Missing Someone Who Never Left

teddy   

“Uneventful.” That is simply how I would describe my seemingly “normal” family. I was raised with three predictably rowdy younger brothers. We uprooted and moved a short two blocks away when I was six, and my parents still live in the same house. We all took the acceptable route after high school of going away to college. My family was, and still is, close and enjoys spending time together. We were fortunate that we had not encountered many of the wretched issues like illness, divorce, unemployment, or early death like others we had known. It wasn’t that I considered us lucky, just that we were simply “normal” in my mind.

My brothers are some of my best friends. We aren’t particularly close in age. I am three-and-a-half years older than the next, and nine years older than the youngest (the middle brother is six-and-a-half years younger than I). My relationship with each is different and has changed as we’ve aged. I fought more with the first brother, but he was the first that I was able to really start hanging out with once we were older. I spent a lot of time babysitting the youngest, and while I sometimes think he still sees me as a nagging mom, we are now friends.

teddy_christy

Then there is Teddy. Game-changing good looks, countless friends, and just as many talents. Born looking for the party, he managed to find a good time if there was one to be had. He came to visit during my sophomore year of college. Most 12-year-olds would have stayed in the hotel with parents. Teddy joined the frat guys doing the slip ‘n’ slide on the lawn at midnight. Teddy was always looking for an opportunity, and more often that not, it landed right in his lap. As we got older, we hung out as much as possible between school, work, and other commitments. From Cardinals games to the Beer Olympics to singing at my wedding—and all of the other stories in between that aren’t appropriate for this forum—we had a good time. He had a shirt when he was younger that said, “If you’re not living on the edge, you’re just taking up space,” and that described his personality perfectly.

teddy-beerlympics

While Teddy was in college, my husband and I were living in Italy. Right after graduation and for the finale of his college career, he took an international business class that included studying abroad in Istanbul. His plan was to leave St. Louis, fly to Turkey for the class, head to Italy to visit us after the class ended, and then go to Los Angeles to spend some time with his girlfriend. Sounds like a perfect way to spend a summer, right? I was so excited to see him. It was near Memorial Day, and we planned on him flying into Venice and taking the train to a small lake community, where we would meet for the weekend. Then he would come back to our town for the rest of his visit.

You can imagine the shock and horror that went through my mind when the phone rang at midnight and another brother was hysterical on the other end. Teddy was in the ICU in Istanbul. He had been out with some friends for drinks before dinner when he collapsed. After calling the Turkish equivalent of 911, his friends watched, as he lay unconscious on the floor. Nine minutes later, paramedics arrived and worked vigorously to restart his heart. It took over 40 minutes before it regained a normal rhythm. You may know where I am going here… The paramedics kept him alive, but his brain was without oxygen for way too long. He was put in a medically induced coma while, in addition to fighting off pneumonia he acquired in the hospital, doctors tried to figure out what on earth had happened. At 25 years old, Teddy suffered a heart attack. He had severe damage to his lungs, kidneys, heart, and brain. No one could figure out what had happened. Doctors were able to rule out drugs and alcohol but don’t know if it was a congenital problem, a virus, poisoning, or something else.

We watched him, held his hand, and talked to him for several days before doctors decided to try to wake him up. Then we waited to see if he would respond. A consequence of oxygen debt is the loss of brain cells and various levels of functioning. He began to move, but there was still severe damage. I’ll save you from all of the details on how he got to where he is today. Teddy is non-ambulatory, blind, has partial use of only one arm, and has a very difficult time with speech. However, he loves to hold hands, listen to raunchy comedy, and will finish songs if you start singing. We think that his ability to think is still intact, but he is “locked in within” and can’t engage with people or express himself. This causes him to show symptoms of depression from time to time. As I write this, I realize that it is nearly impossible to accurately describe what is going on in his life, although I can tell you that I lost my brother on that night in Istanbul and life hasn’t been the same since.

Four years later, I still miss him. Before this happened, I didn’t realize how much I could miss someone who never left. Teddy lives in a nursing home about 30 minutes from my parents. Every time I visit, I wish so desperately that I could crawl next to him and watch a movie or a baseball game and really share it together. But I can’t. He has made a ton of progress since his accident, but it has slowed and it is likely that it will eventually cease unless a new technology emerges.

teddy_kids

There is a silver lining to all of this. I hope I am now a better friend, colleague, and family member in the wake of tragedy. It is hard to know what to do and say when something like this happens. Here is what I have learned:

