moving forward

navigating through the life that was and moving into the life that is

“Can I hold your hand?”

The days have been hard lately. So very hard. I’m tired again. Tired of not understanding my brain injury as well as I would like, tired of answering people’s intrusive questions about whether or not “you think you have healed as much as you’re going to” or if “I think I will ever be back to normal”.  The answer to the first one is I have absolutely NO idea, no one does, but statistically 2 years is a pretty good indication of where I will be forevermore.  I do know these things; I can walk, I can talk, I can think and I can love. I know that I can’t do these things; I can’t work, I can’t maintain a solid schedule without running late and becoming overwhelmed, and I can’t live by myself successfully.  I have lived alone for the first time since the accident for the last several weeks and I would love to say that I’ve done it with ease and I’m killing it. But I haven’t, I’m not and it’s slowly killing me.  My dad will be coming to stay with me very soon and I am so incredibly grateful.

To the second question, I am “back to normal”. This Sandra is my normal. My normal will never be the same normal as before. My new normal will always have something missing from it and I am okay with that.  I have to be. There is no other choice.

The days of my new “normal” are hard, though. They are the kind that stop you in your tracks.  Literally. I spend time each day just sitting at the top of my stairs, thinking through the day and mustering up the energy to see it through. If something is thrown into my daily routine, it is never easy.  The extra trip in my car or unexpected time on the phone, exhausts me. I need to take a nap each day, even when I try to make myself believe I don’t.  I need thinking breaks and quiet.  I don’t want them, I need them. If an ambulance siren is loudly resonating in the air, my eyes instantly fill with tears and my heart beats faster.  I don’t remember the accident at all, but I believe my body does.  I know that my body does.

Lately, I have been most tired of keeping it together in front of my kids in those deep, dark moments of grief. I have always been open with them about the grief and how it comes so quick and that it is okay to be sad. However when we are all in that place at the same time, I’m the one who needs to hold it together. I’m the adult and man that sucks. Seriously. When your son’s heart is breaking, all you want to do is break with him, lie down next to him and totally fall apart. Roll around on the ground, kicking and screaming in hopes that it will make the grief leave your body.  Tell him that all of this is stupid and awful and unfair and maybe throw in some anger directed at life and at God. Instead, you take a deep breath, give him a second, and then gently rub his head as he begins crying. You ask him if he needs anything and when he says, “I just want to see him”, you choke back the tears and say, “I know baby, me too, can I hold your hand?” A few minutes pass and then he is ready. He knows he can’t see him. But it just helps to say it. To wish it out loud. Then he gets up and we finish the flowers, trace his name with our fingers and say “bye”.

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We leave these moments.  We go back to life. Some would say that we go back to normal, but that’s not true.  These experiences are our normal.  My children walk around with these scars each and every day.  They are strong children.  They are resilient children. They are happy children. But they will forever be different.  We all will be.

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“Flattered” by Old Flames

The old flame. Most everyone has them. The nature of dating is that we learn about ourselves and learn about others and either decide to start dating, keep dating or stop dating.
The problem comes when we don’t extinguish the old flames. There are probably great memories with that person. You shared a period of your life with them. There is also a reason or many reasons that they are exactly what they are, a PAST flame. They are now a part of your past and wherever you are in your present life, those memories are a part of your past. Social media has opened up a world for past flames to rekindle.
I recently watched “Flattered” from the Pressure Points marriage series, created by Phil Stevens. My son and I were extras in the film and I knew the subject matter and never really thought much about its relevance in my life.  It was not until I saw the complete film that I realized how much this paralleled an event in my life.  I was brought to tears remembering what had happened. Although I was widowed two years ago and cannot get his permission, I am confident that Glen would not mind me sharing our story about how a past flame almost came in between us and the unconditional love that saved us.

The Pressure Points Flattered

Our Story

During the summer, I was visiting home in Michigan and because of work my husband was unable to come with me and the kids. We talked every day and were in constant contact. I was on Facebook one night and I saw that an old flame had liked another friend’s picture. Enter my first mistake, I wrote him and just said “hey it’s been a long time. You really working in Michigan?”
A conversation ensued. One that I felt was harmless. At some point he said something like, “I have always wondered where you were and how you were doing. I’m glad that you are doing well.” I felt him pushing into the past and tried to just make a comment like “yeah you cross my mind every now and again. How are you doing these days?” We went on to talk about families, work, and faith and he complimented me a few times and I just said thanks not thinking any more about it.
Later that night, an email from my husband…

“I was planning on surprising you with a massage for tomorrow afternoon/evening so I called your mom and left a message for some spas. After not hearing back, I figured I’d shoot her an email on FB… your account was still logged on when I opened it. I then thought it would be “cute” to leave a status saying how madly in love you are with your husband only to come across some suspect conversations with you and some dude.”

We trusted each other and always left Facebook open. We had nothing to hide so we never logged out. For a lack of better words, he was furious. I knew he had dealt with infidelity before and knew that those experiences had broken his spirit.  I swore that I  wasn’t even thinking like that. I told him that I had talked about my marriage and being happy and about my faith. That is how I saw the conversation. Glen saw something entirely different. I read the conversation back from Glen’s perspective and saw it totally differently. There is no way to describe the way that my stomach bottomed out. The idea that I had caused Glen to question my devotion to him was the ultimate betrayal and I have never wished to undue something more in my life.

Glen’s email was forward, straight to the point and did not attack me in any way, but explained how furious he was that I would put myself in a situation like this.

“Either way it’s clear he has feelings for you (“gorgeous”), and part of me thinks you might have assumed that when you emailed him…At this point, I’ve got so many emotions stirring in me right now I honestly don’t know what to think…my heart is in my stomach right now.  Not only do I feel disrespected, but I’ve always looked at our marriage as sacred and I feel like you gave away a little piece of it today.”

I honestly don’t know what my intention was in reaching out to him. It doesn’t matter. I had put my marriage in question over a past flame who had no bearing on any part of my current life.  The aftermath of it was incredibly painful and incredibly beautiful. Yes beautiful in the way that Glen handled the situation. I am so grateful to have experienced love and life with a man that gave me grace, forgiveness and protection from myself. I realized that being “flattered” by a past flame was not at all the motivation for saying hey to him, but it was a dangerous starting point perhaps to feel “flattered” and to feel noticed when I had a husband that was already doing those things each and every day.

“I’ll never be able to recreate the memories or fun times you had back in college… Life with me is filled with paying bills, changing diapers, old carpet, broken fences, etc…while not glamorous I KNOW none of these dudes would do a better job at being a HUSBAND that will love you like I do…faithfully and hand in hand in Christ.”

Speechless. How right he was.  Any fun time in college was far outdone by SingStar battles with my husband, SEC football games,  and trips with my family.  Hell, every day was better with Glen.  FamilyBeing on social media alone makes us susceptible to these types of interactions. I can’t control what others say to me, but I can chose who I interact with and why. I am grateful that my husband did not just act out. I am grateful that he brought it to me and addressed it.  I am grateful that he gave me grace in the interaction and I am grateful to be able to bring this issue to the forefront through Phil Stevens’ Pressure Point Marriage ministry.  If you are always seeking and never serving your spouse, it is destined to fall apart.  We can all be self serving. We can all allow ourselves to be “flattered” by past flames or we can communicate with our spouse. Love each other well and when a past flame comes to the surface, because they will, communicate with honesty, with grace, and with love. Please take the time to watch how easily we can be the demise of our marriages/relationships, but how unconditional love and open communication can bring you closer together and make you stronger than ever.

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In 2014, Be Awesome, Be Brilliant, and Love Others Well

Things that have not changed in 2013

1)      I still gag when I clean my ears with Q tips.

2)      I still don’t like to shower every day. I mean, I’m physically able to now, but I still don’t really like to.

3)      I sing everywhere, the grocery store, the gym, the doctor.  There is really no place that is off limits.

4)      I break into the robot everywhere as well.  Just be prepared if you are with me and don’t be embarrassed. There is always a beat in my head.

5)      I still love and eat cheese, chocolate and lots of bread.

6)      I am still awesome.

Resolutions for the New Year

1)      Keep being awesome

2)      Be Brilliant

3)      Love others well

These are my resolutions. These are attainable. These are deeply thought about and intricately me.

For some background, I’m a widow.  Widowed at 30, deeply and madly in love with my husband and with two young children.  Now at 32, I’m in the dating world. I haven’t really dated since my early 20’s and now as a mother, widow, and traumatic brain injury survivor, I’m dating and I’m somehow supposed to know how. At this stage in my life, I don’t have time to play games or act like I’m in my early 20’s. I’m a grown woman, who has known love so deep. I am a mother of two of the most precious and resilient children. 4T3A0778

Recently I was intrigued by someone and him by me.  Games ensued, though, and I’m far from being in a place where I have the flexibility, spontaneity, or patience to play games. That once was exciting. Now, I’m a straight shooter.  In a recent text conversation he told me, “you’re really something else.”

“Why am I something else?”

“You’re just, I’m not sure, cocky”

My almost immediate response – “No I’m sure. Sure is different from cocky.”

“You’re cocky”

“No I’m sure. Of who I am and what I want”

I’ve never been called cocky before and so it really gave me pause to think.  Is that how people see me? Am I cocky? What do I do that’s cocky? And really? Cocky? What a crappy word. I do not think I’m cocky. At all. And I have now used that word enough for the next several years of my life so I will not be using it any more. To me, (word that shall not be named) means arrogant, competitive, self-seeking and may I repeat, competitive.  My New Year’s resolutions are neither arrogant nor competitive.

beawesomeIn, 2014, I will continue to be awesome.  I will wake every day and be awesome. Wake up -> Be awesome -> Go to Bed -> Repeat.  I will not disappoint myself.  I will be awesome. Not by your standards, not to compete with your awesomeness or be awesomer. I will be the best me that I can be and that is awesome. Then I will sleep and start all over again the next day.

In 2014, I will be brilliant. Again I will be brilliant on my own accord.  Not more brilliant than you or any other person, not in competition with you, not in an attempt to be someone others think is brilliant, but I will be brilliant in my life. I will find the last pack of M & M’s in the back of the cupboard to add to our microwave popcorn  on family movie night. I will make a treasure hunt with clues leading to a surprise for my kids.  I will push beyond my own self to love others as well as I can. I will paint my kitchen again if I decide to. I will smile at strangers, hug strangers if they need one. I will be brilliant.

1n 2014, I will love others well.  I will continue to do what I can when I can.  It may not look like enough to you. It may look like too much but I will love others the way that only I know how.  I will not compete to be the best at loving others.  I will not compete to be the best friend, mother, daughter, sister.  I will just do what I know best and authentically love others. Love others well.

These three resolutions are why I believe I am not (word that shall not be named). I am more than aware of my limitations and imperfections.  I have made it through this past year encountering them, learning from them, and sometimes repeating them (sigh). However, I have done my best not to compare myself, not to assume that Tracey or Abby or Laura or whoever is doing it better than me.  In 2013 through trials, life lessons, disappointments, celebrations, failures and successes I have found me. I have the best understanding of me that I have ever had in my life.

I am proud of me.

I am sure of who I am.

I am awesome.

And in 2014 I will continue to be awesome. Join me. :)

Here it is on Huffington Post if you care to see it there. I love you all and am grateful for your support and even more grateful for your awesomeness: In 2014, Be Awesome, Be Brilliant, and Love Others Well

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A New Journey

You may begin to hear things through the rumor mill, so I wanted to take a moment to let you all know what is going on in my life. I am starting the process of moving home to Michigan.

There are a million things I could say. A million reasons to stay and a million reasons to move, but ultimately it comes down to one thing, I need to be near my parents.

For the last two years, I have always had a caregiver. My dad lived with me until June of 2012 and has come here on a minute’s notice since. My brother took over full time when my dad went home. Many of you are aware that my brother lives with me to “help out” but what you may not be aware of is that there have been days that he has held this house together. Singlehandedly. Held me together. He has been my caregiver. Never in my life did I think I would need a caregiver at 30 and at that point in my life, I was not willing to accept that fact. I acted as though my brother was just “helping out” as well. Oh how wrong a thought that was. Here is the only way I can think of to describe this feeling. My brain was working with a 5 gallon tank. I was using those 5 gallons every day. Accomplishing so much, learning to walk again, drive again, care for my children again. So while I thought I was taking care of everything, my brother knew that my life really required a 20 gallon tank and he was supplementing with the other 15. Over time, he has shifted the volume, allowing me to move to 7 and him to 13, me 9 and him 11 and so on. I know it has been difficult for him. He wants to provide all 20. When someone loves you that much and sees how hard you are working, they want to just make it easier. Funny thing is that all along he was not only filling my tank, he was trying to fill and maintain his own. There will never be a way that I can truly explain to him how much I love him and how much my children love him. But being my caregiver was not something he really signed up for and although I know he would do it forever if I asked, it is time for him to move into the life that is waiting for him.
With his eventual move from my home in mind, I have to make decisions that are healthy for me and the kids. That is where the brain injury comes into place. Brain injury is tricky. So unknown. So intricately individualized. I read a lot about brain injury. I think a lot about brain injury; the things I have done wrong, the aspects I feel could be better explained, the checks that I feel should be in place.I recently read an article that said, “Brain injury is indeed the last thing you ever think about until it’s the only thing you think about.” How true this is to my life. A brain injury doesn’t fit well into any box.
One of the most common side effects? Brain injured patients are often stubborn as all hell. Well, when regular stubborn Sandra met brain-injured Sandra, you can imagine the stubbornness that ensued. So what did I fight for? Normal. I was alive. I wanted my life back. Sure it would be new without Glen, however, I wanted everything else back. I wanted teaching back. Badly. All along that is what I fought for. Normal. Me teaching was what would make me feel normal again. The 2 attempts I made at returning were devastating to my mental health, devastating to my imagined normal. I have no regrets at all. You have to attempt and fail things in life sometimes to understand their place. These failures are part of the reason I think about brain injury a lot. For reasons that I will not get into, my case was mishandled and fell in the cracks along the way. I NEVER should have been medically cleared to return to work 6 months after the accident. Enter stubborn Sandra. I told my doctors that I wanted to return and I was ready. It wasn’t a full return, just a gradual reentry. That is what I wanted and by the “looks” of things, I was ready to attempt it. Underneath the calm façade, was an erratic, impulsive, exhausted and did I mention grieving individual who was not ready to be making her own decisions. For all intents and purposes, I didn’t. Here is where, brain injury doesn’t fit into a box, though. The doctor cannot see inside my brain, so to a certain extent they have to trust me. Here is why I think about brain injuries all the time. Here is where I want to teach family members and friends to be healthy advocates for individuals that are nowhere near ready to make their own decisions, despite their assurances that they are ready. I do not blame my family or friends at all for this, but they needed to be receiving information on what was in my best interest at the time versus what I was wanting to do.
Overtime, I have improved tremendously. Many of you who have watched me from the beginning are aware of this. However, I still have severe symptoms each and every day. The most problematic one is short-term memory problems. One of the best explanations I heard was that the center (middle) of your brain is where all information flows in and is then sent out to different areas of the brain. Almost like a mail room. However, from the force of my brain going back and forth, those pathways were torn or sheered. So while I may look like I am understanding, my brain is taking in all the information but not distributing it to where it needs to go. The mail room in my brain is overworked and understaffed.

