Each journey begins with a step off of the regular daily path onto a new one; sometimes these steps are taken voluntarily - tentative towards a new direction - or boldly with a commitment to the future.

Sometimes the journey begins without warning - a thrust out of the typical daily life plan towards a scary new place without warning, without preparation, and often, without a parachute or safety net.

Today we bring you that unplanned scary moment that we could see in the distance, hoping that it would not be real.  The moment of a new unplanned, scary journey is begin faced now with strong shoulders and very sad hearts.  On December 31st, Frank will officially be medically retired from the Savage Police Department due to the injuries sustained in that terrible car crash on January 2, 2012.

Almost three years have gone by - three years initiated with extreme fear and pain, settling into perseverance and focus, coming to the end result of immense recovery, yet resounding devastation that dreams and hard work cannot fix all things broken.  Determination can bring an individual far past the boundaries of thought and medicine, but sometimes even intense determination cannot match the needs of your old life, and that can bring heartbreak.

Law enforcement and military personally share a common focus - they often perceive that what they are is who they are.  Being part of a profession that prides itself on running towards the dangers instead of away from them makes one live life in a scarier and larger place than the rest of us.  That honor code becomes a life pursuit, and when you live your life focused on this code, you become that code of honor.

Imagine how life would be perceived by an individual when this code, this badge of who you are every day, is ripped away.  No longer do you see yourself as an officer, but you also lose who you feel that you are as a person.  The entire foundation of who you are and what you are no longer exist - at least to that officer.  Giving up your department, your gun and your badge feels like you are giving up your entire world, like you are giving up yourself - and that you no longer exist.

Every day officers and soldiers feel this way when they are retired due to injuries sustained while performing the jobs that most of us could not imagine being a daily norm. Every day there is an officer handing over his badge, his gun and his identity back to the department that was once their home, their world and their life.  When they walk out of that door, they no longer know who they are, what they are, or what will become of them.  Those that ran towards the danger are no longer allowed to be part of the brethren running to help others, and they become lost in the loss.

Those of us on the outside see the pain but cannot truly understand the complete soul drowning experience that this brings - how could we?  We may be able to sympathize with the situation, but can we truly understand the depth of the perception of what they feel as losing their entire identity?  I personally cannot, and I can only stand by and offer my hand, my heart and my strength during these intense moments of loss and fear.

We don't know what the future holds for Frank - there are many small steps away from the hurt and sadness that need to be taken before anything else can happen to move forward.  The goal is to find a future professional focus that continues to utilize his skills and development as an officer that loved training and helping others in his community.  These passions and talents still remain today as a center core of who he was, and who he is now.  Finding the strength to trust that there will be a place to land after this feeling of free fall is sometimes hard to come by - but thankfully, we have been given the gift of people, officers, friends, chaplains and strangers that have found it in their hearts to care enough to give us prayers, kindness and love.

We are relying on that love, and those prayers right now to get us past this new and difficult time.

Una Stamus

Another holiday has passed, and I am glad that it is over.  Don’t get me wrong, we had a really nice holiday with extended family, a visit up north to get our Christmas tree, and time with the kids to just be together.  But like always, there are additional challenges that have to be worked around that can make any holiday seem like a lot of work.  These challenges may seem small, but trying to do a lot of small adjustments often lead to a lot of exhaustion.

I watch my fellow families of the brain injury world and I feel like an outsider sometimes because what we have in our world is minor compared to what many are dealing with in their world.  Arguments, violence, drugs and alcohol abuse, verbal barrages that seem endless, and the non-stop conversations about the same thing seem to be pervasive through the lives of so many that we encounter.  Any family can have challenges; I think all of us can agree on that.  But when a family is trying to work around the often times invisibleness of a brain injury during the holiday season, life can feel completely out of control.

I often wonder how many hours a family spends trying to create the needed space, quiet, and organization to work through a single, typical day living with a loved one with a brain injury.  Is there a number that you can guess?  Is it one?  Three?  Five?

I think that number varies for families depending on many factors, but what is important to realize is that families, spouses, kids, parents have to actively make time in their days to ensure that an individual does not get overtired, or over-stimulated,  stressed or angry.  Not giving too much information, giving not enough information, telling someone verbally versus writing it down – so many ways to communicate and interact, and just as many ways to breakdown a day into a mess.

For us, we are still learning the art of communication – it is funny being a speech therapist and still working on the best ways to communicate with Frank every day.  Learning where the limits are, what may or may not be needed in a conversation, learning when to talk and when to walk away.  Funny, it is almost comparable to when we were first married, and we were learning to get around one another in our own space.

Brain injuries change people; they change the individual that was injured, they change the family around them.  They change the structure of friends – many leave out of sadness, fear, or just not understanding this new person that is here now and desperately wanting the “old” friend.  Brain injuries change everything around the individual; brain injuries change the world.

Those of us on the outside are given the tasks of holding it together and guiding our loved one through the storm; those on the inside live in a storm that we can never understand.

My voice today tells me that we all work hard to find the best way to get through the changes and challenges, but I know it isn’t easy for any of you.  Facing the holidays knowing that many days you don’t even want to be in the same house anymore is daunting.  Know that this family around you is vast, often silent in their suffering, but can hold hope for you and your future.  I choose to not be silent, but we know that we are one of the lucky ones with recovery that was substantial, and people that still work alongside us to see us through the hard times.

We pray your Thanksgiving had moments of joy and calm.  We will keep you in our prayers.

You can live through many days thinking that you haven’t done anything to touch someone, and then you have a day like I did today.

Starting a new job and learning the ropes in a new company can be hard for anyone.  What I am finding challenging is starting from scratch without knowing any of the systems or people that I will now be working with.  The good thing is that I know how to be a speech therapist and a manager, and some days, I just fall back to those roles.  I look forward to the days when I feel confident in the basics, like knowing where the bathroom is, so that I can get back to working with staff and families again.

Today for me was no different – I was lucky enough to have some tasks to complete, plus a few meetings to attend.  During lunch I took a few minutes to check my email, and that is when I had my moment of joy.

In my email group today was a note from a young woman in Savage.  Every now and then I get an email from someone that has watched the blog from the beginning of the story, often times hoping to find out how Frank is doing.  As you may recall, testing results are pending and we are waiting for his department to make the decision as to whether or not he can return to work.  It has been a long wait – 35 months – and we are all done with the waiting.  We hope that there will be a result soon, and knowing Frank, he prays that he can just go back to the job that he has loved so much.

Today’s email was one that I will not soon forget, because it said so much about what someone can do for another person without even knowing that you have done anything.  This young woman lives in the town where Frank is a police officer.  She is a snowboarder, and this past winter, she was injured in a fall while snowboarding.  Doing the right thing, she tells me that she was wearing a helmet, yet injuries can still occur – even when wearing you seatbelt driving a car, as we well know.

This young woman’s insight into our world had new meaning after she got hurt, and although our paths are not exactly the same, brain injury has some common themes that often bring individuals together, regardless of the severity of the injury.  I am delighted that my ramblings over the last (almost) three years have helped others, because it is often difficult to find the meaning in the pain of life altering situations.  While I know that we are still in a storm of uncertainty, bright lights like this young lady’s email allow us to take a breath of fresh air, and realize that hope still lives in many people out there.

Thank you Katie for your kind words – you gave us both a gift today that has more value than almost anything we could receive these days.