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Syreeta Challinger

Play the cards you’ve been dealt, as best you can

27th September 2014, life changed for us. On the second day of a holiday in Sydney, Rob suffered a near fatal brain haemorrhage and stroke. To make things more complicated, we lived and worked in Hong Kong. Rob had lengthy emergency surgery before being put into an induced coma. When he came round a few weeks later, he had lost all means of communication, with full right side paralysis.

We were stuck in Sydney for 3 months before landing back and moving to Rob’s home town of Lincoln, to be with his parents. As high flying design professionals, this was never in our grand plan, yet the universe had other ideas. That fateful day changed our world; Rob was fighting for his life, we’d lost our jobs, our home, our identity. Every single slate had been wiped clean; start again.

I’ve been asked by Headway to share my thoughts on my experience from a relationships perspective; the good, the bad and the ugly.

I liken the experience to a pebble being dropped from a great height into water.

The initial hit is deep and dark, yet the ripple affects are far and wide, eventually reaching the shallows, still being felt years down the line. It deeply affects your relationship; suddenly you find yourself as a carer; you have to think for two. As a couple you are tested beyond belief and you will find out what you are both truly made of. You’ll think you can’t cope, but you can and will do. Because you have to and more importantly, you’ll want to.

If you find you cannot, that’s your test complete, which is ok too. Everyone makes choices and copes in their own way.

If you’re fortunate to have parental support, no matter how old you are, you may become the small child again in their eyes and they will want to nurture and protect you. For a short time, you may need and want this, but you’ll fly the nest again, once you find your feet. Some may keep their distance, not wanting to invade privacy. Both scenarios require communication; you and your partner must do what’s right for the two of you, asking for what you need or what you don’t.

You’ll find out what friends are made of too. Who can cope; who is willing to go through this pain with you and who simply cannot. People will show their true colours. Some will fall by the way side, some obviously at first, others are there at the beginning, then will slowly drift. This may add to your grief, as friendship dynamics change.

Be prepared that some may be awkward and unable to offer support. Or offering empty gestures, to make themselves feel better. Understand that these folk may not have had enough life experience to truly understand or relate to this trauma. Or have experienced so much of their own grief, it’s too much for them to bear. It’s all about them, their issues and not you.

Then others will be by your side no matter what. They will open their homes and hearts, as if nothing as ever happened. They will fund raise, check in with you for no reason, send you funny things in the post, put you up whenever you need place to stay; do whatever they can to show you their love. Who these specials ones are, may well take you by surprise. People will step up. They will hold your hand, hug you and cry with you.

The ripples will continue to go far and wide and may even surprise you or bemuse you. Be prepared that even the weakest of links may have strong outpouring of grief. Or you may encounter grief hunters; acquaintances on the boundaries of your circles who seem to suddenly feel the need to be your space and are grieving as if the trauma is all about them. You don’t owe these people anything.

Nowt as queer as folk, as they say. But amongst all the shifting sands, your relationships will strengthen and know you will find new positive friendships too; that nurture, support you both as you are, as your life is now. And these too will evolve and change, ebb and flow like tides. If you can surrender to this new way and trust in the fact you are loved, you and your partner will go far.

Through the process of rehabilitation and recovery, life goes on and you’ll find a new way. We are only three years in, still fighting and finding our’s but know this. You’ll both grow from this, as hard and as challenging that may seem at times. Play the cards you’ve been dealt, as best you can. 

If you can make it through this, the possibilities for your future are endless.

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