TBIThis photo describes it perfectly. What was once easy to understand and remember, has become increasingly more difficult. I may need to hear it again. I may need to hear it slower. I may need to write it down, set a reminder, tell you to remind me. I no longer can trust that my brain will remember, the little or the big things. Let me tell you, this crushes my self-worth. My 8-year-old watches me struggle with this and will remind me of things sometimes and I hate that. Hate it. Over the past two years, I have come to new levels of recognition and I am coming to this one finally, I have a brain injury. Haha. I know. Seems fairly obvious, but seriously I had to teach myself that I have a brain injury and not a broken leg. There is no time line for my healing and in some ways I will never be the same. I just wanted to be Sandra from before the accident who was wife, mother, teacher, model math teacher, PTA president…but now, that frightens me just to think of it. So I am embracing me now, learning more about the new me, living with all the joy of life that I had before, and what I’m going to “be” or “do” is this; I’m going to stay home with my kids, I’m going to continue to strive at working out my brain every day, and on the days when it all is just too much, I’m going to go home to see my parents. I’m going to drive that mile and a half and fall into the couch and weep or sleep and allow my parents to be the caregivers that I never knew I would need again. I can not be caught up in the “could have beens”. I’m going to live in the now, with a safety net, knowing that mom’s meatloaf and dad’s silent strength are a 5 minute drive away.

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The Signs We Wear

Here is a post I wrote on the Huffington Post. I shared it on Facebook but I know that the whole world doesn’t have Facebook so I wanted to share it here.

The Signs We Wear

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By my side

I love Glen.

I’m in love with Glen.

I’m still so ridiculously in love with Glen. I’m just as much in love with him as I was the day we were married. Perhaps more.

I’m in love with Glen -> that statement is what I have been struggling with as I have considered “moving on” in my romantic life.  The term “moving on” is truly one of the most hurtful phrases that is used with widowed people.  “Shouldn’t you be moving on?” “I’m glad to see you are moving on.” “It’s been almost _ years. I really think you should move on.” Those are not statements that you get to say to a widow. EVER. Those are things you might say to someone whose spouse left them or after a bitter divorce or a bad breakup. Perhaps. When the love of your life dies unexpectedly, in the midst of daily life, you never move on.  My love for Glen runs so deep and so wide.  I will never be able to escape it and I am finally ready to quit trying. So today I surrender to it. I surrender to the reality that I will never be out of love with him. I am going to have great days and then I am going to have days where the absence of his love takes my breath away. This realization is a fork in the road where I have a choice. After not being allowed a choice on many of the events in my life, choices are a big deal to me.

I can choose to never let anyone love me again, to never let anyone in, believe that my baggage is way more than anyone would want. I mean seriously, a widow through a tragic car accident, a severe traumatic brain injury, two kids, unable to work or hold a fulltime job, and the list goes on. I have so many versions of that list in my head. I have tortured myself into believing many versions of that list. I could choose that option

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I can believe that Glen knows I will forever love him and that falling in love again is something that he wants me to do. I have always known he would want me to fall in love again but, as I have said before, knowing and doing are two completely different avenues.

My falling in love and subsequent being in love is more difficult than I ever imagined.  Difficult because I am not the only one that still loves Glen. Friends and family saw how truly happy he made me.  They want him back too, they want that back.  At long last, the one truth I have come to terms with now is that no one I date will be Glen. Seems fairly obvious but seriously, I cannot date Glen and I may not date someone like Glen.  People saw how happy that he made me and so naturally that is who they want me to be with again.  At the risk of being obvious again, I will not be dating Glen. The time that Glen and I met was so perfect and meant to be. Our first marriages occurred in the same weekend of the same year and were over before we had a chance to believe in marriage.  We had both been injured.  Love had backfired on both of us. Our trust was broken. In each other, we found the assuredness and love that neither of us had experienced before.  Our love was so very pure and it was no wonder that our lives intertwined so beautifully, so easily.

Now? Now I am different. Now I have seen what love and marriage can look like and my expectations are kind of high.  Just sayin. J I know that it is so difficult for people to see how I am different. But it’s true. I am not the same me.  How could I be? I am me. Right now. In this moment. Isn’t that really what we all are anyway? A summation of every experience and every day and minute of our life up until that very moment? What happens next is up to us. Then we become the person we are at that very moment. You are not a result of everything that has happened to you – that is passive.  You are a result of what you have done with all of the things that have happened to you – that is living.  How you react, is up to you. How you react is who you are.

Therefore, today I am choosing to love again.  I am choosing to believe in love. The man who will let me fall in love with him will be a man who understands loss, understands suffering, understands my ups and downs, understands that I am still in love with another man, and loves me all the same.  A man who knows that I may not always be able to give him all that he deserves because having a brain injury is exhausting and all-consuming at times.  I work at it, though, and my brain will continue to heal and the most important thing is that he will know that I will always try to give him all that he deserves. Always.

 

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Some days it just hurts

Today is one of those days.

It started last night as I tucked my sweet boy into bed. After reading, he asked me if I could pray for school. Every day. And I said of course, is there a reason why? He said no let’s just pray about school every day. So I begin praying and he stops me and says,
“What will happen to me if you die?”
“What do you mean, baby?
“If you die. If I don’t have anyone? Where will I go?”
All while tears begin to flood to his eyes. And I can’t say the usual parent answer of, “Mommy’s not going to die, baby” because daddy did and that would be a lie.
So I said, “you know all the people that love us and that we love? You will live with them. Like Grandma and Grandpa in Michigan. They could move down here and live with you.”
“But what if you die? I will have nobody left.”
It is taking every once of willpower not to weep in front of him as I am now while writing this.
I repeat, “you will live here, in this house and grandma and grandpa will come live with you.”
“I will still have this room and these toys?”
“Yes, baby, everything will be the same. Nothing else would change.”
“Okay.”
Last night I sang him a few extra songs. Held his hand and let my heart shatter for his broken heart and the fact that he worries about things like this. When I left his room, that is when I broke. I had no body to hold me, to tell me it was going to be okay, and in that moment, the reality of being a widow hit fresh and new again. It’s an empty feeling and I would give anything just to feel his hand on my forehead one more time or his voice in my ear.

Over the night, my daughter got a fever and is coughing, it’s cloudy and raining on and off today, and the UGA game was an afternoon one. It is the kind of day that Glen and I would have spent inside, with friends, watching the Dawgs. Instead, my kids took a nap, I watched the first half of the game alone and then I slept on and off. The game was an interesting one and I could just imagine all of the things Glen would have been saying and that made me miss him even more. Then I woke up with a headache, and by now, I just want my partner, my caretaker, my companion, my love by my side. The reality hits again. He is never coming back. And that sucks.

Today is one of those days.

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Heavy Bowls

A video of a little girl being asked to clear the table and struggling with a “heavy bowl” recently was shared at my church. She makes comments such as, “I am not big enough” and “it is so heavy” as she is crying and falling on the ground. The bowl is clearly not too heavy and it really is amusing. Check it out…

As much as we can all enjoy the video, the toddler tantrum occurrence is a reality in the lives of parents every day. The thing that strikes me most about the video is not the girl, although she is a riot. The star of this video for me? The dad. The father who lovingly reassures her, lovingly encourages her and allows her to successfully complete the task on her own.
I laughed as I saw it for the first time, thinking of the number of times Cameron has said “my legs are tired” or “it is soooo far”. In that moment, as parents, we have a crucial decision to make. Force or support. For me, instead of forcing him into submission and being harsh on him, I have always felt that getting on his level and supporting him is the best medicine. I could force him to do what I’m saying, I could yell at him, I could scold him or say comments like “you are being ridiculous” or “get up and do it” but I chose to remain calm. Now let’s be honest here, that doesn’t always happen. First and foremost if it is a dangerous choice he is making, force is the best option and other times, well, calm is a distant second cousin: I’m tired or impatient and I snap. However, those times we both end up in tears. Angry tears, mad tears, frustrated tears. Yet when I remain calm, he often still cries unbelieving tears and I may cry for him but they are transformed to tears of effort and success and accomplishment. They are tears worth crying.

Just as the dad does in the video, he first acknowledges her challenge and after encouraging her a few times, he eventually uses a firmer tone and she does it! She accomplishes the goal and proves it to herself amidst her dad’s joy that she can do it! She has just won a huge battle. All by herself. She accomplished the task that she insisted she couldn’t do. There are going to be many times when she comes upon “heavy bowls” in her life and this dad is perfectly modeling how to get through them. The 1:21 seconds that the whole episode took could have ended so much worse, with feelings of anger, disappointment, and helplessness. Instead, success.

I am certain that some of my tantrums looked a little like this girl. And although, the bowl wasn’t really heavy or, for me, the curb wasn’t really a big step down, in our minds it was a gigantic bowl and a cliff of a curb.
Here is how I know how the little girl feels. On November 5th, 2011 all of the things I had already spent 29 years learning were gone. My brain was injured in a horrific car accident that took my husband’s life and although certain things would come back with ease, other things were “heavy bowls”. After waking, my first major challenge was following commands like sticking my tongue out. My mom sat and supported me for hours while I just kept trying to get my tongue out of my mouth. Although I have no memory of this (short term amnesia), from my mom’s retelling and knowing me, I am certain that I was frustrated. “Stick your tongue out”. Seems like a relatively no-brainer type of request. And yet, I had never ending failed attempts. One after another. Then, at some point, I did it. Slowly, very slowly and not all the way out but I did it!! All of my mom’s encouragement, all of her support and I accomplished it. I am certain that there was joy in my heart that my mom will never know which gave me the first dose of the “keep fighting” attitude that I have held unto ever since.

The difference from the video for me is that the battles were with myself, however, the support was the same. Once I began to follow commands, the next challenge was getting me up and moving. A significant “heavy bowl” was getting up a wooden three step staircase in physical therapy at the hospital. So again like the father knew that his daughter was capable of lifting the bowl, I knew that my body had been capable of walking up steps. My thoughts were telling my legs to move, but my brain could no longer submit that message to my legs. Exasperation, fear, anger, disgust with myself even and then the gentle words of the physical therapist, “you can do this Sandra, just get up one step.” Not “come on Sandra, this is easy. It’s three steps. Come one.” Gentle encouragement through my frustrated tears, “you can go this Sandra, just get up one step.” That one step eventually moved to three and on the day of my husband’s funeral, the day after I was released from the hospital, I practically ran up about 7 steps because I was so excited to see friends from church. I got up, turned around, saw the steps behind me, and asked them if I just walked up those and they all smiled and said “yes”. My mind was blown, my brain was starting to make that connection again. The axon had been severed when the accident occurred, but through therapy and practice and practice, the connection was reforming. The best illustration I can give for this was given by my doctor at the hospital.

I have a Diffuse Axonal Brain Injury which involves sheering of the axons which are the pathways between the neurons in the brain. Many of the connections or “roads” in my brain were sheered – broken. For example, say that for my legs to move the message has to travel along the axon from neuron A to neuron B. The axon is sheared. There is no longer a complete road from A to B. Think traffic jam on the road. Now I can keep trying to go from A to B on that road, but I will hit the break, the “traffic jam” every time. Over and over and over again I can try the same old way and I did! Until I try to “drive” another road, I am going to meet failure. There are 3 processes that my doctor described to me. This one meeting with him in May of 2012 changed everything. It gave me power. It made me realize that my brain did not control me. I controlled my brain. For the brain injured patient, this is an epic moment.

drhoward

Here are the 3 process that occur when you are healing: (remember I’m not a scientist so these are my understanding of of them with a little country music thrown in :P )

Unmasking – unmasking is similar to revealing or exposing back roads
You know how irritated you feel when you are in a traffic jam? Now come on and admit it. :) Irritated was my nice word for how some of you feel.

Now imagine if that happened all day long. Every day. And then suddenly you discover (unmask) a back road and you are moving again. You are free to get on with where you were heading. Imagine sitting in that traffic jam for days or months, waking up everyday in the same old jam and then one day, Bam, you are free. Yeah, unmasking those connections feels that good!

Collateral Sprouting – now this one is a bit more difficult to explain
An axon is sheared, several axons are sheared. Axons can sprout though. Intact axons being used for other processes can sprout. I have loved this one because my brain is sprouting! There is such celebration in new life. :) The new sprouts can allow for the movement from Neuron A to neuron B to occur albeit differently. I went to neurolaw.com for this definition:
collateral sprouting – Intact axons located near damaged areas may sprout to reestablish connections with, and in place of damaged areas; cannot be assured that the new connections function exactly as their damaged neighbors did.

Axonal Branching – and this one is almost impossible to understand without research. :) This process seems similar to sprouting but it is more significant and the axon will continue to branch until it joins another branching axon.  Then it may continue to branch after that.

ALL this to say, we all have “heavy bowls” in our lives. Something that is so difficult to us that other people can not even begin to understand. A “heavy bowl” which people may self righteously judge us for.  Remember those steps I ran up at church? Yeah. Well getting down them? That was a whole different challenge. Going down stairs was about 10 times harder. I needed assistance on getting down. But you just went up the stairs. You must be faking. You must not really need help.

That day, I did need help, despite that it looked like I should be able to do it.  So I pray that when you come to the day when the reason for your “heavy bowl” is invisible to others, I hope there is somebody there who will help you, encourage you, and love you.  I hope that there is someone there who can rejoice in your successes and applaud you as you face your challenges. Above all, when your “heavy bowl” arrives, because it will, I pray for you the courage to keep trying, the courage to get up off the comfort of the kitchen floor and give it one more try.

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Handwritten love

In the current technological life in which we live, handwritten letters, notes are becomingnov11 a forgotten language.  I was raised by the most phenomenal woman ever.  She gets the importance of handwritten notes.  When I’m visiting Michigan, she leaves me a note every morning and it’s the best part of my day. When she is visiting here, I never know where I’ll find a post-it note, DSC_0640but there is always one I find after she leaves to go back home.  And I have them. I have them in my heart each and every day and I even have some of them in my bedside drawer on those particularly hard days.

The other day I found a book that I made for Alana just before she turned 4.  I do not remember where I got the idea, but the idea was to put handwritten notes in it about the things different people know and love about Alana.  I eagerly turned the cover page and there it was, a handwritten note to Alana from Daddy about all the things he loved about her…

Scan0010And I cried. And laughed. And smiled. And wept. For our loss of this beautiful man and the joy of finding something so special. When I shared the book with her, I gave her space as she read each page and smiled.  She finished and said, “mommy there are empty pages, lets fill them.” Love. Her. And the book will be different because it won’t have Daddy (or maybe it will, I have all kinds of ideas), but it will have such valuable and important additions.  She has told me that she wants an Aunt Michelle and Uncle Mike page, an Uncle Tom and Aunt Kalena page, and the one that makes my heart so happy, a Cameron page.

