Humans of Aura
Jan Geoghegan: Losing Gordon was not an option
The day started like any other - except that no days had been normal for the last seven months since my husband Gordon lost his 20-year management job. It was also the year I turned 40, and our children, David and Sheree, were 15 and 12.
A good friend had given Gordon part-time work in his fundraising consultancy. Gordon was on his way home from work, and just two minutes from our Samford house outside Brisbane, when the accident happened - changing our lives forever. A water truck travelling in the opposite direction somehow managed to cross the road and crash into Gordon, with his head and neck taking the brunt of the hit. The medics did not expect Gordon to survive the night or the next couple of weeks. He had sustained massive brain injuries, two neck fractures, numerous blood clots and spent five-and-a-half weeks in an induced coma. Later he would have paralysis down his right side. But he had survived and the prayers from folk around the globe had been answered.
When Gordon came around, he did not remember me, the kids, his parents, nor did he know where he was or why he was in a hospital. Each day I would have to repeat the answers to these questions as his present memory was almost non-existent and his past memory was a blank going back 20 years. At the time we had been married 18 years and had known each other since childhood. When he finally remembered me by my maiden name, I had to tell him I was that person and he had married me. He has never remembered our wedding, our children’s births or their growing-up years.
Jan and Gordon (left) at a family wedding with their children, David and Sheree, before the accident.
Our car, a 1965 Falcon, had been a write-off so I stayed with my parents at Windsor in Brisbane, with Dad driving me each day to and from the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Incidentally, the admitting doctor told me our old car had most probably saved Gordon’s life because of the sturdy metal interiors of vehicles of that era. All that remained of the driver’s door was a small piece of metal about the size of the length of my hand, explaining Gordon’s severe brain damage.
I needed a car to travel back to Samford as the kids were staying there with friends so I bought a jacaranda blue two-year-old Mazda, my Mum would make lunch for us and often came with me to the hospital. I also had many wonderful friends who came to support me. Much later, my mother told me she had been worried that Gordon would not, on coming home, accept us as his family but this was not a concern for me. I tried from the outset to be calm and positive, especially for the kids’ sake. My thoughts were if he fell in love with me in the past, why not again?
I would arrive at the hospital every day after breakfast and stay until tea time when I would give Gordon a hug, kiss him gently and, before leaving, tell him I loved him. At this stage, he was still not fully “with it” and offered no response but just stared into space, not looking me in the eye. One day I hugged him, said my usual goodbye with an assurance that I loved him and he looked right into my eyes for the first time since the accident and said, “I think I love you too.” He had fallen in love with me again! I remember singing as I drove home, my heart so full of happiness I thought it would burst. I guess there was relief also that ever so slowly, my dear Gordon was, starting to come back to us.
About four months later he came home. Although I had to be both mum and dad for the kids after the accident, the kids helped with their Dad when they could and David had started to do the small tasks Gordon had normally done such as letting the chooks back in their pen at night, then locking up the house; while Sheree, although wanting to run away at first, had come to accept that this Dad was never going to be the old Dad, so she helped care for him too. Both our kids are endowed with compassionate natures and later became nurses. I often wonder if subconsciously, after seeing the untiring work of the team of doctors, nurses and therapists in both the hospitals in which Gordon had been a patient, this had left a strong impression on them that their choice of career was in the medical field.
Jan and Gordon celebrating their 50th anniversary. Their son organised a car similar to the one they used on their wedding day.
Gordon had played tennis fixtures for many years and was a professional tennis coach teaching the sport he loved to many children and adults, including, at one stage, some Down syndrome teens - a special time for him. Two years after his accident and for 28 years he volunteered on the Board of the Brain Injury Association which he enjoyed while we were living in Samford Valley. He and I, individually and together, had led children’s clubs, camps and youth groups before his accident and we recommenced this work a couple of years later. Previously a qualified accountant, Gordon had been assistant manager/company secretary on a commodity board but now could no longer perform work that required the use of his memory. After two years, when we both were able to return to work, he was able to obtain clerical work.
