This blog is a continuation in a series I am writing about my husband’s brain injury. If you wish to read the story in order, go back in my archives and find Begin at the Beginning…all the ones in the category brain injury tell my story. Some are longer than others…they come in chunks of time…sometimes quickly and others much slower. Thanks for taking the time to read and being patient as I walk through the one of the toughest parts of my life again with new eyes to see how God used the broken pieces to create something beautiful.
From the time Bill was in a regular room until he left the hospital I tried to bring him music. The doctors said that since he was a musician, and it was such an important part of his life, that it would be beneficial to immerse him as long as it was calming and did not agitate him. Excited to have something to do other than sit and wait, I took it upon myself to gather a basket of cassette tapes that he loved so he would have a selection. A DJ friend of ours also brought me a huge assortment of tapes from the radio station. I borrowed a boom box from a friend. Armed with more than 100 tapes, and with great anticipation I cleared the bedside table and set up what I thought would be the way back for Bill. I popped in a tape…I can’t even remember who…and pushed play. The notes flowed out into the room and I watched his eyes for the reaction. I expected calm and peace to flood him. I expected remembrance and recognition and maybe a smile or a nod. Instead I got rage and fire in his eyes. He grabbed the boom box and yanked the cord from the wall. He pulled the tape out and threw it across the room. I was shocked into silence. Stunned and scared. It hit me like a blow to the gut. How could my husband who loved music as his life be so disconnected from it? Who was this man? How would I ever find a way to reconnect if music didn’t work?
Ever the stubborn one, I refused to give up after one outburst. I took a step back for a bit, but then regrouped. I was determined that this would work. Because I KNEW his love of music I also KNEW that for him to come back, music would have to be a part of it. I put in tape after tape over the course of his time in the hospital. I tried classical, and classic. I tried secular and Christian. I tried worship music, and spoken scripture. Acoustic and electric. Piano and guitar. He destroyed any and all he could reach. Ribbons of tape filled his trashcan. He broke three boom boxes by throwing them across the room at me, which was not exactly what the doctors had in mind when they said music could calm him. I learned to wait until he was sleeping to quietly turn it on, and back then, when the tape was over, it cut itself off so when he awoke in the morning he never knew it had been playing. I am not only stubborn, but I am sneaky too. If music could not pour into him while he was awake, I knew it could while he was sawing logs.
Then I figured if listening to music didn’t work, maybe playing it would. I got permission to bring one of his keyboards into the room, kind of as unofficial music therapy. (This was before music therapy became a legitimate therapy used in hospitals.) I took his favorite keyboard to Wizard Electronics in Atlanta to have some keys that were cracked fixed. Once I got it back I hoisted the thing in the car and carted it and a small hot spot amp into his room. In the 80’s keyboards weighed a TON so this was no small task on my part. Since he ate in the day room now, I set it up on the tray cart in his room that he no longer used. The first night I turned it on and tried to get him to play. He hit a couple of notes and stopped. Rather than angry, like with the tapes, he had sorrow in his eyes. It had never occurred to me he might not remember how to play. Never even crossed my mind that he could have a total disconnect between his brain and his hands. I played Mary had a Little Lamb (the only song I knew) and rolled the keyboard over to his bed for him to try. He didn’t play it, but instead played one or two chords, however, they sounded off even to my untrained ear. He turned it off and pushed it away. I told him he could try a little bit each day if he wanted, or I could take it home. He didn’t want me to take it, but he never played it either. I tried to get him to each day and he wouldn’t…though I wasn’t sure if it was wouldn’t or couldn’t. I saw fear and frustration in his empty eyes. Once again I was alarmed at how detached from it he was. It was as if his heart was gone. His eyes still glazed not much expression other than daily rages that came and went. He was a hollow shell, and in his withdrawal I recognized my own. I closed off my own heart as well because it hurt too badly to feel it. I compartmentalized as much as possible. Work was work. Hospital was hospital. Home was home.
If his music was gone, so was mine. The thought of life without it was too hard to bear, and so I didn’t think of it. I put it to the side and continued to attempt each day to find some connection for him and with him. I didn’t give up exactly, but I didn’t push anymore either. I put one foot in front of the other. Breathed in, breathed out. I tried to avoid his tantrums by keeping him busy and not talking about too much. I let him talk and in so doing I began to shut myself down. My own thoughts took a second place to whatever he wanted to say. I poured out in my private journal and in my moments with God. I cried out to him to sustain me and to hold me up. It was during this time I learned to have conversations with God instead of just giving him a list. I learned to listen. The longing to find connection with Bill was overshadowed by the totality of the disconnection. An odd place to be. A hard place to be.
Then one evening, during my visit, I put in Phil Driscol’s album I Exalt Thee. I had my hand poised near the tape player to fend off any of Bill’s attempts to throw anything. Instead of the usual attack, Bill looked up at me with tears running down his face. He closed his eyes and put his head back on the pillow and sighed. A total peace came over him and his shoulders just relaxed. Within minutes he was sleeping soundly. I was stunned and overwhelmed by the peace in the room. Trumpet. Who knew? It was some of the most anointed music I had ever heard and I never took it out after that. It played pretty much non-stop whenever he was in his room.
(Years later, at our church, Bill had an opportunity to talk one on one with Phil for almost an hour. He told him that his music and that album in particular, was the only thing that brought him peace during his recovery. Phil said that his was one of many, many stories about that particular album…stories of healing from around the world when people listened to those old hymns played on his trumpet.)
The first time I was able to get Bill a day pass from the hospital was a Sunday. We went to church, and though a keyboard was sitting waiting for him on the stage, he would not touch it. Many weeks went by, until one Sunday he walked up there just like it was the most normal thing. A hush came over the room. No one knew what to do. I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea what he would play, or if he could play anything at all. I started to go retrieve him to avoid what could possibly end in an outburst of frustration, but God stilled me. Slowly Bill pecked at the keys. The congregation was collectively holding its breath. The guitar player, who was a good friend of ours, picked up his guitar and started playing a familiar worship song. Bill followed. Gradually the other band members joined in and soon they were all laughing and playing together, and let me tell you, that there was some worship in that place on that day! There was not a dry eye in the building as Bill closed his eyes and got lost in the music. Even now when you see him play, you will notice the animation and passion in his song and on his face. He cannot help himself. Once he was lost…then he was found. The music found him and he found the music…they found each other…and in that connection was the power of God to heal his mind and soul.