Here is the whole book

Scan0010 (4)Scan0010 (3) Scan0010  Scan0010 (5)Scan0010 (2) Scan0010 (6) Scan0011

The beauty of raising our children is that in many ways they become who we help them become. It is a huge responsibility.  We are their models, we are their guides, and through the last 21 months that has become more evident to me than ever.  I have not been healthy for parts of this time, physically or mentally.  I’ve snapped at my children more times than I want to acknowledge and seen them start to act like that to each other.  And therein lies the beauty in parenting; as soon as I starting learning healthy coping skills and modeling them, they started too. We all have been through so much. It still brings tears to my eyes when I think about all their little hearts have felt and experienced.  At the end of the day we all need some reassurances that we are doing something right. On Mother’s Day this year, I see the handwritten note tradition is being carried on through my daughter and I am so blessed.

DSC_0620 You’re my love

You’re my heart

You’re everything I needed

When I see you my eyes glow

Because you’re as beautiful as the snow

And another random note from her

DSC_0621

And another one just for good measure :)
DSC_0638

DSC_0639


Me. I can make her feel more happy than she ever has before. Little old me. I get to do that.

My blessings abound.

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8 Things

8 things that you may not know about me, but I would like you to know.

  • My brain is indeed still healing. Yes after 21 months, nearly 2 years, my brain is still healing.
    • Brain injury rehabilitation takes a very long time; it is usually measured in years. It continues long after formal rehabilitation has ended.
    • Please have patience with my memory. Know that not remembering does not mean
      that I don’t care.
    • Patience is the best gift you can give me. It allows me to work deliberately and at my own pace, allowing me to rebuild pathways in my brain. Rushing and multi-tasking inhibit cognition.
    • The whole article is incredible, though, and I hope you will take the time to read it.
    • http://www.brainline.org/content/2011/07/lost-found-what-brain-injury-survivors-want-you-to-know.html
  • Sometimes my son hits me.
    • IMG_3900This sweet, loving, talkative, sensitive boy hits me. Some people might say that I let him, but that is not the case. What I do is work through his anger until he can stop from hitting me himself. Yes, I move away. Yes, I might stop his hand from hitting me, but I know that spanking him or putting him in time out immediately never helps him calm down. Those things make it escalate, those things lead to biting, scratching, throwing things and he has done all of those things to me as well. Sometimes I cry, he always cries. Inside of this sweet little four year old boy is pain and anger that I cannot even begin to understand. He misses Glen. He remembers. He knows he’s no longer here. At times, when that overwhelms him and he is tired or hungry, I am who he gets mad at. There is safety in that for him. I think he knows that he is mad at something, at things that he cannot control, sometimes just mad and I am the one person who can take it. I am the one person who he can direct that anger to and will still love him just the same at the end of it all. He is not a naughty child. I don’t know how many times I have been given the look that says “you need to spank that child” or “you are too easy on him.” No, in fact I don’t. I need him to get his anger out in a healthy way, I need to hold his trembling body after the fit is done, and I need to reassuringly whisper “it’s okay, baby, mommy loves you to Heaven and back, to Daddy and back.” That’s what I need to do. Here is who my sweet boy really is…we were visiting daddy and I look over and he’s singing “In My Life” by The Beatles to daddy.
  • I just started showering daily about 2 weeks ago. Ha. Yup I did.
    • Everything in my life has a back story now and there are parts of me that are saddened by that, but there are parts of me that see victory in the back story. Let me explain…I went from not even being able to use the bathroom, to having bedside baths, to having to demonstrate to the Physical Therapists (one of them male) that I could get from my wheelchair, over the tub edge, and onto the bath seat. I then went home from the hospital and had to shower on a bath seat with an adult present in the room and did this twice a week. Then I began trying to stand for short amounts of time again with an adult present, to finally standing the whole time with the bath seat for safety purposes, to just 2 months ago finally removing the bath seat and trusting my balance. When you are working that hard to take a shower, showering every day just feels like an impossible feat. So showering daily for me now, is a victory.
  • I’m terrible at being alone. Really. Terrible.
    • Ever since I was dating age, I have had a boyfriend. By alone, I do not mean the physical presence of a person.  I love to go to movies by myself, or a meal, or coffee.  By alone, I mean a person to share my life with daily.  I love to share my life with someone, talk about my day, talk about their day, laugh about things that happened, cry when necessary. I love to love. When Glen died, I lost that person.  I lost that person so unexpectedly and so quickly and it was terrifying.  I am at the age where many of my friends are married. They have a person.  And that didn’t mean they weren’t willing to be there for me, but it was different.  My safe place that I had found in Glen was gone.  I am so thankful to Glen’s male friends who took it upon themselves to call me and check on me, take me out to dinner and talk to me, let me cry if necessary. Thank you.
  • I am vulnerable.
    • We are all vulnerable.  We all have vulnerabilities.  They are not weaknesses. They are an area where we feel need and often seek to fill that need with the wrong thing. The weakness comes in that choice, not in the vulnerability itself.
    • After becoming a widow and experiencing a severe traumatic brain injury in the same week, my vulnerabilities in life expanded exponentially.  This is where the first thing I wanted to share comes back into play.  Just after the accident, my vulnerabilities were dangerous.  I was not allowed to be alone or to care for my children alone in the beginning.  At this point I had lost my husband, my job, my ability to care for my children, my ability to run, my ability to go to the bathroom alone and I was vulnerable, impulsive, and emotional. I was self-centered, selfish, angry, and well, tired. Some days and moments of days I participated in my recovery, other times, I was anything but interested.  My parents were basically dealing with a teenage girl all over again but worse.  I was emotional, sensitive, impulsive and mean sometimes.  As you can imagine, as a parent, it was difficult to watch. Never once did they give up though. When I began to want to make more decisions for myself, they cautiously watched me and allowed me to do so.  As I mentioned, it was like having a teenager all over again. They let me make some of my own decisions, knowing that I may get hurt but lovingly knowing that I had to learn the lesson on my own. I look back on it all now and am once again humbled by their strength, grace and support.
    • Today, I am still vulnerable.  As I mentioned, everyone has vulnerabilities. However, today, with continued healing, I am able to make better choices.
  • I have been on a lot of medicines since the accident. Some for physical needs and some for emotional needs.
    • Around February of 2012, my anxiety was debilitating.  I would wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats with heart palpitations and tingling arms.  I have had anxiety before and when it was bad, I would go for a walk or a run.  Now, I couldn’t do that. I was still using a walker or a cane.  My favored coping skill was gone.  All of the things that I couldn’t control and now I could no longer control my own coping. My mom had returned to Michigan and as soon as she talked to me she booked a flight to come back. I wouldn’t leave my bedroom. I wouldn’t talk to anyone.  I was mad, sad, alone and thought I would die from the anxiety.  I went to the doctor and ended up being prescribed Ativan to be taken every morning and night.  I really don’t know how to explain what a relief I felt after that first pill.  Before I go any further, I want to say that I never misused the Ativan, I took it as prescribed but I did not know the power that the drug had.  I knew it was a controlled substance. I had to go to the doctor each month to get a prescription.  Honestly, though, I didn’t really know what it was.  All I knew is that it made me able to function.  In November of 2012, for some reason, I decided to stop taking it.  I knew that it was always something temporary, but what I didn’t know was that although I was thinking that I no longer needed the drug, my body had a different story.  I was sick. I was achy. I was paranoid. I was shaky. I had heart palpitations.  After a few days of debilitating anxiety and panic, I called the doctor and she told me to take it immediately.  I was addicted to a drug.  All this time, I was addicted to this drug and had no idea.  She recommended that I wait until after the first year anniversary of Glen’s death and the holiday season, and then go off.  I was horrified.  I was addicted to a drug. Addicted. I felt misled. I felt like someone should have explained it better.  Turns out, they did.  My memory was still very patchy at the time and my mom cried when she told me that we had talked about it.  I cried with her and she said the words that changed my feelings about it, “Sandra your body was addicted, your mind wasn’t. As soon as you want to, you can give it up. You had to do what you needed to do to get through this stage.  You needed the drug and there is no shame in that.”  The next few weeks, I tapered off of the drug and on January 1st 2013, I stopped taking it. J I went without it for nearly six month and then during Glen’s birthday, Father’s Day and our Anniversary, I took it two different times.  I took it the way it is meant for under normal circumstances.
  •  I love my life. I. Love. My. Life.
    • There are bad days. There are bad hours. There are bad minutes. But overall, when I look at my life, I love it.
  • I love writing.
    • I write often.  Not always publicly, but I write.  Writing is cathartic. I feel like myself when I write. So I continue to write. Here are some thoughts that I spoke into my phone on March 5, 2012

Real Life

It is often said, that ignorance is bliss and truth be told, it is not.  All that ignorance does is hide the issues.  It hides what is real in your life. Ignorance does not prepare you for life. Ignorance will not prepare you for what life will ultimately give you.  Ignorance causes you not to know yourself. It causes you to think your life is satisfied by things that will never truly satisfy you.

Now tragedy, tragedy will suddenly reveal all of the things which were held captivate by your ignorance. You will quickly realize that tragedy is real life and that every life will experience tragedy in varying ways and at varying times.  Truth tells us that all lives will experience tragic events.  And ignorance does not prepare you for that.  It does not make you stand firmly on the you that you are.  When tragedy hits, the trap door on the stage of your life suddenly opens.  You will have no choice but to fall and you may fall into untruth, into circumstances whose invisibility in your life, never made them untrue. You will suddenly have to face parts of yourself differently than you ever have before. So the question is, how do we come to know ourselves? How do we get outside the realms of what makes us comfortable, so that we can learn? It is possible to live our entire life inside our comfort zone, but what are we doing while we are living inside that ignorance bubble? How are we impacting other people’s lives? If we are honest with ourselves, the truth is that we will have very little influence or impact on the lives around us.

I want to share the journey with you.  A journey of tragedy.  A journey of reconciliation. A journey of forgiveness. A journey of love. A journey of what really experiencing life feels like.

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Idiopathic Hypersomnia…huh?

Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH) is literally translated to excessive sleepiness which occurs spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. After the birth of Cameron, my daytime sleepiness became more concerning although it was something I had always known was problematic. I did multiple nighttime sleep studies in 2010 to rule out sleep apnea, periodic limb movement, etc. I passed that one fine and I next did an MSLT, a multiple sleep latency test which is done in the daytime.

In the MSLT, a person is given 4-5 opportunities to sleep every two hours during normal wake times. The specialist uses the test to measure the extent of daytime sleepiness (how fast the patient falls asleep in each nap, also called sleep latency), and also how quickly REM sleep begins. A positive MSLT (diagnostic for Idiopathic) is obtained when the patient did fall asleep with a mean sleep latency below 8 minutes in the naps, and had not more than 1 nap where REM sleep was reached (otherwise the patient may be diagnosed as narcolepsy).

My results in 2010 were considered severe and I began medication. Idiopathic Hypersomnia (IH) is a lifelong diagnosis and unfortunately because of the unknown origin it can be complicated to treat. It is one of those invisible illnesses that is debilitating, yet unrecognizable by physical symptoms other than habits that are often seen as lazy and unmotivated. There is no cure, only learning how to make it manageable. I was on the medication, Nuvigil, when the accident occurred and was surprised to find out I was on a different form of the med when I awoke in the hospital. Apparently excessive sleepiness is normal for TBI injury patients and I was on it for that and not for the IH. Since the accident, my body has been through a lot as many of you know. I had tried to go back on the Nuvigil shortly after the accident, but my body was not ready. After a year of difficulties with both sleeping at night and staying awake during the day, something had to give. With the cognitive and physical fatigue associated with the brain injury and the IH diagnosis, I finally went in to get retested and prove to my doubting mind that I did still indeed need to take the medicine.

I went in for an overnight study first. The overnight sleep study is to rule out sleep apnea etc. and also to make sure that prior to your MSLT you have had a solid night of sleep. A main indicator of IH is excessive daytime sleepiness despite a night of good rest. And boy did I sleep well! 8 and 1/2 hours of sleep!!! In one night! It was awesome. So if you sleep well, on to the MSLT. You are there for the day, from the moment you wake that morning until around 5:00 PM. You can do anything you want at the facility, watch TV, read, go for a walk, but you can not have caffeine or sleep without permission. :( 5 separate times during the day you fill out a questionnaire about how you are feeling and then you are asked to try to fall asleep. Each time you fall asleep, you are not permitted to sleep more than around 15 minutes. It really is like a slow torture for someone who falls asleep like me who falls asleep every time! As stated above, your sleep latencies (time you fell asleep in) are averaged together. Not only did I fall asleep all 5 times, despite my 8 and 1/2 hours of sleep the night before, I also had one occurrence of REM sleep (2 occurrences is a sign of narcolepsy). In addition to that, a sleep latency average of under 8 minutes is considered significant. My sleep latency average was 2 and 1/2 minutes with the sleep latency of my 4th nap beginning in 1 and 1/2 minutes!

Eek! Well Sandra, you do indeed have Idiopathic Hypersomnia and you will have to continue to adjust to that along with the cognitive and physical fatigue of the TBI. For your enjoyment, here is what I looked like.

