On The Pursuit of Gratitude and Compassion

I am at my daughter’s home in Denver, Colorado. This is a significant trip, because it marks my second solo travel since my head injury: my second flight unaccompanied. Plus, I am here to help her sort, organize and pack in preparation for a move to a new house. This is significant because having a blow to the forehead meant a decrease in “executive functioning,” and these are among the very skills–sorting, organizing, packing–that to this day cause me some of the greatest fatigue. I have to take these tasks in small amounts of time, but I’m grateful to be able to do them once again, even though I am sadly not as quick or as efficient at any of them as I once was.  No more marathon cleaning sessions for me.  I actually miss that a lot, though.

The flight here was as ideal as air travel can be, save for the stale diet coke and the four-month-old who cried for one hour and forty-five minutes.  It was agitating to listen to, but I felt sorry for the baby’s mother, who seemed to be passing all her anxiety and neuroses onto her child.  I wanted to intervene, but instead of reaching and grabbing the baby to settle it, I just smiled and asked how old he was, while offering the kindness of approval.  She and the father were friendly, and seemed relieved.  They were clearly nervous, and trying everything they knew to quiet the infant–which involved a lot of jostling and shaking and shh shh shh-ing, with lighted toys and rattles and such that only seemed to agitate the baby further.  The baby seemed to want a good swaddle or holding, instead of all the stimulation they were giving him, which required more effort and concentration than he had on this crowded flight.

The gentleman seated next to me on the airplane started the flight by nodding beyond my aisle seat toward his center seat, saying, “I just ruined your day.” I could only guess he was referring to his size; he was a large man.  He was very nicely dressed, and obviously on a business trip.  He said he was Boston bound, but because of the snowstorm out east had had to reroute to business in Denver (which by the way, is enjoying temperatures in the 70s, mid-winter).

Toward the end of the flight, just before landing, and once the baby had finally settled, I spoke to the businessman in the next seat.  He noticed my reading, so I inadvertently started telling him how my reading skills had changed since sustaining a head injury.  He asked how it happened, and when I told him, he seemed stunned.  I went on to explain that I had temporarily lost the ability to read and speak, and that the end result for my reading skills, which had previously grown to be rather sophisticated, was that they had reverted to a junior high or high school level–but that I was grateful to be able to read again, and especially on an airplane while in flight.  As we chatted, I learned that he currently lives in Notting Hill, a swanky area that I coincidentally had just toured in London on my first solo trip just last November.  I asked him if he was familiar with this place, and of course he was:

It’s a small and wonderful world.

My daughter is a terrific host.  She is also a consummate planner, and very thoughtful.  This morning I got to sleep in and woke up to a darling note with the day’s itinerary (hers and ours) and a full pot of freshly brewed coffee.  I am so grateful to have such a wonderful daughter, and to have this time with her, even though I feel like I am back on retreat!  Maybe especially because of that.  My proudest life’s achievement, she just warms my heart and makes it sing.

It must be serendipity that when I fired up my computer this morning, one of first things I saw was this video, called “A Very Happy Brain.”



May all your days be blessed!


© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved

4 thoughts on “On The Pursuit of Gratitude and Compassion

  1. Debra, I’m wishing you a joyful visit with your daughter. I’ve been reading your post on your Brain Challenge, what an amazing job that you keep going and not give up as I’m sure there are days you want to! It sounds like you’ve had almost a complete personality change, I can just feel your frustration and disappointment every step of the way. I can’t imagine being in your shoes. You seem to be challenged in every way, physically, mentally and even spiritually as I’m sure you have moments when you ask why this happened to you. I know how difficult it is to stay strong, when all you want to do is sleep, so sleep as much as you feel like, you and your body deserve that. Praying for full recovery on the horizon. Prayers and Love to you and your family.

    • Thank you so much, Judy. My head injury was the greatest challenge of my entire life, and that is why I feel it is important to write about it. I have actually experienced quite a good many hardships (like yourself), but the only one I feel comfortable writing about is this one, and that is in hope that I can dispel some of the myths that exist around acquired brain injuries. People think life is over when such a tragedy occurs, but what I discovered is that when one survives as I did (many are less fortunate), the pursuit changes to learning to live in a new way. I am proud of how far I have come; though as you note, disappointed and frustrated that I never returned 100% to the person I was before I sustained this injury. I haven’t given up trying to get there, however. I know that if I came this far, with all the worst behind, the rest must be just up the road. It is hard work, but I was always a hard worker. My blog is about this return journey–or, if need be, the journey to my new horizon.

  2. This was an excellent blog! We are glad you were able to help your daughter, even though you aren’t as speedy with it, as you used to be; we are also finding this, as we become older.

    I wish you could have held that infant, who was distressed on the airplane! Because we are experienced-because of our past parenting of children and grandchildren-you were able to see what was going on, to make things worse for the little guy. What you and I would have instinctively done, would be to give a “good holding or swaddling” like us experienced moms do automatically, which usually calms an agitated child. It was very nice of you to have a lovely conversation with them to help them cope in their trauma at the time! I love babies the best of all ages; our children (to me) didn’t stay babies long enough for me! It was so much fun to cuddle and hold those precious infants!

    You have a wonderful daughter and host! I loved the mug’s wisdom about Winter! It is the truth; I was born and raised in Minnesota; therefore I have had plenty of experiences knowing about Winter!

    The video is the absolute truth about brains and life! I have a little piece of paper, which I cut into the shape of a heart. On it I wrote these words: “Constant gratitude=Positive Attitude. I have it help up by two small magnetic hearts on my file cabinets beside my desk for a reminder how to live my daily life. The darling video explains my philosophy of life perfectly! I just took notes on it; to place in our spiral Quotes Notebook. We will reread this advice to continue doing it and share it with others.

    • That is an excellent saying, “Constant Gratitude=Positive Attitude”! I’ve never heard that expression, but it certainly seems to be true. Thank you for all of your interesting commentary, Faithful Reader. I always look forward to your feedback on this blog. I have to say, I did become very fatigued after helping my daughter yesterday. My fibromyalgia flared up intensely just as I was finishing up one room. I’m afraid I overdid it, but it felt so great to get so much accomplished! I still need to be better at pacing myself. That’s very hard to do when one just wants to work the way they once did. I appreciate your continued kindness, compassion and understanding.

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