“Never in my wildest imagination could I have predicted the level of love and support we have received. It has truly transformed my soul.”
Abby Maslin, an English teacher in the Washington, D.C. area, probably never expected to be coaching her own husband in second grade-level reading skills. But the enthusiasm she brings to the role are a remarkable and tear-jerking example of the love, patience and perseverance that are essential to a brain injury victim’s recovery.
‘The Grayest of Places’
Abby Maslin was teaching fourth grade while studying for her master’s degree at American University. She had one son with her husband, Thomas “T.C.” Maslin, an energetic associate director for a major D.C. consulting firm. They’d just celebrated their three-year wedding anniversary a few days before the summer night when tragedy struck.
T.C. Maslin had just finished a round of drinks with friends after a Washington Nationals game. He was walking home from a Capitol Hill bar when he was approached by three men who demanded his money. As Maslin handed over his phone and debit card, one of the men bludgeoned him in the back of the head with an aluminum baseball bat.
The blow shattered his skull. Eight hours passed before he was discovered on the street, unconscious and bleeding internally. When at last he awoke from his coma, he was blind in one eye and had only partial use of his right arm and right leg.
The event, his wife said, “catapulted us to the grayest of places: that space between life and death. If life is freedom and death is finality, we find ourselves stuck in that torturous place somewhere in the middle.”
A Way of Reaching Out
As T.C.’s therapy got underway, Maslin began keeping a blog to update family and friends about his recovery. The blog became more than that for her — it was a place to release her frustrations, her grief and the unexpected personal insights brought on by her new role in life.
Her thoughtful vulnerability and lyrical style reached out well beyond her immediate circle. Soon, Love for the Maslins had a readership in the thousands, increasing with every new post. Readers were moved to tears by her frank admissions, not only of grief but also of unexpected epiphanies.
For example, there was this post on Valentine’s Day 2014:
“When you wake up one day and discover you’re married to a new person, you spend a lot of time thinking about what attracted you to that person in the first place. It’s different than a gradual change, the kind that happen after years of marriage and various stressors and experiences. This is an immediate, drastic shift. For me, it happened long before I ever had the chance to get comfortable or settled in my marriage. When I think about the future, I am struck by the realization that I will spend far more years married to the new TC than I ever was married to or dating the old one. … It’s easy to be in a relationship with someone when things are going well. It’s when your vision or previous notions of love are questioned that things take a sharp turn. How would your love transform in the absence of the pretty face you once knew? Could you love someone with such unusual capacities to return your love? Could you find joy in the smallest and simplest of gestures? Does love end when the people involved change or does it simply evolve? And if your loved one was suddenly unable to meet the expectations you once held, would it be possible to transform yourself and embrace a new definition of love?”
Maslin also delivers no-nonsense advice, heavily tinged with empathy, to those who find themselves in a similar situation to hers.
“You cannot be a caregiver or a parent or a spouse to anyone unless you’re willing to take care of yourself first,” she admonishes. “Stress is one of the few diseases you have the option of inviting in. So don’t. The consequences are dire.”
Above all, she says, victims of tragedy must resist focusing on what they do not have.
“I had a vision for my life right now and the reality is vastly different than I had hoped. I acknowledge this fact, but try hard not to dwell on it. What do I have? A husband who loved me enough to stay on this earth with me against all the odds. A son, who despite all my imperfections, continues to be the loveliest, spunkiest little person I know. A community who banded together to make it possible for us to keep going and who has alleviated some of my most major fears in the process. A family who is uniquely hilarious, steadfastly devoted, and all mine. OK. Now your turn.”
In March 2013, Abby Maslin chose to discontinue her updates on Love for the Maslins. She and her family have moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, so that T.C. can receive ongoing optimal rehabilitation at Dalhousie University. But Maslin still blogs regularly at her own website, AbbyMaslin.com, and at Brainline.org. She is also working on a book detailing her family’s experience — an endeavor, she writes on her blog, that she would never before have had the courage for.
In gratitude for her example of honest strength and gracious authenticity, we at the Brain Injury Law Center are pleased to designate Abby Maslin as our Teach Believe Inspire award winner for January 2015.
Images Credit: Brainline.org