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Addressing Family Needs

TRANSCRIPT

CULLEN
… I don’t know how we made it through that week.

ALAN
You know, Cullen, something I always admired about Evan’s story is how your family was able to rally around him and grow closer together throughout his whole recovery. What worked for you guys as a family?

CULLEN
Well, it certainly wasn’t always easy. When a family member has the kind of injuries that Evan had, of course it’s going to affect everyone in the family. Everyone’s role within the family changes to some extent.

ALAN
Absolutely.

CULLEN
You know, our father passed away when Evan and I were both in high school. Our sister was in middle school. And my mom… she just wasn’t in a position to be Evan’s caregiver. And my sister was still in college when Evan first got hurt. So it really was up to me to step up and be Evan’s caregiver. He’s not married, he doesn’t have a family of his own. And becoming Evan’s caregiver was going to change the dynamic in my own family – with my wife and… well then it was two kids, now it’s four. We tried as much as possible to maintain family routines and things like that, but we also had to come up with sort of a “new normal” – what everyday life was going to be like after the TBI.

ALAN
Was that hard?

CULLEN
Change is always hard. But my wife is a saint, so she made it less hard.

ALAN
How did she do that?

CULLEN
Heidi made sure we set aside some time each week for our family to have fun together, to take the focus off of TBI for a while. We had a family meeting that included not just us and our kids, but my mom, and my sister and her boyfriend – now her husband – and we decided on a weekly time that was going to be our family time. We decided on Sundays after church. And we had everyone contribute ideas for activities that we could do together during that time. One week it would be my son’s turn to come up with the activity and the next week it would be my sister’s. That kind of thing. We did everything from board games and card games to more physical activities like throwing around a Frisbee or going on a relaxing hike or having a picnic. And we were really faithful to the weekly family time. Still are.

ALAN
That’s very cool. Was that family time enough for the kids? I mean, caregiving is a pretty time-consuming thing.

CULLEN
That’s something else I was and still am very intentional about – thanks to my wife. After the first few weeks, Heidi told me that the kids were asking where I was all the time. So I started scheduling one-on-one time with each of them in addition to Sunday family time. I try to do something once a week, but at the beginning I often had to stretch it to once every couple weeks. With my sons, I usually take them out to play ball at the park or to go fishing or something. My daughter loves going to the movies, so we usually do lunch and a movie. What’s funny is that in a way, Evan’s injury and becoming his caregiver brought me closer to my kids because now I’m much more intentional and present when I’m with them.

ALAN
That’s really great. What family strengths do you think helped you or maybe still help you deal with the stress of the situation? Better question: what family strengths did you improve upon to help you deal with it?

CULLEN
Well, certainly no family is perfect. And ours is no exception. Even though I am Evan’s primary caregiver, my wife, my mom, my sister, even my sister’s husband – they all step up and help out in big ways. Sometimes that means helping get our kids to and from activities. Sometimes it’s taking a few hours with Evan when I need a break. Sometimes it’s just being moral support, someone to listen when I need to process. Do I always get exactly what I need when I need it? No. But everyone does their best, and that’s all anyone can ask for.

ALAN
Okay, I’m going to give you a list of family strengths, and I want you to tell me which one you guys excel at, which one you’ve had to work hardest at. All right?

CULLEN
Okay.

ALAN
Okay, here’s the list: Caring and appreciation. Commitment. Communication. Community and family ties. Working together. Flexibility and openness to change.

CULLEN
Communication was probably the hardest in the beginning. Evan’s injuries and his care were obviously very emotionally charged topics. There was a lot of confusion and misunderstanding, especially when you’re trying to communicate about complicated medical things and none of us are medical professionals. And there was also… my wife and sister butted heads a lot, both kind of feeling like they should have more say over Evan’s care than the other – my wife because we were taking primary responsibility for Evan, and my sister because Evan’s her brother. It got pretty heated sometimes. So we had to work really hard, all of us, at listening and re-stating what we’d just heard to make sure we were understanding exactly how everyone was feeling. It was tough, but we got a lot better at it.

ALAN
Now what from that list do you excel at?

CULLEN
Probably flexibility and openness to change. Everyone is always just so good about rolling with the punches, changing directions on the fly. You know, things come up all the time that no one expects, and for the most part, everyone is really understanding when plans have to change or roles have to evolve.

ALAN
You know, Cullen, you are really doing a great job.