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Rachel Michelberg Difficult Choices


Rachel Michelberg had a normal life when her husband was in a plane crash. He survived but suffered extensive injuries including brain damage. She had two small children and wasn’t sure how she would take care of her husband. She made a difficult choice and had him stay in a rehab center to heal instead of bringing him home. This was a very hard choice but was the right choice for her family. She still visited him and made sure he saw the kids and was a part of family celebrations. She still oversaw his care she just could not physically care for him. Her story reminds us that sometimes you might have to make an unpopular choice because it’s the right one for you and that love sometimes means making hard choices.

Show notes:


Episode Transcription

Intro Plays


Ari: Welcome to whispers and bricks My name is already showing I’m your host. My guest today is Rachel Middleburg who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and still enjoys living there with her husband Richard and her two dogs, Nala and beanie. She earned her bachelor’s degree. I’m sorry. She earned her Bachelor of Music Degree in vocal performance from San Jose State University, and has performed leading roles in the musicals and opera from Carmen to My Fair Lady, as well as the pot of Mother abbess. Three times in the sand the music when Rachel isn’t working with one of her 20 voice and piano students, she loves gardening, hiking and baking sourdough bread crash how I became a reluctant caregiver is her first book. Please help me welcome Rachel Nicole Berg. Rachel, how are you?

Rachel Mengelberg:I’m well, Ari. Thank you. So great to be here.

Ari: Oh, yes, I’m very happy to have you here. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Now, as you know, the name of the podcast is whispers and bricks, the whispers are those voices telling us what the right thing to do is and they represent the good in life. And the breaks represent the bad things that we go through in life. And we all know that, you know, life is not a straight line, many ups and downs, many bumps in the roads. You know, people get hit with more bricks, less breaks, bigger break, smaller breaks, but everybody gets hit at some point in time or another. Now your life seemed to have started out pretty good, but then took a turn for the worse. Now I think the first break happens when your marriage starts to decline. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Rachel Mengelberg: Yeah, sure. I mean, I’ve had several other stumbles along the way, which I do talk about in the book. But those felt small ish in comparison to what happened about 10 years, almost 10 years into my marriage. My husband, same as David, we, we had two children, ages six and seven years old. And our marriage had was in trouble at the time, that of this tragedy, this this trauma that I’m about to explain. And so that that’s an important setting set up for why I made the decisions that I made after this this trauma, which was that he was flying in a small airplane with one other. He was the passenger there was a pilot. And they were the plane crashed. And it crashed into a vineyard in on the central coast of California. Both men survived. Miraculously, it’s not every day you hear that people survive a plane crash but they did. But they because they weren’t wearing shoulder harnesses was an older plane and there was a grandfather clause. The plane didn’t, wasn’t equipped with them. Both men hit their heads pretty hard on the instrument panel of the airplane. My husband David was knocked unconscious and the other guy remain conscious and pulled David from the wreckage. David sustained a very severe traumatic brain injury, essentially from the his skull was split open from the middle of his nose up to the crown of his head. So the entire frontal lobe of the brain was smashed if you can pick Yeah. And in fact, normally they are with a head injury they actually have to open up the skull a little bit because of the swelling in the brain and they need to give it room in his case they didn’t need to do that because the skull was already split up and I’m sorry about those gory details but it’s it’s truth so so it through Of course all of us into you know it just in an instant as as with you with that plane hitting the tower it it altered the course of so many people’s lives. And in this case, I was really struggling with the reality that At, which I learned eventually would be the case that David would not recover, he would improve, but he would not recover, he would never recover his ability to be a father to be a first certainly to be a provider to, to maintain any kind of relationship as we know it. And in addition to all the physical issues, which, for the most part healed, there were, there were spinal injuries, severe spinal injuries, pancreatic injuries, he lost an eye while he didn’t lose the eye, but he became blind in one eye because of the pressure on the optic nerve. So it was just, it was just devastating. And in my book, I really wanted to explore the incredible ambivalence I felt about being having this role of being his caregiver. inheriting it, inheriting, it sounds like a very passive, passive way. It was, it just became my role. And at first, you know, it was mostly about managing all the doctors, he was in the hospital for a very long time, the ICU and then he was just an physically in such terrible shape. He had several several facial reconstruction surgeries, and there was just so many, as you can imagine, so many different elements that we had to deal with.