“You have to laugh at yourself, because you’d cry your eyes out if you didn’t.” Emily Sailers

I share all of this for informational purposes. Not because I want pity or sympathy but merely to show that without asking someone specifically, you can never claim to understand them or know what it’s like to be in their shoes. If an outsider came to my house, they might think I was lazy, because I still try to take a nap each day. Even when my room is messy or my house needs to be vacuumed. Yet for me that is progress and from the 2 naps that were required when I first returned home from the hospital. Along with TBI, Hypersomnia is one of those disorders which people who do not experience it are sure that it could not exist. There are tons of articles out there, but I found this one on myths of IH very informative:

Idiopathic Hypersomnia Myths

So before you presume to know how another person lives their life, consider all of the things that you may not know. Show that individual grace and when you do, you may be just the person they needed to interact with to turn their day around. Just the person that would validate how hard they have been working. Whether it’s grief, illness, pain, abandonment, disappointment, hurt, loneliness, we are all walking around with things about us that no one can see. Those emotions, those circumstances, those feelings are by no means an excuse to entitlement or bad behavior, but they are who we are and we can’t ignore them. The man holding the elevator and annoying you by slowing you down, maybe he’s waiting for his daughter to wheel herself into the elevator with her new wheel chair because she just wants to do something by herself. Maybe that driver who insists on doing 55 in a 55 with no passing lane, is driving for the first time since her husband died in a car accident. Maybe the woman in front of you at the grocery store who is disorganized and can’t find her debit card, just came from a benefit honoring her deceased husband. Then again, maybe not? Maybe they are just what you are presuming them to be. But who are you to judge, who are you to assume your time is more valuable, your life more important? You will never know. So in that moment, you can break their spirit or you can build it up with a smile, a kind word, a kind gesture. There is power in kindness and destruction in judgement. Be powerful.

bepowerful

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My best friend, my brother

editI’m not sure what took me so long to do this, but I’m going to attribute it to one of those TBI things: the thought hadn’t occurred to me yet. I never thought of it and said, yeah maybe some day. I just honestly never thought of it. With that said my fingers are moving so fast and my heart is pounding with the desire to share this with you all.
My brother and I had a strained relationship growing up. Never bad, but never easy. Life threw some difficult things our way and we both handled them the only way we knew how. As you grow up, social groups are so divisive and my brother and I were both in many different groups and shared many friends, but also were at odds at times with our interests and hobbies. And because the world revolves around you when you are a teenager, we were both guilty of some pretty hurtful things said and done. After high school, my brother moved out to Oregon for six years and then to Chicago. Shortly after that, I moved to Georgia. So for the last 15 years we have not been in the same city. Our whole adult lives we have been apart and though we have both grown and changed into our adult selves, all of those long ago teenager feelings crept around.
Then Glen came into my life. Glen and his brother Michael were so very close and I know that it was difficult for him to understand why my brother and I did not have that. (Other than the whole me being a girl thing). The night of our first date, Glen and I ended up talking over drinks until about 1:30 in the morning. Around 1:00, I got a call from my brother. Glen asked, are you close to your brother? And I said not really so I knew that I should answer because something could be wrong. I answered and he just said, “Hey, what’s going on?” It was 1:00 in the morning and my brother was just calling to say “hi”? Long story short, all my family knew of Glen was that we had met on MySpace and now I wasn’t home on a school night and had to work the next day. My mom had conjured up all kinds of horrible stories and outcomes in her head and called my brother to call for her. Mom’s worries were put to rest, but I had never been able to put that question and answer out of my mind: “Are you close to your brother?” “No not really.” So over the next few years, Glen always worked on that. Never forcefully, honestly at times I didn’t even know it but I am sure that he wanted me to know my brother the way he knew and loved his brother.
Then the accident happened…
I have no way of knowing what happened over the next few weeks other than stories I have been told and things I have read. One thing I am certain of though, my brother is my hero. He dropped everything and drove down here with my parents the night of the accident. He did anything and everything that was asked of him. Updated Facebook day after day, answered all the hard questions, greeted visitor after visitor at the hospital, then held me when I cried, walked with me at the visitation and funeral when I couldn’t walk myself. He came on the night of the accident and he has been here ever since. He was in a stage of his career where he really needed to focus on it, network, follow leads and instead he came down here and dropped everything. I mean everything. He walked into a situation where no one knew what was going to happen. No one knew how long it would take for me to recover (and I’m still recovering). No one could tell him what the plan was, but since that moment he has said over and over that he is here until I am strong enough. Along the way, he became my confidant, our “butler” (the kids call him butler Tom in jest, but that’s another story), my adviser, my comfort on the difficult days, my children’s confidant, friend, role-model, and above all my best friend.
I honestly never thought that would happen in my life. As I said before, our relationship has never been bad, but best friend? I never saw that coming. In Glen’s absence, my brother has moved forward and fought and never given up trying to be everything that a sister who loses the love of her life, suffers a TBI, has to learn to walk again, has to learn to live again, could possibly ever ask for. Glen has shown himself in so many ways through this tragedy, but this thing with my brother, this new friendship has to be one of Glen’s greatest accomplishments. When he puts his mind to things, he does whatever it takes to see it come true and he has so beautifully orchestrated this one.

Tom,

You are an outstanding individual. Your love of others and willingness to do whatever needs to be done is no little accomplishment. Through this whole process, people have been telling me how strong I am and I always point to my faith because that is what helps me every day. Last night, though, as we were talking, I realized that every time that someone tells me, “You are so strong”, I fell like they should have been telling you that. So Tom, you are so strong. So unbelievably strong. You have held my family together in the times when I just was not able to do so. Whether it’s taking the night shift with Cameron during those difficult days, painting Alana’s toenails, or taking Cameron for a much needs “boy’s night”, you have done it all. Everyday. Every morning. Every night. Every moment, you have been so strong. There is no way I will ever be able to repay you for what you have done for me, for us. My children are so blessed to have you as a role model, a friend, a butler, and most importantly, an uncle. An uncle of epic proportions who will define for years to come what loving someone unconditionally will look like. One day they will understand how you came to their mommy’s rescue. How you came to their rescue. How you made life become normal again. How you helped us all find our new normal. I am forever indebted to you and I love you more than you could ever know.

Your little sister,

Sandy

P.S. Now let’s go back to this first DMB song you introduced to me and jam! Love you!

tomcollage

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10 Things Not to Say to a New Widow

I have thought about this post for several weeks.  By writing this post, you may think I’m saying, “hey guys, you know how you were there for me and cared for me when my husband died? Well here are the things that I wish you really wouldn’t have said.” The truth is I do not feel that way.  If you did say any of these things, thank you. Thank you for mustering up the words to say when saying anything feels inadequate. Thank you for continuing to encourage and support me.

I belong to a young widow and widowers group with people fresh in their journey joining every day.  I have found the following statements to be universally brought up. The purpose of writing about this is to help you see it from the other side and gain insight and perspective on what to say in the future.  Because, unfortunately, as is becoming much too regular of an occurrence in my life, death will touch all of us.

The aspect I find most interesting in this part of my journey is how in your greatest time of need, God somehow grants you the grace to handle other people’s pain and uncomfortableness with grief.  I was not the only one hurting. I was not the only one who felt confused, shocked, speechless, as if my life had been completely high jacked.  However, people would try to put their feelings aside and meet my needs. We all do this. We feel the need to say something, to acknowledge what has happened.  Because dealing with death is awkward and uncomfortable, sometimes people will say some strange things. If you see me, ask me about some of my most interesting condolences. :)

Before you read the list, I would like to say that the operative word is NEW widow – 10 Things Not to Say to a NEW Widow.  When it first occurs, everything is temporal, everything is in the moment, so there is no foresight being utilized in a newly widowed brain.

  • I have listed each statement first
    1. is what people think they are saying.
    2. is what it sounds/feels like to a new widow.

    Please read this with a sense of humor in mind. I am owning up to my honest thoughts about some of these statements and when all else fails, we all need to laugh.

  • God just needed another angel.
    1. She’s a believer. That will give her peace.
    2. My honest reaction, like hell He does. To do what? He has a trillion of them already. I need Glen here. My kids need him here. Angel, schmangel…
  • He’s at peace now
    1. He is with the Lord in Heaven and that is a peaceful thought
    2. Selfishly I want to know how that’s supposed to make me who is still here, feel any better? We were at peace before all of this happened. He didn’t go looking for peace.
  • How are you doing? (in the slow, low, monotone tone)
    1. I am expressing concern and love.
    2. Seriously is that a question? Do you really want that answer? Would you like to pull up a chair or maybe a sleeping bag? I’m a widow. A widow with a brain injury. I’m facing a whole new world. My children have no father. I wake up every morning alone.
  • Everything happens for a reason.
    1. There is a reason for this and one day it will all make sense.
    2. Yes it does. I don’t doubt His plan for one second. But now, at this moment, that brings me absolutely no solace. I mean none.
  • I know exactly how you feel…(when my husband left… when I got divorced and had the kids alone…my husband travels for work…)
    1. Relating to her will make her feel good.
    2. You have absolutely no idea how it feels.. Those things are difficult too, but not the same. I don’t want you to EVER know how it feels.
  • I’m glad to see you’re moving on
    1. Love and concern.
    2. I’m not moving on. I will never move on. I may be moving forward. And what does “moving on” imply? That I am dating? Is that the only way that I can show growth and healing by dating?
  • Let me know if there’s anything you need.
    1. Love and concern and a willingness to help.
    2. (Awkward silence). The majority of the time, I have no idea what I need. Ask my best friend. Ask my family. Or best of all, tell me what you are going to do. Anything you can think of, I probably need. But the last thing I want to do is admit that. The biggest needs for me, grief and TBI combined: a meal, a nap, time in my house alone.
  • At least you’re young…
    1. You can go on and get remarried and live a happy life.
    2. At least I’m young? Hmmm. Wow. I’m pretty sure that being young does not make this any easier. Every age of widowhood presents different challenges, but being young does not make it any easier. I was going to spend the rest of my life with this person and being young enough to be able to spend it with someone else is of no comfort at all.
  • You’re doing the best you can do with your kids.
    1. You are doing a great job.
    2. This statement is obviously meant as an encouragement but I can promise you that it does not feel that way. I’m doing the best I can do. Yes, of course I am doing the best I can do. Unless my children are naked and running in the streets, scrounging for scraps, please tell me I’m doing an awesome job with my kids. It’s taking everything in me to get out of bed in the morning, let alone get my kids out of bed.
  • I don’t know how you do it.
      1. I don’t know how you do it.
      2. None of us knows how we will handle something until it becomes our story. And that is what is so beautiful about life. We get to be the author of what comes next. It’s kind of like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that my brother was crazy about when he was little. Circumstances happen and then you choose a way to go, your reaction causes the path to change. Some endings are favorable and others are not. There is weight in good choices.

    Me, the way I’m handling it? God. My faith. My weaknesses. My imperfections. My lessons learned. My tantrums. My children. My future. My love. My mistakes. And an occasional homemade wine spritzer.

If you got this far, thank you. Thank you for understanding.

Here is a short list of things that would work. But everyone is different, so these are my statements of comfort during my early widowhood.

  1. Honey, I love you so much.
  2. (I don’t really have an alternative to this one).
  3. How is physical therapy going? How is (insert an activity that you know I like or that we share)?
  4. I’m so sorry, this just doesn’t make sense.
  5. I have no idea how you are feeling. This is just stupid.
  6. I heard/saw (insert activity I was involved in). I’m so glad you had a great time.
  7. Hey I would like to drop dinner off on Tuesday or Saturday? What works for you?
  8. (I don’t really have an alternative to this one).
  9. The kids are doing so well. You are doing an awesome job.
  10. I don’t know how you do it. –or- I don’t know what to say. –or- This sucks. (This one is okay because I appreciate honesty and transparency over anything else). I appreciate when someone is just real with me and tells it to me just as it is. It gives me the freedom to say what I really want to say which is “yes this sucks and I don’t want to pretend that it doesn’t”.
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Now

I wrote this original post in March

There are just days I long to be understood. Long to understand myself. The depth of the experiences I have walked through and the ways it has changed me and continues to change me are countless. I could not have ever imagined what tragedy, death, and loss can do to a person. The trouble is that for me, I’m doing this on very uncharted terms. I am not the only person who has lost a spouse. I understand that and pray often for other people in my situation. But I often feel like I am the first person to lose their spouse and survive with a severe traumatic brain injury. I know this is not true, but there is a loneliness to this experience that I long to share with someone.

And I don’t feel sorry for myself. I just feel desperate for someone who can really say, “I have been there.” A person who really knows what obstacles and subsequent growth your brain goes through. There are the obvious ones: my brain could not tell my legs to move and through physical therapy and making new paths in my brain, I became able to send that message from my brain to my legs. Then there are the invisible ones; reasoning, planning, focus, decision making which have all improved immensely

“Time won’t fly
It’s like I’m paralyzed by it
I´d like to be my old self again
But I’m still trying to find it” – All Too Well – Taylor Swift

I believe I am who I was. The essentials of me, have not changed. I still love fiercely. I am still focused on my life, on succeeding. But there are these other things that I don’t so much have control over right now. And I’m not very good with loss of control. I want my brain to focus. I want my brain to be ready to teach. In moments like this I go to a place. A place I go every once in a while. Not often. But it is a lonely place. A sad place. A place where I cry out “why me?” “why now?” “why this?” And God is very deliberate in saying “why not, Sandra? Why not?”

“Yes, but why me?” And again I hear His response, “why not?”
In this moment I don’t feel anger or discouragement like you would think. I feel a sense of peace and of clarity. Why had I never asked myself that question before? “Why not?” Tragedies happen. Every minute of every day. I was not exempt. I am not exempt.
And now it is June. June of 2013. I don’t even know where that time went or how that is possible. 19 months without the love of my life. 19 months of waking up to this reality. 19 months of what has honestly been my own personal hell. Nothing is the same. On Father’s Day I go to the cemetery. On Father’s Day, my son asks when his daddy is coming back from heaven. On Father’s Day, my heart breaks all over again. I want to see him. I want him to tell me that it’s going to be okay. I want him to be strong for me. His birthday is in 9 days, he would have been 37. And I can imagine us, out with friends, dancing, laughing, talking trash, haha and it still brings a smile to my face, through broken tears and shattered dreams. I know there is life after and I know he wants me to live it, but I still hurt. I feel like I mourned and grieved over his physical presence in my daily life, but I forgot to mourn our friendship and our marriage. So here I am, having an incredibly difficult day, accepting this new reality, mourning this new loss.
Then I jump on Facebook…
If you have know me for a long time, you probably know music is like lifeblood for me. I have used this word before but let me say the definition again :P
a life-giving, vital, or animating element
Music is vital for me. It makes me heart beat. Reminds to feel and live. Awakens me. This has been a truth for me ever since I was little. Ever since I was a tiny tot performing at Mrs. Hoey’s piano recital “and I just thank you Father for making me, me. Cause You gave me your heart…” And oh so many performances of Maniac while writhing on the floor and the choreographed dances to Tiffany’s “I think we’re alone now.” You get the idea. I have a father who exposed me to such great music my whole life. Al Green, Buddy Holly, Mannheim Steamroller, Bob Dylan, Lionel Richie, Genesis, and on and on.
Here is what I find on Facebook:
This is a song I was inspired to write as a gift to two beautiful friends of mine – Sandra June Walker and Billy Wilkerson. Some of you know their stories…and although they are different they share a common theme of facing adversity and tragedy with courage. I am inspired by the lives of these two lovely human beings. I was going to try and record this but I just didn’t want to wait to share it with them so I did a rough video recording at home. Thank you both for inspiring me as well as so many others with your honesty, courage, humility and gratitude. Your lives are gifts to so many. I borrowed the title of this song from a phrase I hear Billy and Sandra use often – “Forward Motion” – From my heart to yours…peace and love.
Forward Motion (Billy and Sandra’s Song)
by Dustin Ah Kuoi
VERSE 1
See, when you speak, yeah your words carry much more weight, much more weight
You’ve faced a dark night but still your steady making your way
I’m cherishing the sun a little more as it brings in the day, a new day
And I think of you

CHORUS
People like you have a fire in their eyes
And a spirit like a phoenix or the rising tides of the ocean
I’ve got dreams still pushing up against my walls
And this fragile flesh and bone is trying to give its all
And you help me believe in forward motion
You inspire forward motion

VERSE 2
Somewhere somebodies on the floor making friends with the end
They’re wondering if they’ll ever walk, ever breathe again
But you’re a living melody that fills the atmosphere with a light, with a light
To see, to hope, to feel again, to keep your heart engaged and alive

CHORUS

BRIDGE
Every sleepless night, every tear you cried, every sad goodbye
I can’t imagine how you were hurting
Standing there where nothing was certain
Every warm hand
Every sweet word
Every present friend
All the fears that were heard in the air
My friend I wish you never were there
CHORUS
There are no words to rightly express my gratitude, Dustin. Thank you. The song is beautiful. So so beautiful. Thank you for reminding me of Forward Motion.
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A Beautiful Butterfly

Awakening. Revival. Breaking Free. Release. Stretch. Expand. Reach. Explore. Awakening.

These are the words that keep going through my mind the last few days. I feel like a metamorphosis happened in my life. And because I am a word person and I love looking up definitions here are the definitions that came up:

met·a·mor·pho·sis

Noun
  1. (in an insect or amphibian) The process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.

  2. A change of the form or nature of a thing or person into a completely different one, by natural or supernatural means.

With each of these definitions, I could dig in so much deeper. But I will spare you all my 15 page essay and give you my Kindergarten teacher understanding of metamorphosis of a caterpillar. J Here is what I feel happened in my life. In a nutshell.

After the accident, I was a caterpillar. That was the new me. My perspective was different. The world was new to me and it was scary, man was it scary.  I now knew that hurt could occur on so many different levels simultaneously and nothing could protect me from it.  I functioned and worked hard, I had never known any differently. However, part of me was doing just that, functioning. Wake up, daily tasks, eat, daily tasks, go to bed. Repeat.  My heart would not fully open up. I was so busy relearning all of the things that had days before come so easily.  Each day, I functioned. Each day, I worked hard. One day, I must have lain down. Not given up, but lain down and rested from being weary. Little did I know that as I rested, a change was continuing to take place, and all of my work was forming a chrysalis around me. My life was covered, protected, and happening, but no matter how hard I tried, I didn’t feel like I was a part of it.  I could see it occurring but I couldn’t truly touch it or experience it. Along the way, I began to believe that my life was going to be like this forever. Much like the little caterpillar believes that he will never be anything else, I had begun to accept where I was in life. Just function. Just work.  And when you accept untruth, you will begin to believe untruths. I began to believe that I would never be anything more than a brain injured person.  A non-working, weak,  tired, absent minded person.  Thankfully, although I had begun to believe those things, my life was covered.  So I stayed where I was and rested. Over the last few weeks, I began to stretch. I began to reach, expand and explore.  I began to break out of my cocoon and the untruths that I had come to believe are no longer able to keep me captive. My brain awakened. I felt a revival of myself. I began to care.  I know there seems to have been a lot of moments like this over the last 18 months. Yet somehow this time was different. I could breath. I could feel life. I could experience life.  I could imagine a future. I’m not sure how else to explain it then to say that suddenly, after believing I was going to be a “caterpillar” for the rest of my life, I could fly. Suddenly, I became a butterfly. A beautiful butterfly.

God’s not finished with me yet.

pinkbutterfly2

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Wisdom for Words

If there is one thing that my brain has not stopped doing and perhaps has begun doing more of, although I didn’t think it was possible, it is thinking.  Really. It sounds silly, but I think more.  Maybe it’s because things take me a little longer to process.  Maybe it’s because my thoughts have changed. Maybe it’s because my perspective has changed.  Whatever the reason, I am happy to sit quietly in my mind and own my thoughts. Own my feelings, my actions, my words, the good and the bad. There is a risk of this behavior.  A risk of sitting in the past, staying in the past, reveling in regret.  However, there is also a blessing in this behavior. My blessing and enlightenment this week? Owning my words.

In the beginning of the brain injury, I had some very typical severe brain injury behaviors. It’s a good thing I was in the hospital the first 4 weeks and that my parents kept me under constant supervision over the next few weeks.  Although we joked, I literally did not have a filter. Ha. Like at all. I called my speech therapist at the hospital some pretty interesting names (which I can share with you privately if you need to know). I have no memory of doing this and she was certainly not any of those things. She was an awesome person.  The bitterness and anger is something that some people with TBI never lose. I was blessed to not suffer long term from that.  But the language, oh my.  I have NEVER ever sworn that much in my life! It would come out and I would look around like “did that all just come out of my mouth?”

As I have learned and studied more and more about brain injury, I have learned that an injury of this magnitude can cause physical, cognitive, social, emotional, and behavioral effects.  In reality, my prognosis was bleak.  The idea that I would one day be walking, feeding myself, talking, let alone blogging, was not even a thought in those first few days.  My mom has described that they just wanted me to open my eyes. The longer a patient remains in a coma, or their LOC (loss of consciousness) the more severe the problems. Longer than 24 hours is severe, so although I was above that time range, given what they saw they were surprised with the time frame which I awoke.  After talking with my mom recently, I learned that she was in the room with me the first time I opened my eyes.  From what I’ve heard, I don’t think she was often not in my room.  Amazing.  Despite what the scans showed, I was responsive.  Although I did not know where I was, I had my long term memory of things like my children’s names.  Each day, the doctor would be surprised and ecstatic with my progress. As I mentioned before, the anger and bitterness only lasted a few days, my mom said my mood was good and I was nice and very talkative (shocker I know). :) I was able to recognize people and I remembered the day before the accident with clarity. All indicators that my recovery would be better than what was originally thought. I digress… Focus, Sandra, focus. :) … sorry.

Hearing and sharing these details helps me. It keeps me humble. The fact that my mom had to watch me take 10 minutes to try and stick my tongue out for the first time makes me realize that successfully running a mile pales in comparison.  That’s not to say that I cannot care about running, but I cannot let it ruin me. I cannot be miserable.  I have had to fight. Fight so hard. I have had to suffer. Despite that, I have had such happiness. I have had such bliss.

Back to where this started…owning my words. I have written before about what parenting means to me.  It is such a huge and awesome responsibility.  => Learning, Growing, Living with Intention

The second part of parenting, which became very clear this past weekend, is the power of the words I say to my children.  Pastor Kevin talked about Wisdom for Words on Mother’s Day.  He was discussing that as an authority, your words matter.  “Whenever you have authority, your words have gravity.” He could have used the word weight there.  Essentially what he was saying was that your words have influence, that they weight our children, with either positive, encouraging words, or weight them with negative thoughts.  Yet as I began to really think about gravity, gravity is actually a force.  A force that pulls things towards it. To be specific, gravity is “The natural force of attraction exerted by a celestial body, such as Earth, upon objects at or near its surface, tending to draw them toward the center of the body.” The breakdown: A natural force – as a parent your gravity is a natural force. You didn’t ask for it necessarily but as a parent you were naturally given it. Your child was put in your atmosphere.  You are the “celestial body” that has a “natural force” of attraction. So what type of force are you attracting with? What type of gravity are you displaying to your children? Gravity can be good or bad. Either way though, it’s still gravity.  It is still going to pull them, you are their atmosphere, you are drawing them to you. This is where your words or lack of words have such a huge effect. If you are putting negative words, disapproving, ridiculing, hurtful words into your atmosphere, they are directly affecting your child.  You are the natural force that is pulling them into how they view life, how they form beliefs, how they process their feelings.  On the opposite side, what happens if you are putting positive, affirming, supportive, loving words into your atmosphere? What an amazing thought! What if their atmosphere is guided by positivity? What if you are pulling them into the center of a life filled with affirmation and appreciation? Really think on that.

PK also said that what you say in that moment, at that exact time, is going to form your child.  Can you think of something that someone said to you as a child that you have never forgotten? Something that you still believe about yourself? That is the power of words.  To paraphrase PK – words are either sobering or encouraging and everybody is responsible for how they use their words. Your words can build up or tear down, cause destruction. You can crush a child. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about this. Yes I know, shocking again. How am I doing with my words? What does my atmosphere look like? What are my kids learning about themselves through that atmosphere?

This is the video that played and I would like to share it with you all.

Since the brain injury, in life and towards my kids, I have been more negative, more impulsive, less able to control my feelings and words. As time has gone on, I have come to recognize the behaviors which were once unrecognizable to me.  I now understand that while the brain injury may have caused the initial changes in my atmosphere, it is up to me to change those habits. Maybe something that happened in your life changed your atmosphere too. Maybe it was abuse, job loss, abandonment, divorce, being a child of divorced parents, a tragedy, a trauma, or maybe something far less easy to pin point.  However, you own your atmosphere. You are a “celestial body” with an atmosphere all its own.  The definition of an atmosphere is an “envelope surrounding a celestial body…retained by the celestial body’s gravitational field.” My translation – your atmosphere, your envelope of influence surrounding your life, is “retained” by you, by your gravity. It is maintained by you, it is kept or held by you.  Life will throw meteor showers (circumstances) that will interrupt your atmosphere, but only you retain your atmosphere. What kind of an atmosphere are you going to retain? My kids and I talk about our “bubble” as our indicator of personal space and that way if we don’t want anyone right near us, we can say without harsh words, “please don’t come in my bubble.” And it’s done there. There’s no “but..” or “no…” When they are ready, they will tell you that you can come in their bubble or time will do the inviting.  As I am writing this, it occurs to me that it is the same with our emotions as much as our physical proximity.  You own your bubble or atmosphere. You decide what words, thoughts, and feelings to allow in and the times that circumstances allow things without your consent, you own the area and are allowed to evict any of those emotions, doubts, feelings.

As a result of all of these ideas and the video of Kevin Queen, I made a poster for Alana.  One day, I will do one for Cameron too.  I put many of the reasons that I am so thankful for Alana and as I read it, I realized that I was describing the very atmosphere she has around her. Eventually she will have an atmosphere that is completely her own. Until that day, she is an envelope inside my atmosphere. And because my gravity will always pull her to me, it is my responsibility to help her keep these very things in her atmosphere.

alanalist3

None of us are perfect. We will make mistakes. We are always learning and always growing.  My challenge – take a look at your atmosphere. Define your atmosphere.  What is your force of gravity, your words, your interactions, pulling into your atmosphere? What are your children learning? If you are anything like me, I know there are places that can be better.

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But now I am proud, I am grateful

Boston changed something in me. There were so many ways I unknowingly internalized that day to the day of my accident. Running races. The excitement. How hard you work to get to that goal. How hard you push to get to that day. How I never imagined in a million years that I wouldn’t finish or for that matter even start. And Glen, like the victims in Boston, he was just a bystander to my accomplishment. A supporter. And now he’s gone. For honestly the first time since the accident, I blamed myself for what happened. I began to feel deep levels of survivor’s guilt. If I hadn’t been focused on running, if I hadn’t wanted to do that race, if I would have trained more and waited, if I, if I, if I…

The post I wrote on Monday was honest. It was where I have been for months. Living on hope.  As Monday carried on, hope began escaping through the sieve of my life and I felt deeply saddened, deeply alone, deeply hurt.   Once those feelings took hold, they got darker and began to spin out of control. For the first time since the beginning of this grief, I was caught in the very middle of a cyclone that I no longer wanted to fight. Those of you who have known me a long time, know that depression is something I greatly battled as a teenager.  After becoming a widow and suffering a traumatic brain injury, depression has tried so hard to overcome me and last Wednesday, I let it have control…for a moment… The next day I had a counseling session and because I was still in that dark place and not talking, a friend drove me there and went with me. My counselor started asking questions and I wouldn’t look at her or speak to her.  She was asking what had started these feelings.  I wouldn’t speak. So she asked my friend how many days had this been going on and what he thought had started it.  He began telling her about the trial and a few other things and I said, “Boston.” I didn’t even know it until that moment but I said it again without looking up, “Boston. It was Boston.” In the following hour, I began talking and we unfolded a lot of the feelings I was having and the counselor explained how Boston actually retraumatized me and brought me back to the beginning of my grief. At that moment, I began to heal again. In a new way. In a way that made me want all that life has for me. I began really looking at my grief and this journey and all that I have been through and learned and all I have to still get through. I began looking at grief honestly.

Grief is so tangible. Grief has texture and color and pulse. When I was a kid we went to Yellowstone. I was 8 and I have never forgotten the way that the sulfur mines looked or smelled. The surface would be smooth and then all of the sudden it would begin bubbling like crazy and steaming and hissing. Somewhere along the way, I kind of combined the sulfur mines and the geysers in my memory. My grief looked like these memories this past week.  It has been smooth, calm, and then it simply began bubbling and steaming and eventually exploded like a geyser.  My logical brain tells me that this is expected and normal, but my emotional side is not accepting of that. My emotional side began to believe that I will never feel better, that I am bound to feel depressed for the rest of my life. These valleys are deep, they are dark, they are cold and they make you want to lie down and quit.  When you can’t even see the light, feel the warmth, why would you climb out of the valley?

As I have continued to write, I have wanted no more than to be honest in my grief. There is really nothing pretty about it.  Grief has been mucky, smelly, bubbly, hissing, screeching…and then out of nowhere, a clearing, a calm.  Very early on in my Grief Share, I remember one of the women talking about what grief has looked like for her and I immediately had a picture of what grief looked like for me in my head and because I am a very visual person, I have never forgotten that image.   Grief is like a circle in the middle of your life and in the beginning you are stuck to it and in it and you know of no other way to be.  Living in the grief becomes safe and normal. Then slowly you begin to move away from it a bit at a time. griefThe next time you move away from it for a bit longer which is miraculous, but the fall is a little harder. This pattern continues as the time away lasts a little longer and you feel a little higher. The falls become harder and steeper though.  You begin to see that although the falls are hard and sudden, they do not last long.  You visit with the grief for a bit less and instead of it feeling like your normal, it feels uncomfortable.  The uphill battles are no longer so arduous. They are there, but you have done them before so you believe that you can do them again.  You know what the mountaintop looks like. You have been there. You want to go back. So you begin climbing. Eventually what were once mountaintops become the plateaus of your life.  Plateaus that you get to claim, that are yours to live on. The grief will always be there and you may have a sudden fall or you may just need to peer over the edge and remember what it looks like. After all, it is yours to own as well. Grief does not have to own you.  Grief is yours to own. As I sit on this plateau after climbing out of a very deep valley, I am at peace. I peer over the edge and look at the jagged rocks and curves of the climb and finally feel proud of myself.  I used to peer and just be afraid of going back and ashamed for having been there, but now I am proud. I am thankful. I am grateful.

collage1

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Tragedy

Tragedy.

In the wake of yesterday’s events in Boston my mind has been spinning.

The details of tragedies are different. Different events occur. Different people are involved. Different emotions are touched. The unfortunate similarity is that all tragedies involve loss. And loss is difficult. More than difficult.  It can mean so many different things all at once. The loss of life. The loss of feeling safe. The loss of visions for your future. The loss of love.  The loss of physical abilities.  The loss of a pastime you love. Loss.

The other devastating part of tragedy is that it hurts. Loss and hurt. Tragedy hurts everyone who hears about it. Hearts ache. Hearts and minds are confused, unbelieving, shocked.  It hurts everyone who sees the images of the tragedy or hears the details of the event. It hurts those directly involved.  Without a doubt, though, the most difficult part of a tragedy is that many of our lives go back to normal.  Many of us, though our heart is heavy, can go on today as we did the day before. Yet for those who were there, who experienced huge loss on so many levels, today is day 1 of the rest of their lives.  Today, they woke up changed. They woke up without a loved one, without an arm, without a leg, without confidence, without peace. Today is the first day of the rest of their life. Today is different. Every day forward from now is different.

