We’d been warned that adolescence can be a particularly difficult time for brain-injured children and their families, but we were totally unprepared for what happened next. We had to deal with all the usual challenging, emotional/hormonal upheavals of adolescence, the fact that Karen had a five-year-old intellect in a thirteen-year-old body, all her bizarre violent behaviors which became magnified tenfold, and a new trait of running away from home and school.

Plus she was now bigger than Jeanne, and could do a lot more harm to herself and others, so the task of physically containing Karen fell on Shayne. Learning how to do this without falling into the violence and anger of his own conditioning became his biggest challenge. Asking the question, “What am I protecting?” helped him to respond with just enough force to meet the needs of Karen and the situation.

After years of ongoing stress we were mentally and physically exhausted. There was no time or energy left for ourselves or each other. The only time we spent together seemed to be during our morning sit or in the midst of yet another crisis. Our conditioned response to the situation was for Jeanne to become withdrawn and ill, while Shayne fell into depression and anger.

We realized that our conditioning was a severe limitation to our lives and actively sought tools for change. We used many different therapies in conjunction with our Zen practice and found some to be helpful. But we attribute the gradual transformation that was occurring to the deep probing and training that Zen provided.

We began to look at the motivation behind our tendency to over-do everything, and to seriously acknowledge that we needed help. But at this point, Jeanne’s health failed completely. Shayne had the full load now and it looked as though he would have it for quite some time. His feelings of despair intensified.

We’d fallen into the arrogant trap of thinking we were strong, we didn’t need any outside help. Ironically, because we had appeared to cope so well for so long, none of the health services seemed able to help us. But we needed help and we needed it fast.

The quiet tenacity that had grown out of years of Zen practice became imperative in our dealings with bureaucratic institutions. For months we systematically phoned, emailed, wrote, and visited anyone who could possibly provide support. Working with several agencies, we experimented with medications. Karen’s behavior gradually began to improve.

Still, the years of stress had taken their toll on our health and our relationship.

At the end of a recent sesshin, Daidoshi said to us, “Take care of each other; your children need you.”

We saw that major adjustments to our lifestyle were needed in order to do this.

And so we begin again, learning to take care of ourselves, each other, our children. We are developing confidence and trust to change our priorities. In an effort to regain our health, we now spend less time making money and more time on nurturing our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.

We have begun to accept both daughters at a deeper level and find that we appreciate them more. We enjoy Karen’s unique sense of humor and admire her fierce loyalty. She has begun to open up and express herself more. As her speech pours out—a jumbled stream of consciousness—we smile, and Natalie fills in the missing parts of the story.

A well-meaning relative says, “I wish this hadn’t happened to you. You don’t deserve it.” In hindsight, we realize how much richer our life has become because this happened to us. As difficult as our situation has been, it has left us no room for complacency, no place to hide. Our practice has just begun

Jeanne Seisen Crimp has been an MRO student since 1995, and in 1997 received Jukai. Shayne Chosei Crimp became an MRO student in 1999, and received Jukai in 2001. They live in Christchurch, New Zealand.