1. Don’t compare. If one thing is true, no tragedy is the same. I know it is brutally hard when a grandfather has a stroke, a grandmother dies, or a friend is very sick and in the hospital, but it isn’t the same. I know that people are trying to relate to the problem and want to convey their understanding, but it minimizes the current problem. Along the same lines, I frequently hear something like “at least you still have your brother.” This is true, and I appreciate that every day, but I should still be allowed to be sad.
2. Ask about them. Four years have passed, and my mom says some of her very good friends have never asked about Teddy. Of course it is a hard conversation to have, but ask. It shows that person you care.
3. Tell a good story. I love to hear funny stories about Teddy. Recently, I saw a mom of one of Teddy’s friends. She told an amazing story about Teddy and her son having a little too much to drink one night while dressed as Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. It made me laugh, smile, and remember Teddy in the way that I love to remember him. Those stories are greatly appreciated and can be a needed break from reality.
4. There is weird grieving that never ends. Again, Teddy did not die, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t continue to grieve. It is hard seeing him living in a quirky nursing home with a group of people who are decades older than him. I grieve the loss of my brother and our relationship but mostly what he could have been.
5. Love big. In a very short amount of time, I lost the brother I used to have, lost an aunt to cancer, and helped a dear friend bury her husband. I won’t say that I have any regrets regarding things I wish I had said or done with those people; however, I now try to frequently tell the important people in my life what they mean to me.
6. Learn CPR. This isn’t directly related, but it could have made a huge difference for Teddy. As I said before, he was unconscious for over nine minutes before the paramedics arrived and started to work on him. If anyone had done effective CPR on Teddy, things may have been different. I am not saying that he would have made a full recovery, but it would have substantially helped with the oxygen debt. Learn CPR for adults, children, and infants and encourage others to do the same. You never know when you will need it. There are many organizations that offer CPR training. Check The Red Cross and American Heart Association for classes near you. 

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10 Responses to Missing Someone Who Never Left

  1. Amy Raikes (Novak December 9, 2016 at 10:21 am #

    Thank you for sharing this. It was compelling and though we are strangers (I was a friend of your hubby back in junior high), I couldn’t stop until I read ever word with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.

    One part I related to especially was people not asking about a Teddy. I lost my sister,Julie when she was 30 and I was 26. I often struggle too with people not talking about her. Like you, I love to hear stories, crazy, funny, real stories about her.

    Also, you’re right, grieving is never ending. Yes, it gets easier. Yes, I’m no longer a basket case 15 yrs down the road, but my sister is still missing. She’s the first friend I had in life and the person. The one that I danced with to footloose and had so many adventures with in those 26 years together. I want to call her and talk about the silly details of our childhood, teen years and 20’s that only she and I know. No one else can fill her void. I hate that my kids will only know her as the picture on my wall.

    Sending wishes for peace in your heart, sweet memories of Teddy, and giving yourself a break to just cry when you need it.

    All the best,
    Amy Raikes (Novak)

  2. akh December 9, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    Christy,

    Thank you for talking about such a personal topic. It’s because people talk about the people and events in our lives that awareness happens. Unfortunately too often worthy medical causes go unnoticed because no one is talking about them. Keep the faith.

  3. Terri Gaffney December 6, 2016 at 10:16 am #

    Christy, I am so glad your mom shared this. Your story is one that touches my heart so deeply. You made me smile and cry-again. I, honestly, don’t know which of our stories is worse. I have such respect for you and your family for your devotion to Teddy. I don’t know if I could do it. I guess you deal with what you are given and do your best. I know I would try, like your mom, to only have the best for my son. I kinda get that comment about “At least you still have Teddy”. People will say “at least you have 2 other children”. This is very true but what I want to say is “which of your children would you send to heaven?” Please know that I pray for Teddy and your family. I wish he would just get better-today! I know the holidays are tough but I hope you have a peaceful, joyous Christmas and God Bless you in 2017. Love, Terri

    • Christy December 8, 2016 at 2:17 pm #

      Terri, I know. I think about Adam all of the time too. One of my favorite stories about him is from when the boys were in about 6th grade. He was dancing and someone asked him about it. He said that his mom told him that girls like boys who can dance:) It still makes me smile thinking about a sweet little 11 year old saying that.

  4. Diana Likely December 5, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    Christy, I am a friend of your mother Patti and, although I never met Teddy, I have followed his journey of the past four years with empathy and great admiration for the strength of your family. Your mom recently brought Clay, Hannah and “the little blond cousin” (whose name temporarily escapes me) to meet my blind cat and buy a copy of the book I wrote about her. This is an absolutely fantastic blog about your experience with Teddy. Thank you.

    • Christy December 8, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

      Thank you Diana! We read your book this past week and my kids loved it. It is a cute story.

  5. Ed Smith December 5, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

    Hi Christy,
    My name is Ed Smith and my wife is Gloria. Gloria’s mother was in the nursing home with Teddy until she passed last November. Gloria and I became friends with Teddy and your mom and dad, and visited with Teddy often. Gloria went to the nursing home every day for 4 years to be with her mother from 4 to 6 hours a day. I would go an adverage of 4 times a week in support of Gloria. I used to visit with Teddy a lot during thoes visits. It was always fun to make him say “hi Ed” rather than “NO”. He got pretty good at it and would even say ” Good-Bye Ed” sometimes when I would leave. I would stand and hold his hand and try to keep him from bitting it, but I know he enjoied the personal touch so it was worth the risk. He is such a nice young man and I really like being able to still visit him, but just not as often as I did. Your mother is such a sweetheart. It was nice seeing her and your dad when I would visit also. I have met your 2 brothers (I think) but I don’t remember meeting you. That is not to say that I didn’t, because I hae met so many people there. Gloria and I really enjoyed you letter so much I had to write and tell you Thank you for shareing. Please feel free to contact us anytime you would like to.

    Ed & Gloria Smith
    6419 Lipizzaner Dr.
    Imperial Mo 63052
    My cell 314-412-7111
    email…[email protected]

    • Christy December 8, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

      Hi Ed, I know exactly who you are! My mom used to talk about you all of the time. Thank you for your sweet note.

  6. candice curry
    candice curry December 5, 2016 at 5:56 am #

    I love you

    • Christy December 5, 2016 at 5:21 pm #

      🙂