Ari: Well, how did this affect your family and your kids? For the most part,

Rachel Mengelberg: right? Well, so at first, you know, it was a question of how to tell them the truth, what was because at first, I didn’t at the very beginning, I just told them that, you know, Daddy was hurt. I didn’t, we didn’t know. Right, but and then when I learned it, actually had my rabbi. I was a cantor at the time. And I actually asked my rabbi to come and talk to them, because I, I was afraid about their reaction when they learned that their dad would never really be the same. And how do you explain that to a six year old, you know, and a seven year old, it’s so but then it was a question of making arrangements to get them to the hospital to visit him and, and, and to just kind of make that part of our daily lives. And, and it wasn’t long before I realized that, particularly my older child, my daughter needed, needed some therapy, she admitted that she’d been crying a lot, but only on the inside. And so it was then I knew I knew, Okay, she needs to go to therapy. And at that age therapy is really more just creating a safe space for the kid to just play and express their, their, their feelings. Um, but yeah, it was it, it changed everything. It was so devastating. Because I remember going to shortly after the accident, going to this gymnastics show that my kids were in. And I remember looking around at the, at all the dads that in those days, we have people at camcorders, you know, and they were they’re recording their kids little somersaults, or cartwheels or whatever. And, and I remember looking around, and even though I was sitting there with my sister and brother in law, who were there, I’m very caring. And I had a really strong support system, I it suddenly hit me I am, I am really now a single parent, like, there’s going to be no one in these kids lives besides me who’s going to be as invested in their lives? So yeah, it was a profound. It was a it affected us all profoundly.


Ari: Well, so at some point in time, and this is, again, I don’t know how long it was. But at some point in time, you made a major, a major decision. All right. Tell us about that decision.


Rachel Mengelberg: Yeah. And that’s really what the book is about. Because I couldn’t find that story. As an avid reader, I had found stories of people that had had these tragedies happen to them and had risen to the challenge. dealt with it by changing their desires, and doing what they needed to do. I knew when my health and own health started to fail. And my sense of self and my sense of confidence that I could raise these kids and I could keep our house household together and I could do this in the car. and it’s just there was none. I felt terrified about the prospect of him coming home. We had a smallish house. I just felt like he needed 24/7 supervision. He was very impulsive and very incontinent at the time. He had seizures. He, he just was he was it, you know, saying he was like a child is, it’s not terribly accurate, but it’s as close as I can get. He just you know how children just don’t have these. They don’t have impulse control. They don’t have filters. That was that describes David, even to this day. So I when my health started to fail, and I ended up being hospitalized as well. I had a meeting with a social worker, because we were making arrangements for him to come home, his coming home had been postponed because of my illness. And I came home weighing like 100 pounds. Because an eating disorder I’d had kicked in as well. And she basically gave me the permission to consider other options. She said, why don’t we have him go into a brain injury rehab facility for a little while? And I said, No, no, no, no, no, I can’t do that. He’s, he’s my husband, it’s my job to take care of him. I’m a nice Jewish girl. This is what we do. I mean, I know that sounds a little, I don’t know, kitschy or something. But it’s true. That’s how I felt I felt that it was my duty. And there, I couldn’t imagine any other option. And yet she opened that door, she gave me permission to consider that other avenue and, and I told myself, this is just temporary. And it just bought me a little time to recover myself. And perhaps for him to get even that much more improved and his physical and cognitive health. But then, as time went on, I and he kept having physical issues. Primarily, he kept him well actually, both he, at one point he did what they call, elope he tried to leave he, he just started walking out of the facility and down the road. And it felt horrible. It felt like I was a jailer of some kind. His family was very angry with me. They, I was accused of being his jailer of being a warden, and keeping him in a place with other crazy people, you know, instead of bringing him home where he would be better off but I knew and in my heart, in my soul in my everything that I would implode. And our whole family therefore would implode if he came home. And so I made that decision to not having come home. Yeah. And so I kind of gave away the books ending. But there is there is more to it, of course, because it’s my journey on that decision toward that decision that I think is important that there are so many people these days, I think you and probably everyone who’s listening to this, either themselves or know someone who has been put in a position of being a caregiver, to a degree where it was very hard on them. And in, in my I dedicated my book to caregivers because I really believe they’re heroes, even the ones that are being paid for it. Because maybe it’s it’s such a heroic act. It’s it’s it’s so selfless. And it wasn’t all I all I could give was to to my kids. All I all I had was to take care of myself and my kids. I didn’t have the bandwidth, if you will to to be that caregiver that that David needed. So.

