Today we are privileged to have a guest post written by our friend, Lori D. Lowe, marriage blogger at Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage, due out TODAY. It’s a great book to give as a Christmas gift to your married friends.
If life were easier, would your marriage be better? Strangely enough, the opposite might be true.
Adversity sometimes teaches us what we wouldn’t learn otherwise, and it can bring us together in ways we never expected. That’s not to say I wish for bad things to happen; I surely do not. However, I think we can learn from others who have earned their wisdom the hard way. One couple who taught me the gifts behind adversity is the Jerdes.
I interviewed Patty and Paul Jerde of Dallas for my new book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. They were young and happily married with a five-year old son when tragedy struck. They had previously thought “for better or for worse” applied to them only in some future realm when they were older.
However, on Father’s Day in 2008, Paul—as part of his new fitness initiative— rode his bike home from a birthday party where they were all celebrating and was struck by a car. Despite his helmet, he suffered from severe brain damage as a result of speed on impact, and went into a coma. Patty learned that unlike in the movies and soap operas, people don’t often suddenly awaken from a coma and return to their former lives. In fact, it took many months of waiting, hoping and praying before Paul completely emerged from various levels of consciousness and could show that he recognized his loved ones.
The first sign Paul offered was lifting his finger when asked. Doctors had no idea what to expect of his progress, but about three weeks after accident, he opened his eyes without being “awake.” Patty had to fight hard to make rehabilitation services available to Paul, as doctors initially recommended sending him to a long-term nurses’ facility, where she could continue to “evaluate his quality of life.” But soon other signs emerged, such as his old mannerisms and facial expressions. They celebrated every sign of progress, most remarkably when Paul recognized his son, reached for him and called his name.
As Paul fully understood what had happened to him, he was able to write his feelings, such as being terrified. Paul’s love for Patty poured out for weeks every day that Patty visited him. He fell in love with Patty all over again. “It was like coming home from a war. He would grab me and sob and hold me like he didn’t know where he was and he didn’t know if he would see me again,” said Patty. Paul asked for two family members who had passed away, not remembering their deaths. It was like experiencing the loss for a second time. Paul also asked Patty to marry him, having forgotten that they were already married. But Paul had a gradual increase in clarity, eventually piecing together the vast majority of his memories. He remembers clients, coworkers and lots of other details.
Paul’s personality and memories are mostly intact. Paul suffered from apraxia of speech, which gives him an extreme speech deficit, but devices now help him to communicate. He also cannot stand and walk on his own but has made considerable progress in his mobility. Patty takes him to speech and physical therapy and is his constant encouragement and support, along with their extended family. Patty says Paul still has a great sense of humor, but worries less about things, except about how to be a great father. (His own father abandoned him at age 5, and he didn’t want his son to suffer by not having an active Dad.) They continue to work hard each day to maximize Paul’s abilities.
To say that life has changed dramatically for the Jerdes is clearly an understatement. However, what is intriguing is Patty’s positivity about their situation. During my interviews with her, she never lamented what she has lost. Instead, she expressed what they have gained. “We always had a strong marriage, but (the accident) definitely unified us. We’re just one now,” she says, adding that before the accident they both had jobs and social lives, and they connected mostly on the weekends.
Patty says others wonder how she can stay positive. “We’re here and we’re faced with this. We can either lock the door and stay home, or we can try as much as we can,” she explains. She has always told Paul he would do something extraordinary with his life. She had always believed it, but wasn’t sure what his accomplishment would be. Now she says she understands this is part of the extraordinary life they will lead.
The Jerdes demonstrate that life and marriage often follow the unplanned route. Paul and Patty allowed this life-changing accident to crystallize their marriage, making it more unified than before. Despite Patty having the role of a caregiver, they maintain that they still have a strong partnership in their marriage, with gratitude flowing both ways. Paul is grateful for the loving daily care he receives, and Patty is also grateful that Paul is still in her life.
“I still feel so much love for Paul and feel so strongly about what we’re going through. Sometimes I think that even though this is a tragedy, it has made our lives extraordinary,” says Patty. “It’s a whole different life experience.”
What is it about your life and marriage that you wish you could change? Is there anything positive you can learn or share from your experience? How would you handle an event that drastically impacted your health or abilities, or that of your spouse?
Lori Lowe is a journalist, GenXer, and child of divorce. Her book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage will be available Dec. 8 on Amazon.com and in various e-book formats at LoriDLowe.com. Couples featured in the book experienced many challenges, including infertility, child loss, infidelity, drug addiction, unsupportive families, faith differences, military separation, life-threatening illness, raising a special-needs child, financial crises and much more. You can also connect with Lori at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss.