A Bond that heals

Published: May 12, 2002

Martha McCook brushes Tudor Gilmour's wind-blown hair out of her face. When asked which flag represented which person most, Martha said, "The Earth is definitely her," pointing to her daughter, Tudor, who is recovering from a brain injury.

Editor's note: The Bulletin featured Martha McCook and her daughter Tudor Gilmour in a story in May 1999. For this Mother's Day, we revisited them and found Tudor has made great progress in her recovery, and many say her mother has made the difference.

By Rebecca Merritt

The Bulletin

Martha McCook gave her daughter Tudor Gilmour a crown for her 29th birthday last summer.

After an accident left Tudor with a traumatic brain injury, Martha wanted to give her daughter the power and authority to create a new life.

"When your child is ready to do something, all you have to do is open the door," Martha said.

Martha stayed by her daughter's side when she was in a coma for 10 weeks, after Tudor crashed on a moped and was critically injured in 1998. She set aside her massage practice and brought Tudor home to Bend to serve as her full-time caregiver.

When her insurance would no longer cover rehabilitation at the hospital because Tudor had reached a plateau, Martha pushed on with her own plan for her daughter.

She mixed "brain tonics" with vitamins and herbs and lined Tudor up with a routine that includes gymnastics, academic tutoring and alternative healing therapies.

And now Martha is giving her daughter permission to be independent, to learn to someday live on her own.

"Each step is giving Tudor a little more power," Martha said, who wears a pin that says "Expect Miracles."

Tudor, who just three years ago could only sit in her wheelchair and drool, is gaining the confidence and skills to lead a productive and fulfilling life.

Already, she is venturing out into the community on her own almost daily.

growth," Tudor said. "I'm a truly happy, healthy human being, and I'm truly happy to be who I am."

BRINGING TUDOR HOME

Tudor, a 1989 graduate of Bend High School, had just graduated from Humboldt State University with a degree in psychology when she traveled to Hawaii to run her first marathon for The Leukemia Society.

She lived in Portland at the time and was settling down to start her career after going through some rebellious times in college and high school.

The night before the marathon, on Dec. 12, 1998, she hopped on a moped to scout the route she planned to run. A car hit her. Doctors didn't expect Tudor to make it through the night.

Martha rushed to Hawaii, and as her daughter fought for her life she told her: "If you want to go, go. If you want to stay, I'll help you."

Then, Martha, through her own spirituality, got the message that Tudor would make it and that she needed to guide her.

"The spiritual guidance I received is that she would have a full recovery," said Martha, an ordained minister with the American Fellowship Church. "It's a connection with the divine where I received information as a healer."

Martha took charge of her daughter's care. With the doctor's permission, she added herbs and minerals to her daughter's feeding tube. When it came time for Tudor to leave the hospital, she refused to let her daughter go to a nursing home or assisted living facility.

"I knew I could do a better job of taking care of her," she said. "From my training, I know that the body heals itself, especially in a circle of love."

With financial and moral support from Tudor's father — David Gilmour, who lives in California — she brought Tudor to her west Bend home. She took out her massage table and turned her office, where she practiced a variety of healing arts for two decades, into Tudor's room. She left up her charts of the human body she used for her practice as a way to help Tudor connect with her own body as she progressed.

"It has 22 years of healing vibes here," Martha said of the room.

In the bathroom in Tudor's room, Martha wrote a note: "Tudor, I believe in you. Love, Mom."

A NEW MOTHER AGAIN

Sometimes, Martha says, she feels as if she is rearing her child all over again — except in a condensed amount of time.

When Tudor first moved in with her mother, she depended on a wheelchair and handrails. She needed help taking a shower and going to the bathroom. Martha had to get up several times in the night to help her daughter, just like a young mother with a newborn.

Tudor's mind functioned as a young child's, and she spoke in simple sentences. She had little memory of her previous life.

But with the combination of traditional physical and occupational therapy and alternative healing practices, Tudor gradually improved. About every six months, Tudor would reach a milestone, such as learning to take a shower by herself or getting rid of her wheelchair and using only a walker.

"We declared the house a wheelchair-free zone," Martha said.

Martha found ways to encourage her daughter to develop new physical and social skills. Sometimes she would pretend to be a slouch, leaving lights on in the house or leaving a mess in the kitchen as a test for Tudor. Other times, she admits, she can be a "butt kicker," telling Tudor that it was time to move on to the next level of competence.

Her mother's constant pushing encouraged Tudor to try things she didn't think possible.

"When she said, ‘You can do it yourself,' I said, ‘What do you mean?' " Tudor said.

ROOMMATES

As Tudor has progressed, mother and daughter have become more like roommates. They no longer spend every minute of the day together.

Tudor is able physically and socially to walk to the store on her own or take Dial-A-Ride to her full schedule of daily activities.

She volunteers at a classroom at Highland Elementary School twice a week, and she goes to Acrovision three times a week to work with a gymnastics coach to help improve her balance and flexibility. She even jumps on a trampoline. Tudor also takes an Awareness through Movement class at Healing Bridge in Bend once a week.

Tudor goes to the Sylvan Learning Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays for tutoring. Working with director of education Kay Ricker, Tudor now is able to read at an adult level.

But despite this more independent life, her mother is still intimately involved in helping her daughter continue to improve. Every morning at the breakfast table, Tudor reads to her mother an excerpt from her journal.

Tudor describes in her journal the previous day — what she did, where she went, how she felt. Martha listens intently and asks questions about her daughter's experiences.

The ritual helps Tudor improve her memory and her language skills. Tudor has difficulty with her short-term memory, but she is getting better.

The goal now, Martha said, is to help Tudor become more in touch with her emotions by getting Tudor to describe more of her feelings in her journal.

"It's more now about building self-esteem," Martha said.

Martha also helps Tudor's memory by keeping reminders of their family around the house. On the refrigerator door, she hung pictures of various relatives with their names to help Tudor better know her family. She keeps the furniture in the house in the same order because head injury patients need order and stability to heal.

Martha encourages Tudor to relate to people her age. They watch television shows together that appeal to Tudor's age group, such as "Friends." They recently switched to a church with a younger congregation so that Tudor can socialize more.

And Martha continues to look for new ways to help and inspire her daughter. All around their house are messages of love and encouragement.

A JOYFUL LIFE

The new life Tudor is building is centered on joy. She spends little time worrying or dwelling on the negative.

"Her predominant emotion to this point is joy," Martha said. "It is wonderful for me to live with a person who is so joyful."

Tudor is more spiritual, and that spirituality has played a big part in her recovery.

Her goal as she gains independence is to help others find happiness, perhaps as a motivational speaker. "I want to be the kind of person that empowers people to notice their magnificence and specialness ... just to share the truth of how we are all uniquely wonderful individuals."

Those who have watched Tudor's progress — the doctor who guides her recovery, her teacher at Sylvan, her coach — all say her mother has made the difference in Tudor's recovery. Martha refused to say no, they said. With her nudging, Tudor has exceeded expectations.

And for that, Tudor is grateful. At church one Sunday, she honored her mother by reading the lyrics of "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion: "You were my strength when I was weak. You were my voice when I couldn't speak...."

"She fully turned over her life for my well-being," Tudor said. "I am so completely appreciative."

Rebecca Merritt can be reached at 541-383-0348