Ari: So although, although he decided at the end of the day, not to be his caregiver. All right, you didn’t totally give up on him. You did help him in other ways. What tell us about that?

Rachel Mengelberg: Yes, absolutely. I lest I sound like some kind of villain. I really, I asked myself this question, What can I do? And I know that that’s again, that’s sort of a basic question that therapists might ask their their patients, you know, well, rather than beating yourself up for what you can’t do, why don’t you really focus on what you can do? So what I decided I could do became that he was in a facility in a At town about a half an hour away from us, which is really it was really doable. And every time I could I had the facility they would, they had a service where they would bring him up to visit us, either our house where we had dinner, usually on Sundays, just because that was the easiest day for everyone people were home, or if the kids were in a performance or had a baseball game or Karate, you know, tournament or something, whatever. It was some some event at school, Bar Mitzvah, or bat mitzvah, they David was there for those actually by then he was he’d already moved to Israel. That’s, I’ll get to the end of the story in a second. But He currently lives he’s still alive. And he lives in Israel with his sister, near Tel Aviv. So what So in answer to your question, that was one of the things I could do. And the other thing was to go visit him and to take the family on outings, we would go to BestBuy by a charging cable, you know, that was a big event, right? We would go we would go to a restaurant, but going to a restaurant was actually really stressful because he didn’t walk well, his back injuries never really healed very well. He, he would be inappropriate. I’m never to the point where it was. He wouldn’t. He wasn’t violent. But there was so much unpredictability, again, that it was stressful. And then, of course, I was dealing with my small children too at the same time. One time, I remember, my daughter was some somewhere else. And I took my son and I took them to a nearby State Park and we went on this hike, and hike. And I remember driving up there and realizing I have no cell signal. If my set my seven year old, you know, breaks his ankle or, you know, what am I going to do? Like? Or what if David falls? Or you know, and so I realized, what am I thinking I can’t do this hike, right? It’s just it just, it changes so much about the way that how you view like what a family life should be? Or what you expected of it. I know I meandered a little bit but

Ari: know, that’s fine. But basically, I mean, more what I’m getting out of this is that although you know caregiving was was out of the question, alright, kind of keeping the family together and making sure that he knows who his kids are making sure that the kids know he is that was something that you’ve that you’ve done. And that is also I mean, that’s a major accomplishment, you know, and try, you know, trying to keep the family together. That’s also important. Look, not everybody can do everything, you know, in the I just reminds me of the Clint Eastwood, what are the Clint Eastwood movies with 30 Harry where he goes, man’s got to know his limitations. You know, so, you know, you and and look, I understand that you realize what, that you had limitations, and you knew that you couldn’t, you know, do the things that that you although you may have wanted to do them. Okay. You know, it was just beyond your scope, which is fine. Okay, because like I said, You were you’re helping in other ways, keeping the family together, making sure the kids make sure is there for the bar mitzvahs for the parties for all these things. And that is also very, very important. Now, let me ask you this. Okay. What prompted you to write your book? First of all, tell us a little bit what was the name of the book THE CRASH

