I waste a lot of time worrying about my children. Are they happy, are they hungry, are they thirsty, do they need more discipline, am I being too hard on them, am I being too soft on them, do they need a bath, are they clean, are they healthy… the list goes on. Recently I have fixated on issues relating to their grandad and his acquired brain injury. We have had a long six years coming to terms with the aftermath of my father-in-law having a serious, almost fatal, cycling accident. At the time he was a vibrant, forceful personality and he was training to cycle from one end of Ireland to the other, having previously cycled from Lands’ End to John O’Groats. He was always busy and active, and he was keen to spend retirement having quality time with his wife and grandchildren. Then our life got flipped upside down on one fateful morning in March 2014. He collided with a horse box, we don’t the full details of the accident, and we never will. Police ruled that it was his fault, but he has never been able to tell us, since he spent four weeks in a coma, twelve months in a secure psychiatric facility, and three years in a secure rehabilitation home. He now lives in the full-time care of my mother-in-law, which comes with more challenges because she lives with poor mental health, high anxiety and depression. He used to care for her throughout their long marriage. Now he can barely speak to her, and he needs reminding to do simple daily tasks like get out of bed or go to the bathroom.
I worry about the impact it has on our children, having to see their grandad like this. Their grandma can rarely give them her full attention because she is busy caring for him, and when we go on holiday or family day trips, we have to be mindful about where we go and what we do so that he can come with us. He can walk but only short distances, so we have to take a wheelchair. He gets anxious in busy places and I know he is self-conscious about people seeing him out in public, even though he can’t articulate his feelings. He would rather stay at home and sit in front of the TV, which can be quite awkward when we don’t know what to say to him. He talks in short, stilted sentences, and doesn’t always make sense. I have come to realise that our children are a lot more resilient than we might think. For example, recently we had to “grandad-sit” while grandma went to her weekly exercise class. It was a school night and I needed to bath the children. He needed the toilet and we only have one bathroom. I worried about the fact that the girls were in the bath, so I told them to pull the shower curtain across to give them some privacy. I heard shrieks of laughter as Grandad did his business, and the girls giggled because he smiled at them when he left the room. We are just one family stumbling along and learning to live in the wake of serious trauma. And the kids are absolutely fine.
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