Don’t Pitch a TentNov 24, 2020 03:10PM ● By Molly Weisgram
By Molly Weisgram
In February 2019 my otherwise healthy, 42-year-old husband Chris was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune response triggered by a simple virus. With no warning, he became a quadriplegic on a ventilator in days. It was devastating. Our four children were between the ages of eight and eight months at the time. We left them behind with my parents in Fort Pierre as we boarded the unexpected care flight to Sioux Falls.
The illness forced us to walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, a hell we couldn’t have imagined. I was rendered speechless. With no words of comfort for my children and a constant barrage of traumatic events, I am ashamed to say, I didn’t call home.
I couldn’t bear to tell my children that their dad was getting worse by the minute. I couldn’t bear to tell them about the excruciating pain he was experiencing. I couldn’t bear to tell them that we didn’t know if he’d walk again. I couldn’t tell them with any certainty that he would live.
I felt that my job as mom required me to tell my children that everything would be alright. But I couldn’t. It was not alright.
After 40 harrowing days at Avera McKennan, Chris (still on a ventilator and completely paralyzed) was transferred to the Madonna Rehabilitation Hospitals in Lincoln, Nebraska. I returned home—hat in hand—to resume care for our children.
A good friend and mentor asked me once, “What do you do when walking through the valley of death?” After I gave her a blank stare, she said, “Don’t pitch a tent. Just keep walking.” That was sage advice.
Over the next seven months we learned to live with uncertainty and the loss of normal. Thanks in great part to the amazing support of our family, friends and communities.
My children forgave me for not communicating enough during the worst of times, but they reminded me every once in a while that I should have talked to them more. “We could have handled it,” my nine-year-old said. I admitted that parents make mistakes, too.
Various people casually made the same comment: “At least your kids are young. Kids are resilient.” You will never hear me make that statement. While I agree that children are resilient, my kids felt the weight of this experience deeply. The traumatic disruption rocked their world. But the difficult process also provided brilliant sneak peeks of the elders they are to become. Their displays of wisdom and loyalty throughout this painful endeavor were the most beautiful things I had ever seen.
To cope I formed strict boundaries to keep our family moving forward: healthy dinners, no television during the week, early bedtimes. In return, the kids had the energy to accept the extra responsibility required of them. The structure was mightily helpful, but we couldn’t have done it without family counseling. Counseling taught us the tremendous power of acknowledging feelings, even when it is difficult.
The combination of acknowledgement and resilience was our power move. It kept us walking instead of pitching a tent. And I am grateful that nine months later (and after significant rehabilitation), Chris was miraculously able to walk back home, too.
Molly Weisgram is a wife, mother of four, professional and author in the midst of life. You can learn more about Molly at www.mollyweisgram.com and follow her on Instagram @mollyweisgram.
*The photo above is of the The Maxwell/Weisgram family from left to right: Ben (current age 10), Isaac (current age 5), Hannah (current age 2), Sam (current age 8). Chris and Molly are the adults in the photo. In this photo, they were celebrating Hannah’s 1st birthday on May 24, 2019.