Rachel Mengelberg: CRASH, which of course implies is his crash, but mainly my crash, right? Oh, interest how I and then the subtitle is how I became a reluctant caregiver. And it’s does seem a little bit ironic, because I’m, I’ve been speaking for the last several minutes about how I didn’t become his caregiver. However, I was, as you say, a caregiver of a sort. It just wasn’t the one who was there, helping him to the bathroom every single day and making sure he got his meds and you know, all of the above it wasn’t that it was a different. It was a different format. And so and I remember having a conversation with the director of the brain injury facility where he was and it was a town called Gilroy. And, and she asked if I wanted to go to this brain injury seminar, it was a one day seminar and for caregivers, and I said, Well, I’m not his caregiver. And she looked at me and she said, Oh my God, yes, you are. are even though as I say, you’re not you’re not doing it in the conventional sense. So, so that’s why my publisher and I went back and forth about the title at first it was like, a memoir of motherhood, guilt. And I can’t remember the third one. But it really it. I think guilt is is a is a very important theme in my book about the, what I expected myself what society expected of me and what I what I did or didn’t do. Shame enters in there too. But what prompted me I think, and I didn’t start writing it until about three and a half years after the accident. I, I have no real training as a writer, you know, I, I, as you said, I’m a I’m a singer, I teach voice I, I been a performer and actor all my life. I was a cantor, a cantorial soloist, meaning, I My degree is in music, not not in, not in cantorial studies. And so I had to, I had to figure out how to do it. But I knew that there was a story I felt like because like I said earlier, because I had found other stories about people with tragic tragic things happening to them who and telling the story of their journey to either they personally wrote it, their journey to overcome it, or their caregivers journey, how the caregiver rose to be the caregiver, those demands, my story was so different, it was, in a way the anti hero. And I felt that it was important to give people like me a voice that that you can have self respect by making a different decision. A choosing a different path than is expected of you. Or, or in hindsight, you should have done something differently. I felt it was important that that story be told. And what I was very much afraid of was that it would come across as whiny or complaining that you know catching that, that Oh, poor me and and everyone who read it in a Vance of the drafts, different drafts was very, was very clear that it didn’t read that way. I just wanted to tell my story. This is what happened. This is the decision I made. This is how I felt about it. This is how I got through it. So that’s that’s why I wrote it. But again, I had to learn how I had I started by just taking classes and just starting I started in the middle, I started with the scene of that social worker telling me I didn’t have to take him home that one day.

Ari: Well, so it took you three and a half years, I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. My book that I wrote, took me nine years to decide to write it. All right, I don’t write it, that my book came out on the 10th anniversary of 911. So, okay, so

Rachel Mengelberg: how long did it take you to write?

Ari: It took me about nine months to write it.

Rachel Mengelberg: Mine took 11 years. You mean, in the first category, I went in this big?

Ari: Let me ask you something. Who is the one person you can point to? That you would say had the most influence on your life? And why? And I’m not talking about your husband obviously. Because, you know, you know, that was just like something that obviously, he didn’t do that on purpose. Okay. But, you know, there must have been somebody in your life that you point to and say, you know, without that person, I never would have made it or you know, that’s the person that gave me the strength or who would that person be?

