She decided to file for a divorce when she realized he would never fully recover, but she made a promise to take care of him for the rest of his life.
It takes a lot to hold on to a partner who has suffered a brain injury and the doctors have said that he would never recover. However, Kristen Armstrong did not give up on her former husband Brandon Smith. Even today, she takes care of him along with her new husband and kids.
It all started in 2008 when Armstrong and Smith had been married for about two years. She is a speech pathologist and Smith was working as an auto mechanic. They had been together since high school. Unfortunately, Smith was involved in a car accident and it was quite bad. Armstrong told TODAY, "They couldn’t tell me if he was alive or not." She remembers asking her mother what she would do if he dies.
After Armstrong reached the hospital, she got to know that her husband was in the neuro-trauma intensive care unit after being T-boned by a commercial truck.
She was told that he had a traumatic brain injury and he will be in a coma for two months. She said, "Even though Brandon’s doctors warned me that if he did wake up, he would be forever changed because of his severe traumatic brain injury, I held onto hope that a miracle would happen and he’d be the same Brandon.”
However, that did not happen and Smith had to be put into a nursing care facility in Texas. “Every morning I woke up and I was hit by this train of sadness. He was my soulmate, my best friend," she said. “I was grieving a living person, and that was very complicated and isolating.”
Smith was 23 years old then and Armstrong was 24. She wanted to have children and when she knew that he would never recover, she decided to file for a divorce. “I had a lot of talks with God, and I decided I was going to take care of Brandon until the day he died,” Armstrong said. When the judge asked her how she will take care of him once she had her own family, she was determined and said that she is not going anywhere.
She stood by her word. She married her current husband James Armstrong in 2015, and they both have been seeing Smith together regularly. That's not all as their three children also love Smith. “We bring Brandon to our house every week and we take him out to restaurants,” Kristen said. “What makes it really beautiful is how much my family has accepted Brandon as a part of their family.”
James is pretty close to Kristen's former husband and it is evident in a TikTok video that she posted. He can be seen spoon-feeding Smith breakfast at a diner, and then moving him from his wheelchair into a car. Armstrong says in her voiceover, "I once thought I would never meet somebody who could love me and love Brandon. I mean who's gonna wanna take on somebody who still loves their former husband?"
She continues, "But James surpassed all my dreams of how a future partner could love Brandon. James has never expressed or shown any jealousy. He's never questioned my unwavering love for Brandon or given pause to the role B plays in our family. Instead, he has accepted Brandon with wide open arms. I've overheard him proudly telling the story of our family and how Brandon fits in it."
"With a grateful heart, I have stepped aside as James has insisted on transferring B, picking up his wheelchair, doing the heavy lifting," she says in the video.
She also shared with TODAY how James in his wedding vows wrote that he would love and care for Brandon and he has. “James helps in whatever ways he can. He never complains, he’s never uncomfortable. And I think that’s a huge thing. Some of the stuff that comes out of Brandon’s mouth is a little crazy, and he can’t toilet on his own. But none of that bothers James."
Moreover, their two young daughters also got along well with Brandon and often fight over who got to snuggle with Uncle Brandon on the couch. “My stepson, too — he comes with me to the nursing home, and he's getting Brandon drinks and hugging him,” said Kristen.
Talking about what she has learned from Smith, she said it is how to be more present. "Brandon's short-term memory is very poor, so he's not anxious about tomorrow or regretful of yesterday. Even though he can't communicate well, he's always teaching us things. He makes life beautiful."