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'How my husband became my brother.'

I picked up the phone and dialed Brandon’s number with shaky 16-year-old hands. I was going to ask him on a date to the roller rink and I was terrified. Terrified of him saying no, of him saying yes, and of actually going on a date with a boy.  

Thankfully he said yes and what ensued would be a life-long journey of one of the most important and valuable relationships in my life.

Brandon soon became my safe space and a reminder that even though I was an awkward teenager with social anxiety, I was loveable. Our love grew and deepened and on August 12, 2006 we stood in front of each other at the church we grew up in and promised to love and to care for each other for richer and poorer, in sickness and health.  

At 21 years old, we had no idea that the “sickness” part of our vows would unexpectedly burst into our lives so soon. We were not the least bit prepared.

Watch: What women would say to the one who got away. Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia. 

Two years later, I had graduated university and we were living with my mum to save money as we navigated our adult lives. 

I was driving from my job working as a docent at an art gallery to my second job when the phone rang.  

My throat tightened and my breathing stopped when the voice on the other line asked me if I was driving and if so I needed to pull over. 

I immediately pulled over and was informed that my sweet husband had been in a serious car accident.  

“Is he alive?” I asked. 

“We can’t confirm or deny that.He has been life flighted to the hospital. You will have to speak to medical personnel there. We are so sorry to bring you this news.”

My mum picked me up and raced me to the hospital.  

“What if he is dead, how can I possibly keep going?” I kept thinking the whole drive. 

We found Brandon in the neuro-trauma ICU. He had survived but had sustained a severe Traumatic Brain Injury and was in a coma.  

The month following was a blur of camping out with friends and family in the waiting room, sitting by his bedside with my hand on his, watching every number and monitoring each “beep” while looking for signs of “purposeful movement” to indicate that he might be emerging from the coma.

I was weary, scared, heartbroken and confused as to what the future held for us.

After a month we were told he was stable and would be discharged. 

A dear friend accompanied me while I checked out nursing homes to find a suitable one for him to move to. He was still on a ventilator via trach which breathed for him, a PEG tube to feed him and he required total care. No one had even given me the option to move him home. 

"He needs 24 hour nursing care," I was told. 

And the kicker was that we didn’t have health insurance. Residing in the United States, this was devastating and over the years negatively impacted his care and our financial situation.  

After two months, Brandon began to emerge from his coma. Far from the movies and television shows where someone miraculously starts talking, his recovery was slow and painful, riddled with regression.  

His days and mine were filled with Physical, Occupation and Speech therapy.

Brandon and Kris. Image: Supplied

After a year it became clear that his cognitive deficits were profound.  

His attention, memory, language and cognition were significantly affected. He would immediately forget any conversation we had.

At one point he started calling me his “little sister.” It felt fitting. Our relationship was no longer one of a husband and wife. I had become his caregiver and desperately needed to grieve the loss of my husband. When I finally started allowing myself to do this, I was able to fully embrace this new person that he had become. I was able to love him in a deeper and more profound way than I ever had before. 

Later I came to learn there was a term for the complicated emotion of grieving someone who was still alive. It’s called Ambiguous Loss. Learning this term changed so much for me as it validated my feelings of grief.

I was Brandon’s caregiver which implies I provided for his needs, but I learned that despite his inability to care for basic needs he gave me a lot too. He truly lives in the present because of his impaired short-term memory. He doesn’t worry or fret about the future. 

The only time for Brandon is right now.

I longed for a partner, a family, children. Someone to share my day with and make plans with. So I made the incredibly difficult decision to move on. But I knew that I wanted to help care for Brandon and uphold my vows to care for him in sickness and health. So I filed for guardianship with the Probate Court and after a year I was granted this responsibility which, in the end, feels like such an honour.

After many years I tried my hand at online dating, knowing it would take a unique man to love me and love Brandon. After all, Brandon was a large part of my life and that was not something I was willing to compromise. 

James was the second man I met online and I was very upfront about Brandon and the sacred place that he held in my life. James graciously decided he wanted to be a part of our story.

The first weekend James and I met in person, I met his sweet five-year-old son and he met Brandon. I went to the bathroom and when I came back, I saw James’s arm comfortably around Brandon’s shoulder and I knew what my future held.  

James and I have been married eight years now and have two beautiful and bright little girls and my amazing stepson.  

Kris and James continue to care for Brandon. Image: supplied. 

Brandon is very much a part of our family. To the point that we had family photos taken a few years ago and when I asked if James wanted a photo with just “our” family (and not Brandon) he insisted that Brandon be in the picture since he is our family.  

The kids refer to Brandon as “Uncle Brandon” since our relationship has changed and evolved from one of a husband and wife to more of a brother and sister.  

We see him regularly and bring him home often. 

This is not the family I dreamed of or hoped for when I was 16. 

This life I’m living has so much more depth, beauty and human connection than I could have ever dreamed and for that I am forever grateful.

Featured Image: Supplied

If you want to see more of Kris' family journey, you can follow her here

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