Although my tragedy was different, there is a universal experience, a universal pain that occurs. I will never forget what it felt like to wake up on the morning of November 21st 2011 and find myself in a hospital, unable to get up, without a clue of why I was there. Next, I found out that 16 days earlier I had been in a car accident.  That we were hit head on. That the children were okay.  That my husband was alive but his brain was no longer showing activity and he would be removed from life support.  Tears. Shock. Speechless. Confused.  Hurt. Tragedy is always that cold.  It is always that shocking. It is always that stark.

I have never and never will begrudge those who don’t have to wake up different from my tragedy.  People who saw the news story or heard the story in conversation and whose heart hurt for what we were all going through. I would never wish it on you.  The fact remains, however, that when you’ve been there, at that moment, at day 1 of the rest of your life, the level of ache in your heart is unbearable.

Through the last 17 months, I have had to teach myself to wake up and hope.  Tragedy does not have to be the loss of hope. When I could not hope in the beginning, those around me hoped for me, fought for me. Eventually I began to believe in hope again. Although you can not fix what has happened to the people in Boston, you can wake up with hope in your heart.  Wake up with hope for them. Hope for peace. Hope for healing. It is easy after a tragedy of this type to wake up with hate. Bitterness. But what if you woke up with hope instead? What if you went into the day, the world, and breathed hope into the people around you?

wish

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Titles and moving forward

We all define ourselves by the titles that we believe make us who we are.  Son, daughter, husband wife, doctor, teacher, baby, brother, sister, girlfriend, boyfriend, mechanic, server, niece, nephew and an infinite amount of other titles.  We hinge our success, our likability, our worth on these titles.  So what happens when you lose one without warning?

For me, I have had to look at what happens when you unexpectedly lose the title of wife. What do you do when the world feels cruel and takes the title from you? It is disorienting, confusing, and uncomfortable. You become a widow. And yet there was life before becoming a widow, and there will be life after. So how do you wear this title as you move forward? Oh the complications.  How do I define my relationships from this point forward? Have I been a single widow, or just single, or just widow? What if I am dating? Am I a dating widow or just dating? And then what if I get remarried one day? I am a young widow and the possibility is there.  So then does that make me a remarried widow? Or remarried. Or just married. All these titles remind me of trying on a pair of jeans that have just come out of the dryer – they are stiff, uncomfortable, there is not enough room in them. Sometimes you can’t even breathe. :)  Until you stretch them and wear them for a little while, they are quite possibly the most uncomfortable things ever invented. Suddenly, after you have had them on for a bit, they become yours again, they become comfortable.  I guess that is what I am looking for.  Comfort. A title that I’m comfortable with. A life that I feel comfortable in.  I will never not miss Glen. I don’t even know how a person does that. Yet today my heart burns with acceptance and willingness to move on. Moving on is not forgetting. Moving on is not denying the painful days. Moving on is accepting.  Accepting a new reality.  Accepting the reality of now. I have fought this acceptance.  I have fought the belief that this all really happened. I have fought the reality.  All along though, I have known that the truth was that at some point I would be ready to move forward. Move forward in this reality, in this life.

As I step into this new territory, I am compelled not to focus on my titles.  Perhaps we should define ourselves less by titles and more by the very characteristics that make us who we are.  The title does not make the person.

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Picking up the pieces

What does the picture of your life look like?
Everyone has a picture of their life as they see it.  Certain parts of your life are a bigger part of the picture. For me, the biggest parts were my roles as wife, mother, and teacher.  I  have a definite “before” and “after” in my life.  Before the accident, the picture of my life was vibrant, layered, textured. After, in the beginning of my grief, the picture of my life which I saw was dark, one color, flat.  To me, my life was defined by the tragedy of being a young widow.  I felt like I had to greet people by saying, “Hi, my name’s Sandra, and I’m a widow.”  I felt that if I didn’t tell them they would think I was lying, that they could see the weariness of my grieving heart. I wore the title of widow like a scarlet letter.

I stood still. Pulled back from life. Life kept moving though. Faster and faster and at some point I had to join back in. Time passes and the weariness and grief begin to lift. There is a point when tragedy becomes a fact in your life. It doesn’t make it easier. It does not take away the fact that this trauma occurred, but the pressure begins to lift.

tiles3Adversity, despair, tragedy shatters your life as you knew it. And mine was shattered. So I have been left to pick up the pieces. Pick up the pieces of the reality of the tragedy, not just the knowledge or the words, the reality. The pieces of this enormous and gigantic tragedy are jumbled among the other pieces of my life. I stared at them for a long while. Stared at them without a clue of how they could possibly fit back together and with no intention of trying to do so.  They sat in the corner of my mind and life as a constant reminder of the mess that had been made. A mess I did not want to work through or figure out.  Then one day, I could not walk past them any longer. I began to pick them up, sometimes willingly, sometimes because I simply had no other choice.  For a while, I just sorted them, stared at them with absolutely no idea how they belonged to each other and set them aside. Eventually, I began to attempt their reconstruction, to piece them together without knowing how they would fit together.  As I began to put them together, I was reminded that they were vibrant, textured, and layered, not purely darkness, not flat. I have begun to piece them together without instructions, without a picture to follow. When I hold the picture of my life up to the sun, light peeks through. I can see that there are pieces missing, pieces with broken edges, edges made jagged from life’s trials. Much like my thoughts, the pieces are disjointed, unable to find a comfortable place to rest. Through these disjointed and imperfect pieces, there is light. The light which breathes and pulses with the possibilities of moving forward. I may not have a picture to go by, my picture may never look the way I thought it would,  but as I continue to work, the pieces are beginning to form a beautiful new picture, a beautiful new life.

puzzles

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Winter’s Wait

Today I wanted to quit.

I was tired.

- of fighting

- of feeling

- of failing

I was tired.

- of renewing

- of reliving

-of remembering

I was tired.

Just.

Tired.

And I acted tired. I threw a pity party for myself. Acted like an idiot. Acted angry. Acted irritated. And I’m sorry to those that I invited to the show. See I always have been and am even more so now, a quiet processor. Not a verbal processor. Not a speedy processor. A quiet processor. I need to close my eyes. I need to think. I need silence. I need time. I need quiet. I need. to. be. alone. Now this is often not a very comfortable thing for others to allow you to do. Others are ready to process right away. Me? Not so much. Other people can see you are hurting and they want to help you right then, that very instant. Me? Not so much. I repeat… I need time. I need quiet. I need. to. be. alone.

And I’m not sure if this is normal or not, but I think and problem solve in images and in songs or poetry. Sometimes ones that have already been created, sometimes in ones I have never seen or heard before. But I process in images. I can remember images or poems which I have used to process with in the past. But in order for me to do that, I have to be quiet and I have to be still and today it meant going to see Glen. And the minute I was there in front of the image of his grave this is what came to me – Winter’s Wait.

This song came from a person whom I have been very blessed to know in my life, Dustin AhKuoi. Here is a link to the song preview for the song because the lyrics to music are so incredibly amazing. ->Winter’s Wait

Winter’s Wait

“Snow is falling on the sovereign ground
And my footsteps are brand new
graveMarThough the sorrows heavy on me now
It beckons me to you

It turns my gaze to you

Oh, I pray for sleep and peace tonight
Oh, Keep me steady in the fight”

I’m not sure that this image will ever become less surreal. Today as I visited, the reality of it hit me all over again. Because of the season, the weather, and the dryness of the ground around Glen’s grave, the lyrics of the song came rushing into me head. Sometimes in Winter, we must wait. We must wait. For Spring, for new life, for the frozen ground to thaw. It was a reminder that although I wanted to quit that day, there was so much to fight for and to press forward for…

LOVE

LOVE

“And I won’t fold and I won’t break

Amidst the cold of Winter’s wait

For lo, the white and barren ground
Is melting into green

And LOVE will keep me through the storm
As frozen tears give way to songs
How long, how long, how long”

“There’s a silence in the atmosphere
All is still out on the streets
Though it haunts me when I’m lying here
You sing me to sleep
You hold me in my dreams”

“Oh, I need to rest my head tonight
Oh, grant me strength with morning’s light”

Then these thoughts…I don’t want to quit. Or fold. Or break. I just need to rest my head. I don’t want to quit. Strength will come with morning’s light.

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A year in retrospect…the fourth quarter

The events, challenges, heartache, self discovery, blessings, and fun that occurred in this quarter of the year were tremendous. My words could never adequately express what I experienced during this period of my life. Therefore, in some places I will just caption pictures and in others I will write.


October

In this month, I truly began fighting. This is not to say that I wasn’t fighting before this month. However, this month it all began to make sense.

I ran another 5K and had a great time. It was my first time participating in a run at night and I had the blessing of running it with my cousin Rene. She was so encouraging and supportive.

Oct7

We went to Disney on Ice for a second time!Oct13 I decided to finally start CrossFit again and haven’t looked back! I love it. It is ridiculously hard and challenging but I adore it. I love the people that I train with and always look forward to it. Oct14

Next my cousin Dena came into town from Michigan and we had an absolute blast!Oct20

On October 27th, the incredibly blessed Mary Anne Morgan took my family pictures again. We were able to take them on her farm which was beautiful. Alana was a natural, Cameron was a nightmare and refused to smile, and I was exhausted, yet somehow through her magic behind the lens, Mary Anne got these shots!1 AJ2A5752_copy 2 8

The next few speak for themselves! :) oct30oct30x oct31

Another historic thing happened this month…I dressed up for Halloween. Yes as an adult I have dressed up before, but I have to be forced usually. Well Glen LOVED Halloween and our last Halloween together I did not dress up. So this year, in his honor, I dressed up. Silly I know, but it was a great time.

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November

After a year of waiting, November 5th arrived. One year from the day that my life changed forever. I did not feel strong to write that day so I looked back on the blog to that time of year and reposted this blog from my dad four days after the accident happened. The Power of Friends–

The power of friends

November 9, 2011

Crisis tends to isolate and crystallize our thoughts sometimes. I have been made so aware of the healing power of friends, family and prayer.

It is often said that the measure of a person can be found in the kind of friends they keep. Sandra and Glen must be very good people then.

I can’t help but be struck by not only the sheer number of friends that Sandra and Glen have, but the quality and depth of character of those friends. Not only have so many friends been there to visit (some come everyday), but their acts of generosity and kindness are almost overwhelming. They have given serious thought to what the family might need and have responded with food, clothing and acts of service.

I hope those friends realize how important their presence has been to the families. It gets us by each day and only leaves a little time alone each night to have to think about the reality of the situation. Family is family and you know they’ll always be there but it is the friends that have made all the difference.

And I just told myself to keep breathing. And I cried. And cried. And laughed as we shared stories about Glen. We talked about some of those first days after the accident that I can’t remember and I began to understand what it was really like for all of you. I wrote this to all of you that day:

There are so many thoughts and feelings I want to share. And eventually I will. The thing that has hit me the hardest today is that last year from today until Nov 21st, for 16 days, I have no memories. None. It’s like these days didn’t even happen for me last year and during this time my friends and family were going through the HARDEST time in their lives. I believe fully it was God’s mercy that allowed me not to be aware of what was occurring around me. I looked back on the blog and read what it was like for all of you and truthfully I just can not even imagine. But the hope you all shared, the love that was witnessed, and the faith to believe…these are the stories that I never tire of hearing and that changed the lives of the people who saw and were a part of them. One post that rings as true today as it did then was my father’s post from November 9th, 2011. I am so unbelievably blessed to be surrounded by the friends I am and you all are what make the difference each and every day!

The song I listened to a million times that day:

All the signs of life
They’re all around me with every heartbeat
I feel so alive,
I am joy and sadness,
Peace and madness.

If only I can fight just a little longer
I know it’s gonna make me stronger

Oh and these are the times when doubt’s tryin’ to creep in
And I need a reason that’s larger than life when hope seems hard to find
If only I can fight just a little longer
I know it’s gonna make me stronger

Prior to this week, I was approached by someone in the church to ask if I would like to share my testimony through a chalkboard testimony during our Night of Worship on November, 9th. We were currently in the I Pray series, learning how to pray, how to surrender your fears, insecurities, pride and how to not get “stuck” in our circumstances in life.

We had been doing everything on chalkboards during this series, hence the chalkboard testimonies. On one side of the chalkboard, you write something you have experienced or been through in your life. On the other side, you write something about how God has been a part of the transformation and healing that has occurred. The church was doing an original song entitled Greater than Life. Each one of the participants chose a song lyric to write on their chalkboard and on the other side was a statement about any part of our life that was challenging. I agreed to do it and then was immediately terrified. However, I continued to pray and dig down deep about the what words I wanted to say. After some deep reflection and prayer, here is what I decided to have my board to say:

IMG_1618 IMG_1619I will forever remember the feelings in my heart of freedom, healing, and redemption as I walked across the stage and shared my testimony. Every time I hear the song, I hear the moment that I began walking onto the stage and I breathe a sigh of relief. Here is a video of that night.

Some time during the night, you were able to go up front and surrender something that you wanted to conquer and were ready to let go of its grip on your life. With great nervousness, I went up and I wrote simply, “ANXIETY”. The battle had become fierce and I no longer wanted to fight it, I wanted to surrender it, to conquer it. I will come back to this later.

nov10The next morning was the day that we chose to celebrate my birthday. I had no memory of my birthday from the year before when I turned 30, so although I was technically turning 31, to me it felt like 30, so my brother got me this cake!

My mom was able to make the trip to help me celebrate and it was so amazing to have her strength here as I faced some very challenging days. nov11

All of these events took place in a 5 day span which I was surrounded by family, friends, and pure love.

I remember celebrating Thanksgiving in the hospital the year before. I am so grateful for the number of people who came two days after Glen’s death and gave up their traditional Thanksgiving to come spend it at the hospital with me in my confusion, pain, shock and grief. When I saw that the one year anniversary of Glen’s death was going to be on Thanksgiving this year, I decided that I did not want to be home doing what I had always done in the past. So with my mom, dad, brother, Aunt Margot, and the kids, we traveled to Walt Disney. It was a trip of epic proportions!! We visited the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood studios. Here are a few shots of the 700 I took. :P

nov26 nov18 nov22 nov21x nov21 nov24 disney nov23


December

On to December…anyone as exhausted from reading this as I am from writing this? :) This month a few more “firsts” happened. dec3On December 2nd, was the one year anniversary of being released from the hospital. It was the day of Glen’s two visitations. I did not seek to relive these days, but it is a impossibility to not acknowledge them and I wanted to acknowledge them. The year before, these two days were exhausting and surreal and this year although the pain was still there, I could see healing in giant ways. The next day was the day of his funeral the year before. I desired to relive this day, to be surrounded by so much love, to share the man that Glen was with everyone and to do well at honoring his name. Here is a rundown of the day including what I said. The Day of the Funeral. Reading it now still makes me cry and oddly enough it makes me smile. A big and beautiful “Glen Walker smile”! :) He made my life so much more amazing than it had ever been without him and there is no way to be sad about that fact.

dec3xIn classic fashion, as it has been over the course of this year, on that day, I went and pushed myself in my work out. Not to avoid what was happening, but to work through it and to push through the emotions and the overwhelming sadness. On this day, I did wall walks for the first time and did a headstand against the wall for the first time! Forward Motion! Always. One more step each day.