Rachel Mengelberg: Yeah, so usually when people ask me that question, I talk about my my high school choir teacher Ah, just because of his encouragement for me to sing. But but your your your question base had two parts and in retrospect, in retrospect, looking back now, and having just spoken about my book for the pet and my story for the past, however many minutes I believe that it really was my therapist and I started seeing her actually, when I was 19. My mother was an alcoholic, and I was blaming myself. And so I started therapy when I was 19. And I know the same person. Yeah. But I, I saw her on and off over the years, she just happened to live in that same area where I live in and, and I think it’s having that safe space to go whenever I needed to, and get, get that mirror back, get those questions asked that, that forced me to look back inside and just tell the truth. And really tell the truth without filters, you know, without worrying about how it’s going to come across. I have that such a safe space to do that. And once I did that, you know, you can’t really turn back. I couldn’t. So I do believe that my therapist got me through it. And through other things in my life, I you know, the eating disorder, as I said, my parents divorce. My mother’s alcoholism. You know, we all we all have burdens, as you said at the beginning, those bricks, that, you know, some sometimes they’re little and they just crumble when they hit you. And sometimes they’re massive, like, like your experience. And this experience with the plane crash the brick was ginormous, gigantic. Yeah. And you it altered you and you know me completely forever. And most of us, well, some of us can weather it if we have the right support system and know where to turn to, to get that. So I would say my therapist.

Ari: Okay, so let me ask you this, before we go. Any words of wisdom that you can share with my audience, something they can take away? Something that can help them?

Rachel Mengelberg: You know, I, I didn’t really know what whispers and bricks was. And when we explained it in the beginning of this i i feel like you know, when the whispers when the bricks are coming at you, listen, the whispers are still there, even if they’re very soft. Listen to them. And that whisper was telling me it’s okay to give myself permission to consider an option that isn’t popular. That isn’t what’s expected. Give yourself permission, at least to to open yourself up to other options. If you feel trapped, if you feel that there’s no way out of a situation that you’re being forced into. Then there’s, there are little glimmers that you can follow that may be more true to what who you are and what you want to do.

Ari: Wow. That is that sounds like great, great advice. Now if people want to get in touch with you, what would be the best way for them to do that? Do you have like a website? If you have an email or social media?

Rachel Mengelberg:I have a website. It’s my name. Rachel Michael Berg. I don’t know if you’re going to put it. In fact, let me spell it. Yes, absolutely. Okay. Rachel is our AC H E L. M, like Mary? i c h e. L. B like boy, e r g. author.comRachel Mengelberg

It’s also Rachel M. At Yeah. And my book is available. It’s distributed traditionally, or so it’s available through any bookstore any. And I believe it might be on sale right now. The Kindle version for 99 cents. Oh, wow. Is it at the one year anniversary my publisher does? Does a 99 cent sale. Oh, wow. It might have gone up starting today. Sorry.

Ari: There you go. All right. I hear you. I hear you, Rachel. Thank thanks so much for sharing your story with my audience. I know that there are people out there that are in the same boat that you’re in wondering, you know, can they make that decision as well? I think you coming out is very, very brave. It’s very strong, that you come out and say look, I know my limitations. Okay. And I don’t need to feel guilty about the fact that I have limitations because I do what I do. I can do I do what I can do and what I can’t do, I don’t do and You know, there’s something to be said for that. I mean, again, not everybody, not everybody, Superman and not everybody’s Batman. Okay, it takes, you know, different kinds of people

Rachel: in this world. In fact, most of us aren’t

Ari: the Yeah, that’s very true. That’s very true. But anyway, listen, good luck going forward. So you’re now you’ve remarried, correct?

Rachel: Yes, I remarried. I married a physicist. He’s working on Dark Matter discovery. Wow. Goes right over my head. Yes. My kids. My kids are 24 and 23. doing really well with graduated college. And, yeah, I’m still singing still. Doing a little writing not as much.

Ari: Wow. Okay. Well, thanks so much. Good luck going forward. I appreciate you coming on the show and sharing your story. You were listening to whispers in bricks and I’m your host Gary Sherman. Remember if you feel like you’re stuck in the mud like you’re spinning your wheels wasting time and your career your business your life. You know you’re not enjoyable success, satisfaction significance that you desire, then it’s time for you to book a call with me at call with Check out my whispers of bricks Coaching Academy and until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never ever give up on your dreams.