My own work life included court reporting, secretarial work and later, editing judgments and sentences at the courts ready for publication, and secretarial and paralegal roles in law offices. The last decade of my work life was spent in the Government's International Trade Division as a trade officer and assistant to the Director. I also had a stint in London in 1996-97 assisting my boss when he became the Agent-General for Queensland (a diplomatic role), and Director of International Trade and Investment for Europe. In London, Gordon worked as a clerk doing routine tasks at a hospital in walking distance of our apartment. He was happy as work made him feel useful again. I welcomed this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to live and work in London and I have memories of weekends where Gordon and I would escape to the country by train or coach. Often during the day we would walk along the Thames Path and other picturesque waterways, stopping for lunch in a quaint village teashop or riverside inn and staying overnight at a cosy bed and breakfast. The adventures we experienced would fill a book on their own!
A little after our return to Brisbane, I worked in a new tourism taskforce formed to develop and improve Queensland’s tourism - a challenging, interesting and fulfilling time. In 2000, our kids urged me to have a full medical before going overseas for several months, their reasoning being that I hadn’t seen a doctor in two decades. Unexpectedly I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a terminal blood cancer, and was told it had a two to five-year survival rate. In just three days’ time, we were to leave, and I had arranged to work in the London office for five weeks before we travelled in the UK and Europe, so I spent the first week in hospital cancelling all the arrangements I had made. I was determined to have no negative feelings and thought, “We’ve had one miracle (with Gordon), why not another?” Chemo commenced and later, a stem-cell transplant, then shingles, so I had to take leave for over six months, with Gordon looking after me. And here I am, almost 22 years later, on chemo for the second time, but amazingly in remission at present, with ongoing chemo and monthly treatments in Brisbane.
After an early retirement almost two-and-a-half years after my diagnosis, I studied for a diploma in counselling by correspondence through James Cook Uni and at the same time, I volunteered for the Cancer Council visiting palliative care patients and talking with recently diagnosed patients who had phoned the Helpline hoping to speak to someone who had gone through what they were experiencing. Hope was something I knew I could give these anxious folk.
I also volunteered one day a week for the Australian Red Cross at Milton working in International Humanitarian Law doing research, reports, public speaking and a variety of other tasks. Later, when Red Cross employed case workers, I worked with refugees and the homeless assessing them, then assisting with food vouchers, clothing and other necessities. Listening to their stories tugged at my heart - horrific tales of torture, imprisonment and dangerous and heroic attempts to escape their country, often not knowing whether their family members back home were still alive. Many were struggling emotionally and financially. (I do still really miss that job!)
More than 35 years have passed since Gordon’s accident and we are into our 54th year of marriage. Like most people, our family has shared both heart-warming and heart-breaking moments. Our family has expanded to six grandkids and two great-grandkids who have given us much joy. We moved to Highfields, on the Darling Downs, where we have made some wonderful new friends. We did manage to embark on our long trip and many more, journeying to countries far and wide.
As much as we love Highfields, we have been considering whether we should downsize from our large garden and house with a granny flat. We viewed several retirement villages in Toowoomba but there wasn’t anything we were comfortable with – until we came across The Ninth Middle Ridge with its low-rise development. The views with peaceful bush surrounds, good security, a future community of like-minded residents and a manager to help with our needs, topped anything else we had seen. Aura’s people also made us feel they genuinely cared. We look forward to seeing the project completed.
Lastly, I am so thankful to have been blessed with all these bonus years to see our family grow, to travel to so many fascinating countries, but mostly to be here to care for Gordon who needs day-to-day guidance. At times, we have had to look after each other but one thing we do know - miracles do happen and I always try to remember, “If God removed the rocks, the brook would lose its song.”
At Aura Holdings we feel very privileged to have so many wonderful residents living in our villages. A very big thank you to Jan Geoghegan for sharing her amazing love story. Jan and husband Gordon will soon become residents of our Toowoomba community, The Ninth Middle Ridge.