On December 8th, we attended the Father Christmas Cup again this year. christmas

From the website – “The Father Christmas Cup is held each year around Christmas time to help local families who have lost a parent this year.” We were one of the recipients last year so we were able to be there to support the families that the benefit was honoring this year.

christmas3

Uncle Mike, Glen’s brother, among several of Glen’s friends, played in the event. The kids were very proud. christmas2

Here they are waving to Uncle Mike as he was playing. Precious.

christmas4

The month was crazy busy as December usually is and my mom and dad were able to make it down for another visit to spend it with us. dec2 The kids were very excited.

It was a wonderful season and a wonderful day.

DSC_0159 DSC_0174 DSC_0175 DSC_0191 DSC_0197 DSC_0214


And 2012 was over. After a year of intense highs and lows, learning and relearning, grief and healing, I was VERY ready for a new year to begin. In December, I prepared to come off of another medicine that I had been taking for many months. In this new year, I have been free of this medicine and my mind has been free and awake.

The first week in January, I wrote this in church.

I can honestly say for the first time in a year that I feel I am on level ground. The depression has been bumpy, the grief has been undulating and add the learning to live as a TBI survivor to that and my map through the last year has been mountainous, uneven terrain.

There have been so many days, moments, where I have wanted to blame someone else, some circumstance, some change. When in reality, God said to me one morning, “stop getting in your own way, Sandra.” And I promise you I looked up to the air and said “what?” Getting in my own way? How does that even happen? How can I be two places at one time?

And moment by moment since that day He has been showing me all the ways I was getting in my own way. Now, I am able to look at a situation and remind myself, “Sandra, don’t get in your own way. Don’t get in your own way.”

The series in church right now is “I Need a Breakthru.”

The anatomy of a Breakthrough:

1) Always More – You have not tapped out your own growth. There is more in me.

2) Always Forget – Forget what has been. What is behind. Don’t let your past define you.

3) Always Forward – Strain towards what is ahead

I can see how I had been working on all of these things throughout the last year, but when someone puts them to words, it just further reassures your efforts. I have been working on these. I have been fighting and I have been free of the debilitating anxiety for 32 days and free of the medicine for 31. I know this is a risk. I know that being this transparent may be strange to some of you, but I also know and believe in the redemptive power of the Lord. Remember when I talked about what I wrote on the chalkboard in November at the Night of Worship? ANXIETY. When I wrote that, He already had my deliverance planned. He is able to break every chain. I was able to make a Breakthru.

Sandra Family 2

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A year in retrospect…the third quarter

This quarter of the year was filled with so many different things. The one element that stands out for me was really beginning to understand and accept what living as a severe traumatic brain injury survivor means. Also learning how to live with the physical injuries encountered in the accident. I fully intend to share all of the amazing and wonderful things that happened, but as I have before, I would like to be transparent about the suffering and subsequent healing that occurred in this period of the year.


July

July began with more fun in Michigan.  We got ready for the July 4th parade and had a great time. july4a

july4

July 5th was my first wedding anniversary without my husband. Through God’s almighty hand and His promise to not test us beyond our power to remain firm, July 5th was also the day that my church came to film my testimony on faith.  They were unaware until they arrived what this day represented for me. Instead of the day being dreary and lonely, I was able to talk about Glen the entire day.  Although it was painful at times, it was cathartic to be able to share my journey. The three people I met were so encouraging and supportive and the video they put together was beautiful.  On days when I don’t feel strong, when I’m weary and unsure, I watch the video and am reminded that God gave me the heart of a fighter. Sometimes, however, it’s not enough to just have the heart, we have to dig deep and use it.

Here is the video.

july5bIt was also a huge blessing to meet the individuals who came to do the project. They made what could have been a debilitating day, a great day.  I enjoyed seeing my hometown through their eyes and having some fun at the end of a long day. :)

This day began some real healing and processing in my journey.  On July 15th, I wrote this blog post: Learning, Growing, Living with Intention

On July 30th, I returned to work as a full-time Kindergarten teacher. I was excited and ready to take on this challenge.


August

After a few pre-planning days, it was meet your teacher day. schoolaugMy classroom was prepared, I was prepared, and it was a wonderful day.  That Monday, August 6th, school began.  Every day started perfectly, but by the end of the day, the cognitive fatigue I felt was tremendous.  As teachers know, the day does not end when the students go home. We stay late, we take work home, think about work when we are not there, just like any other job.  As I began to feel fatigue both mentally and physically, I began to really take a look at the time I had allowed myself to heal.  All teachers are exhausted those first few weeks of school.  This year was my 6th year of opening up this very same classroom and I knew it would be hard and I thought I would make it through.  Sometimes, however, life does not go the way you expect or think it will go and I was starting to understand that.  I am blessed to have worked with amazing people who saw me struggling way beyond anything they had ever seen before.  What came next is perhaps the most difficult part of my journey…I decided with the help of my principal, parents, and counselor that I needed to leave work. I can not explain what this did to me but it was not good.  I had to fall a little further before I could move forward and that following Monday I entered a partial hospitalization program for depression, anxiety, and PTSD. I remember when I heard that partial hospitalization was the suggestion. What?!? Partial hopitalization? What does that mean? What it meant was a day program at a mental health hospital.  The decision was ultimately mine and after much reflection, I decided to attend.  I won’t go into all the details of the program, but ultimately what I began to see is that while I was certainly depressed, more of my struggles had to do with what had happened to my brain.  So I started asking for answers to all the questions that I had either heard early on and forgotten or had not wanted to hear. After 4 days in the program, I wrote this…
Living with a disability…and letting the healing begin


September

Next in the healing process for me was coming to terms with what had happened to my body physically and what that meant pushing forward.  As a result, I wrote this: Awareness and Acceptance

During this time, I became involved with the Visual Arts team at my church and they lovingly supported me and kept me busy.  We were working on a series called At the Movies and it was wonderful to be a part of such an amazing team.

ATM5

sept24While all this was going on with me, my children were still thriving and being loved. I tried to pour into them as much as possible and knew that me being there, engaged with them, was what they thrived on.  Alana began at her new school. sep7 and my dad attended grandparent’s day. She was beaming with pride and joy. :)

Later in the month, my mom came down and my amazing parents helped me begin to put together the pieces of my life that I felt were falling apart. By the end of the month, I felt like the healing had begun.

sept29

By the end of the month, I began to truly believe this…sept23

and was able to begin living the life that was waiting for me.

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The Glen Walker Melting Pot Tournament

Hall of Fame - Glen WalkerThe Glen Walker Melting Pot Co-Ed Flag Football tournament will be held again this year.  Attending this event last year was a day of hope, healing, and love.  Last year, we were still picking up the pieces and trying to move forward and I was blessed to receive the proceeds.  This year the organizer, Leland Dombrowsky, allowed me to select a family to receive the funds. Here is how I selected…

weddingEditGlen was driven. Determined. He did not blow where the wind took him, but fought to get to where he knew he needed to be.  Where he deserved to be.  He was a fighter. He persevered.  He was happy. Joyous.  Loved life. Loved those around him. He was fun. Silly. Athletic. Competitive. He was positive, despite his circumstances.  He was a remarkable man.

I had never really known a man quite like him and by chance and similar circumstances, my path crossed with Billy Wilkerson.  A man who I know would have been friends with Glen. A man who loves his life, his wife, his kids, and his friends despite the difficult cards he has been dealt along the way. Here is Billy’s story:

July 31st 2011 – Billy Wilkerson is hit by a drunk driver. He is in a coma for one week.

August 2011 – Facial reconstruction surgery and tracheotomy.

September 2011 – He spends weeks in the Shepherd Center for mental and physical rehabilitation.

October 2011 – After 7 facial reconstructive surgeries, Billy comes home.

December 2011 – Billy writes and performs this song… singing with his trache still in.

Previous to his accident, Billy was working for Whitestone Motion Pictures as a songwriter. After having a trache inserted into his neck to save his life and suffering from a severe traumatic brain injury, he did not know if he would ever be able to write or sing music again.  The short film being produced by Whitestone at the time was Jack and the Dustbowl and four days before the accident he had discussed writing a song for the film’s credits. Although he did not have to write the song after the accident, he pushed himself.  He did not settle and get comfortable where the wind had blown him, he continued to fight. The film was thematically similar to some of the struggles in Billy’s life and he said, “It challenged me, made me want to move forward. So that’s what I have been doing ever since.”forward2 Billy has embraced an outlook of moving forward despite his circumstances ever since and made Forward Motion a statement in his life.

We met in February of 2012 and I have had the privilege of seeing the amazing growth that has continued.  Not only the growth, but living with intentionality.  Billy and his family have been a huge source of strength, encouragement  and support for me and my family.

Because Billy’s injuries were so severe, he has been unable to return to work.  His wife, Jill, left her job after the accident to stay home with their children as well as help with Billy’s rehabilitation.  They are such an inspirational family.

It is with deep admiration and love that all the proceeds from this year’s tournament will go to the Wilkerson Family.

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A Year In Retrospect…the second quarter

April

***The second quarter began with Disney on Ice!***

As you can see, Cameron absolutely loved it. He was awestruck and talked about it every day for months.disneyoniceThe crew!
disneyice

Just a few days later my Mom’s twin sister, my Aunt Cathy, arrived to help my family pack up the house. 012 There are no words to describe the gratitude I have for everyone that helped me move. I am still certain of my decision, but I did not have the strength at the time to pack up my life with Glen. That is what I felt like. I was packing up not only his life, but our life together, and there were certainly moments that I simply felt helpless. I wept and I mourned, however, I knew I was not able to live in the place that our life started together. I also was not able to live with the kids by myself yet, so we were very low on space. So I began the move into what is honestly, the house of Glen’s dreams. moveWhen I saw it, before I even walked in, I knew it was the one. I praise God for the love and care of my friend’s mother, Ginny, who was my real estate agent. I had already thought about bidding on another house when she said, “I have one more to show you.” She knew that it had a few of the things I had said that Glen wanted and boy did it ever!

Everything went so well and my family blessed me so abundantly by allowing me to work at my pace both physically and emotionally. While also letting me drink iced coffee. :P

On April 27th, Arena Tavern held a golf tournament which honored Glen.

golf

It was so incredible to have this many people together that loved Glen and were able to make the day fun and special.

golf2

On April 30th, I returned to work as a teacher. schoolI was to be doing half days and pulling small groups instead of taking over a full classroom. I was so excited to return and so ready. However, it is at this time that I really began to see my brain injury for what it was – severe. I would have never known, if I had not tried. Knowing that I had tried, gave me to freedom to allow myself more time to heal, to stop pushing myself to be who I was before the accident. In that respect, I am so glad that I tried. I am so glad for the school’s support. The one thing I know is that I love teaching and that is a part of me and always will be.


May

This month my sweet boy turned 3!!! As a surprise for both kids, not only was Grandma coming from Michigan, but I also had a play yard built in the backyard.

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play1

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Needless to say, they were so excited about both things! :)

The very next day we celebrated his birthday and also had a housewarming party.

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June

June 17th was our first Father’s Day without Glen. Alana was away in Colorado so Cameron and I went to Glen’s grave together for the first time. We went the day before to get the grave ready. Cameron and I decided to decorate with UGA things. Overall, it was an incredibly healing visit. There were definitely some questions from Cameron and they were huge in further processing what Daddy dying really meant.

fathersday

The end of June was a very wonderful time. We headed back home to Michigan for a few weeks break. First thing on the schedule was a hometown 5K that I had never participated in before.

egrThe registration pick up was at my high school and the race was through the streets of the small town I grew up in so it was very exciting. Add to that three cousins running in the race and one of my good friends from college and his fiance running with me and it was all together an awesome experience. Here we are at the finish line! :) summerrace

summerrace1Next up were Alana and Cameron’s races! summerrace2

lalaAs if that were not enough for one day, it was also my sweet Alana’s 7th birthday!

lala2


Another three months were in the books for 2012. It seriously exhausts me to see everything we were doing. But in hindsight, I know it was perfect. I know that I had to choose every day to either get up and keep going or to stay in bed. I chose to get up. That choice is more than half the battle; the choice to keep going allows amazing experiences to come into your life. I began to learn around this time that I not only had to keep fighting for me, but that I had to keep fighting for my kids. Everything they knew, everything they were accustomed to…changed. In an instant, their lives were never going to be the same. And despite the severity of my injury and a recovery that seemed highly unlikely, I am here. I am here. Here to be everything I can be for my kids. Here to bring them up the way that Glen and I dreamt about. Here to give them life, even on the days when I could barely breathe myself.

7maryann

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A year in retrospect – The first quarter…

2012 was one of the most eventful, intricate, challenging, and amazing years I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. Therefore, writing this post proved to be a much larger task than I had anticipated.  I have certainly learned not to push myself past my limits, although I had to overdo it many times to get to this place.

The growth and experiences, setbacks and steps forward that I and my family have been through this year is a bit overwhelming.  It honestly was not until I began to gather pictures for this post that I was humbled for the first time by the monumental events of this past year. Hence, breaking it into 4 parts.  It is often said that a picture is worth a thousand words, so pardon me while I share a googolplex of “words” with you all.  (Cameron’s new favorite number after Uncle Tom said it one day.) :)


~January~

treadmillAfter 4 weeks of Physical Therapy in the hospital and 4 weeks of PT at home and Shepherd Pathways, on January 3rd, I walked on a treadmill for the first time. I completed a 1/4 of a mile in 10 minutes and it was incredible. I continued at Shepherd Pathways with PT, Occupational Therapy, and Speech Therapy most of this month, doing each therapy three times a week. It was an incredibly trying, yet rewarding period in the year.

On January 28th, CSA sports league hosted a flag football event in Glen’s honor, The Melting Pot Memorial. csa3From the website: “Glen was named #2 on the CSA 2001-2002 Top Ten List and also was named the 2002 CSA Captain of the Year. In addition, Glen was the MVP of The Melting Pot Too.” As a remarkable tribute to him, the Melting Pot Memorial took life. Sports were a huge part of Glen’s life, so we approached this day with great excitement. We made shirts for each of the kids from Glen’s shirts from past seasons.  My parents helped put them together. Here was the final outcome:flagfbWhile at the tournament, CSA recognized Glen’s accomplishments by presenting me with this amazing tribute. csa

Both of the kids loved it!csa2

Here is the up close look: Click on picture to see CSA’s write up on Glen. Hall of Fame - Glen Walker


~February~

Now on to February. Whew :P I continued my therapies at Shepherd Pathways, began counseling, began a small group at church, and began attending Grief Share.

vday

My first Valentine’s Day without Glen came along and I decided to really honor both Glen and the holiday because it was certainly one of his favorite holidays.  If you had the pleasure of knowing Glen, you know that shoes were his thing! AlanashoescameronshoesSo in Daddy’s honor, I decided to get both of the kids shoes. Sketchers for Alana because it was a big day when Daddy and I got her first pair and Nike’s (of course) for Cameron.


