. You are going to be back before you know it, but time has a new elasticity when it comes to healing. You need to take the long view and celebrate every moment that you are Homer-free, even if it is going to temporarily reroute you.
Thank you for reminding all of us that life is worth living and worth fighting for Jack. You are an amazing young man and I feel very proud to know you, even if it’s in this weird 21st century kind of way. One of these days, I’m going to get in the car and drive down to Colorado Springs, just to shake your hand. Men can spend 20-years in the military and never see combat like you have. Be proud, be patient, be strong, and most of all, keep dancing.
Much love to you from Montana.