There were nights when Laura Faganello would wake up with a stranger next to her. She’d panic as the man would try to calm her down, telling her she was safe.
That man was her husband of over three years.
Laura, 23, and Brayden Faganello, 25, came into one another’s lives in 2015, when Brayden’s cousins – classmates of Laura’s at the University of Victoria – put them in touch. Brayden was doing mission work in South Africa and the two corresponded by letters and emails for about nine months until they were both back in Victoria where they quickly became close friends.
Both photographers, Brayden would take Laura down forested back roads to hidden lookout points and secret clearings. Film cameras in hand, the pair explored the secluded beauty of Greater Victoria’s wilderness, falling in love along the way.
In April, 2016 Brayden proposed in one of their favourite forest clearings. And just months later, on a sunny summer day, the couple married in Langley.
“It was like being with your best friend all the time,” Brayden said of early married life. “I remember it being fun and enjoying every moment of every day.”
But nine months after the wedding, a freak accident put their vows to the test.
Laura had just finished her last exam of the spring semester when she agreed to help a friend, who ran an event planning business, set up for an outdoor event.
Laura felt uneasy almost as soon as she arrived at the job. She said the scene was in disarray, with people balancing on top of ladders and equipment, tents and outdoor furniture everywhere. As the wind picked up, Laura even thought to herself, ‘someone is going to get hurt here today.’
Remembering it now is difficult and Laura is left only with fragments of chaos – wind knocking over stacks of glasses, people tying balloons on top of tents. Then, as she leaned over, smoothing out the wrinkles on a table cloth, Laura heard a “huge gasp.”
An unsecured steel pole, a few inches thick and over six feet tall, fell and struck the back of her head.
“I’m sure people would say this is silly but I feel like I felt my brain thump … the sound was disgusting,” she said. “And I immediately felt ill. I felt like I was going to throw up, I felt like I was going to faint.”
Laura’s injury was dismissed as minor by the people at the event and she became increasingly dazed, lost and withdrawn over the next few hours.
She got a text from Brayden asking, “How are you?”
She stared at the phone, wondering who he was.
“I got hit in the head,” she texted the stranger named Brayden.
When he came to get her, he says she was “blank.” “She couldn’t even hardly say anything,” he recalled. “There were tears welling up in her eyes.”
Laura couldn’t verbalize her confusion or pain. She didn’t get to a hospital until a week later, and even though the MRIs were clear, her health was rapidly declining. She was in constant, debilitating pain and experienced frequent nausea. Along with a traumatic brain injury, the pole had damaged Laura’s spine, causing spasms and horrific tension headaches. One night the pain was so bad she was convinced she was dying.
But Laura’s constant pain was only one part of the challenge the newlyweds would have to overcome.
“I was waking up and I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know who [Brayden] he was,” she said. “I would wake up in a panic, screaming if he was in bed with me. Because I had no idea who this stranger was, I thought I was in danger.”
Although there were moments of clarity, Laura lived in a daze, swallowed up by confusion and uncertainty. She managed to hide the severity of her memory loss from her husband with a brave face and a smile.
“I could make small talk. I had to coach myself [and] think of topics, because I didn’t know what to ask him,” she recalled. It would be months before Brayden – and Laura – fully grasped the extent of her memory loss, which was both short and long-term. Even when she could recognize Brayden as her husband, she didn’t feel like she knew him.
“I got to a point where I felt like, I really want to leave [the marriage] but I don’t want to live the rest of my life feeling like I gave up,” Laura said. “I respected him as a person, he’s very sweet, very thoughtful … I knew he loved me so I thought, ‘okay I need to try.’”
Laura told Brayden, ‘I want to try to fall in love again.’
Brayden drove Laura to all of their old spots in the forest, trying to help her remember the pieces of a love story that had been lost. “I would tell her stories of things we did and how we met,” he recalled. “And I’d go over those things over and over, using as much detail as I could to paint that picture as vividly as I could.”
“I knew I would take care of her, I knew I loved her. I was willing to put that effort in.”
Laura’s pain is ever-present, but improving. And the couple still has to work at their marriage, re-building something that was lost in a single moment.
Last week they got engaged again, starting their marriage anew, focused entirely on living in the present.
“She had every excuse in the world to bail out and say, ‘this is too much,’ and I did too,” Brayden said. “We feel like a lot of the good things in life, you can’t just sit around and wait for them to come to you. You have to choose to be happy.”
When Laura shared their story online it went viral around the world. She hopes it helps inspire people to work through their own trauma or pain.
“I know that we spend so much time on the negative…but the whole point of us sharing this is because we’re happy now,” she said. “And so that’s very important to me, showing that we created something beautiful out of a bad thing.”
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