Towards the end of this month, through hearing about the story at church, seeing a follow up story on the news, and simply reaching out, I had the absolute pleasure of having dinner for the first time with Billy Wilkerson and his family.  He is a fellow severe Traumatic Brain Injury survivor and through our shared experience, our families have been able to become so close.  Here is Billy’s story:


~March~

Part of me wants to say this was the most epic month of the year then I look at my calendar and realize every month was like this to some extent. Blessings abound. Through burden, blessings arise, albeit bittersweet at times.

In February I began looking for houses, something Glen and I had discussed prior to the accident. I was beyond blessed to find a house that seemed to whisper Glen’s approval to me. On March 19th, I closed on our new house and the kids were overjoyed!

march4

run2Also throughout February and March, I began training for my return to running, The Atlanta Women’s 5K. A friend suggested the run and it was the motivation and focus I needed to keep pressing forward.  She not only suggested it, she helped me train! Thank you Lisa.

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My Uncle made this awesome poster from one of the pictures from that day:

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On March 21st, the news did a follow up story  on this journey. Click on the picture below to see the video.

CBS

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Alana was my biggest cheerleader that day and it made my heart shine. After seeing me in the hospital early on, I think she had fears surrounding me. Seeing me complete a 5K seemed to help her feel like her mommy was back.


march2Three days later, I took my driving test at Shepherd Center.  I had to complete a series of driving training in Occupational Therapy for about 6 weeks before the test.  On March 28th, I drove on open roads for the first time since the accident. With great anticipation, excitement, and nervousness, I completed the driving test and passed.  :)
march

The next day, I drove myself somewhere for the first time!! It was such a huge blessing to be able to have some independence.

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The very last day of the month, March 31st, I ran in the Color Run with my friend Sarah again and for their first 5K ever, Billy and his wife Jill ran. before_afterforward

Billy had talked much about making Forward Motion in his life and recovery.  I decided to make t-shirts  to pull on that idea for this race.  “Forward Motion” has become a major movement in my life and is one of the many blessings of knowing the Wilkerson family. :)

march5


There really is not a way to describe this race, so here is an awesome video that Billy made from the race that day.

On second thought, perhaps March was epic.

To be continued…

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“Lost and Found”

I often stutter.

I often close my eyes when I’m speaking.

I often lose my train of thought.

I often get overstimulated by a lot of conversations occurring at once.

I often forget complete conversations that I have had.

I often change subjects in the middle of a thought or conversation.

I often get frustrated with myself.

I often forget I have a traumatic brain injury.

Life after a severe traumatic brain injury is one learning experience after another. For some context, I would like to share the type of traumatic brain injury which I experienced.  It is called a diffuse axonal brain injury. Here is a short video to explain what that means.  This brain injury is the type that occurs in Shaken Baby Syndrome. Here is what occurs in the brain:

Here is a definition of Diffuse Axonal Injury that I find very helpful.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diffuse_axonal_injury

It was not until a few months ago that I really began to understand exactly what my brain went through. I began to understand why I was facing some of the challenges I was facing.  The most troubling symptom for me continues to be communication.  I get embarrassed, frustrated, and feel inadequate.  Again I began doing research and I found the most helpful article that I have found yet.

It is from Brainline.org and is entitled “Lost & Found: What Brain Injury Survivors Want You to Know.” I share this article to be brutally honest with how difficult these skills are for me.  By appearance, I look fine so it is difficult for people to know where I am struggling.  This article says what I haven’t been able to put into words myself. Here are the top three things I feel like I want people to know.

Brain injury rehabilitation takes a very long time; it is usually measured in years. It continues long after formal rehabilitation has ended.

Please have patience with my memory. Know that not remembering does not mean that I don’t care.

Patience is the best gift you can give me. It allows me to work deliberately and at my own pace, allowing me to rebuild pathways in my brain. Rushing and multi-tasking inhibit cognition.

The whole article is incredible, though, and I hope you will take the time to read it. http://www.brainline.org/content/2011/07/lost-found-what-brain-injury-survivors-want-you-to-know.html

And please, if you ever have questions, ask me! I will do my best to find them. I have wonderful resources and am humbled by people wanting to know more.

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this is not the end

As everyone went through the journey of the accident occurring and the aftermath that followed, different days stuck out. Today is the day that most sticks out for me.

Today is the day that my short term amnesia ceased and I began forming new memories. My first solid memory is waking up in a hospital bed, looking to the left, and seeing my mom coming into the room crying. She then explained to me that I was in the hospital because my family had been in a car accident, that the children were safe and unharmed, but that Glen was injured. She explained that Glen had been fighting for days and that after the CT from the morning, he no longer had brain activity, and would be taken off life support that evening. With childlike innocence, I asked my mom if he was ever going to wake up. She said “no.” And with childlike innocence again I asked “Like never?” Again she said “no.” I then asked if I could go see him. I cannot even imagine what it was like for my mom to have to deliver this news without knowing if I would wake up the next day remembering it or not. In the wake of everything my family has been so strong, so supportive, and so loving. Although that was a dark day for me, in hindsight I see how God laid everything with my brain injury out in perfect timing. Because from the moment my mom told me this, I have been saying “it is what it is.” That day I knew that Glen was going to die and then the next morning I knew that he had.
By God’s grace alone, having no memories before this day, I never had the hope or notion that Glen was going to make it. I feel this was God’s protection over my mind and body so that He could allow me to survive, heal, and get stronger in those first few weeks.
So today is the day that changed everything. Today is the day I had to go to sleep with a husband, knowing that in the morning I would not have one.

But this is not where the story ends.

“At any given moment
You have the power to say
this is not
how the story is going to end.”

So I have shared my story. The intense highs and lows. And if you all will allow me to keep processing and healing in this way, I will continue to share.

Hebrews 11:1
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

And as I have said before, I am sure of the hope that Glen has for me and the children and certain that he is in heaven rejoicing with his Heavenly Father.

this is not the end – Gungor

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50 First Dates

I have long loved the movie 50 first dates. I’ve probably watched it over 25 times. :/ Lucy (Drew Barrymore) awakens every morning after a car accident, unaware of the accident, thinking it is the morning of the accident. For many months, her family recreates that day for her over and over. Until Henry (Adam Sandler) comes into her life and falls in love with her and doesn’t want her to be stuck there anymore.  He wants her life to move forward.  Each time I watch, I have marveled at the devotion it would take to teach someone every morning the tragedy that occurred in their life, what has happened since that day, and who you are to them. The love and commitment that it would require to do that each and every day is remarkable.

This is exactly what my mother did for me every day for 2 weeks, never knowing if it would be like this forever or one day I would be able to recall what had happened the day before. Each morning I woke up with no idea of why I was in the hospital or where Glen or my kids were.  My family would tell me enough details to pacify me but decided it wasn’t worth putting me through the pain of the truth knowing that they may have to put me through all that pain again the next morning or even a few hours later.

By the end of the movie, Lucy wakes up every morning to a video that Henry has made of how she got from the day of the accident to the current day. There is visible confusion each morning as the video begins, but she eventually comes to see the amazing ways her life has moved forward.

There are days where I want this. Days when I wish I had a video to watch to explain what has happened and what has brought me to this day of my life. I would love to say that my memory is great now but it is still a large struggle. I forget small parts of days and sadly I have a hard time remembering entire conversations at times. I have asked those close to me to simply be honest when this happens. When I am talking about something I have already told them, to let me know.  There are other times when people talk to me like we’ve already had this conversation or they have already told me, and I have no recollection.  I have asked them to give me prompts or reminders and then it will begin to come back to me. I don’t have the recall on my own but even the slightest prompt will remind me. The most difficult memory issue for me is facial recognition and meeting new people.  It takes many times of meeting someone for me to remember his/her name or to even remember that I’ve met them before.  As embarrassing as it is, I have learned to be honest with people when I am having trouble.

In moments like this, my heart aches for Glen. He was so incredible with people. My heart aches for the person you share your life with, who could help you remember. Aches for my companion. And so I have sought companionship. Through family, through friends, and at times through thinking I was ready to date.  I know there will come a time that dating will be an appropriate choice. In my loneliness I have thought I was ready way before I was. I have learned many things. The main thing  I have learned, I am not ready.

The relationship that Glen and I had was great, beautiful even. Certainly not perfect but filled with love, communication, devotion, and a solid spiritual foundation. I see that in my loneliness, I have been trying to go back to what I knew and what was good. I see how this is a normal reaction to loss but have to realize that it is not the right timing. I still have a great deal of personal healing to go through. The danger of dating and committing too early is that the broken places inside of me will not have a chance to heal. It would be easy to rely on another person to fix me or make me feel whole, but that is not something that a man would be able to do forever. And those broken places would not be healed, just overlooked for the time being. The reason why I cannot put myself in a relationship right now is because in focusing on someone else, my focus becomes divided.  Right now to remain in forward motion I need to focus on my continued healing and my kids. I need to love myself and be fully devoted to my children.

At the conclusion of the movie, Henry shows Lucy how the pieces of her life have come together. How blessed she is despite not being able to remember each moment of each day.  This past weekend, as I celebrated my birthday and looked around at all the friends and family that were there, in my own way, I was able to see how Glen was able to put the pieces of my life back together again through the legacy that he left.  I am okay. My children are okay.  Every morning I wake up and through my kids and my day, I am able to see the legacy that Glen left and the way that he loved us.  There is not a doubt in my mind that some days will be harder than others. Some days will be more challenging than others. It is especially on these days I know I can lean into the love of my family and friends and the legacy that Glen has left. I know that on the other side of this grief, the best days are ahead.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

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November 1st

And the month has arrived, every last moment with him, every last conversation, every last kiss and last hug. And I want them all back.  I want to go back to this week last year and soak it all in. Relive those memories and really hold on to them. Stare him in those gorgeous dark eyes and tell him how much I love him. I’m comforted knowing that although I don’t remember that day at all, I remember kissing him goodnight the night before and him letting me know how proud and excited he was for the next day.

Then November 5th arrived. And the terrifying and trying month that entailed. I wish, as do many people I’m sure, that I could choose not to relive this month of my life.  It still feels so foreign and so confusing.  Those early days home were tough. I would stay in our room and there were moments I would just sit in the closet and sob and look through all his clothes.  There were days when I didn’t leave my room all day because what was outside those doors was more than I could deal with.

And the journey that has brought me to a year later has been one wrought with all kinds of emotions. Deep hurts to overflowing joys. My life has been filled with an overwhelming amount of experiences and realizations. Those early days are behind me but the pain is sometimes just as present.  Despite this I am glad that the person I was this month last year is not who I am now.  The difference is that I am able to fight through it now, able to function through it and luckily those darker days are far and few between and most days I’m ready to take on the day. Even excited about the day.

All the signs of life
They’re all around me with every heartbeat
I feel so alive,
I am joy and sadness,
Peace and madness
If only I can fight just a little longer
I know It’s gonna make me stronger

I just keep holding on to what I believe
Oh, I believe in you
Give me the strength to fight
And the heart to believe
When it’s hard to believe in you

Oh and these are the times when doubt’s tryin’ to creep in
And I need a reason that’s larger than life when hope seems hard to find

If only I can fight just a little longer
I know it’s gonna make me stronger

So I’ll just keep holding on, holding on, holding on
I’ll just keep holding on, holding on
I’ll just keep holding on to what I believe
Oh, I believe in you
Give me the strength for the fight
And the heart to believe
Cause I’ve got to believe
I’ll just keep holding on, holding on, holding on
Give me strength for the fight
And the heart to believe

‘Cause I’ve got to believe in you
Oh oh oh oh oh
Yeah I’ve got to believe in you
Oh oh oh oh oh
Oh, yeah I feel so alive.

The one thing I keep feeling lately is being tired of fighting.
Tired of fighting.

Just. Tired.  So I remind myself frequently to believe I have the strength for this fight, the ability to keep holding on,  and the heart to believe in Him.

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Return to Shepherd

If there is one thing that has been important to me in this whole process, it is honesty. I have sought to be honest in my grief, honest in my healing. and this has been painful at times. Today is one of those days. Today I return to Shepherd Center to have neuropsych testing done and make a plan for cognitive rehabilitation. Without placing blame on myself or anyone at Shepherd Center, this is a test that should have been administered before I was discharged. Like me, everyone was so focused on my physical recovery that some of the cognitive and mental processing impairments were over looked. And although the test did not occur, I have faith in the way that everything has unfolded and am not upset that the testing did not happen before. I was not ready then. I wanted to learn to walk, learn to stand unassisted, learn to step off a curb without help, be able to resume parenting my children. With work, these things have come back, and now I need to work on my brain and the neurological testing is the best way to formulate a plan for healing in my brain to occur.

Neurological testing evaluates such impairments of cognitive functioning. The types of cognitive deficits that are typically encountered after brain injury are diverse but tend to include impairments in:

  • Attention/concentration/orientation.
  • Executive functioning: planning, initiation, follow-through and organization.
  • Visuo-spatial, perceptual skills
  • Speech, language and comprehension.
  • Memory: visual, auditory, sort-tern memory, long-term memory.
  • Speed of information processing.
  • Mental flexibility, reasoning, Problem solving and Judgment.

Although there is some defeat or sadness that tries to creep in, I have to remind myself that this is just another step. Another step to discovering the new me that is blossoming as a result of this injury. As has been the case all along, friends and family have been so amazing in their support and words of encouragement. Last night I received a text from a friend that said,

Rather than looking at tomorrow as a reminder that you are back at ground zero, see it as a benchmark. Remember where you were the last time you were there. Look at you now. Each time you go there you will be further along in your healing process.

It’s like you are making marks on the wall of your height growing up.

I love that illusion of growth. As a child you can’t be taller just because you want to, but one day you go to measure and you are! My brain can not be healed of it’s trauma just because I want it to be. But given time and intention, healing can and will occur.

Healer

You hold my every moment
You calm my raging seas
You walk with me through fire
and heal all my disease

I trust in You
I trust in You

I believe You’re my healer
I believe You are all I need
I believe You’re my portion
I believe You’re more than enough for me
Jesus, You’re all I need

Nothing is impossible for You
Nothing is impossible
Nothing is impossible for You
You hold my world in Your hands

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Awareness and Acceptance

“The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance.”

-Nathaniel Branden

Awareness and acceptance exist in two different realms of the world. People can continue to operate and live on awareness but it is like stepping over a huge gorge in your life to move into acceptance. Acceptance is multitudes more difficult and often times more painful.

Last Thursday I went to get a second opinion from a vascular surgeon about my inferior vena cava blockage. It was recommended so that I can be sure that there is nothing that can be done surgically to remove the blockage. The other main question I had was “can I still be a runner?” As running has become very difficult given this blockage, resulting in a very heavy leg when running, noticeable swelling, and increased veins in my abdominal area.

Let me first give a better explanation of what my body is facing:

The inferior vena cava is the large vein (blue in the picture) that carries de-oxygenated blood from the lower half of the body into the right atrium of the heart. You have common iliac veins on both the right and left side that meet in your abdomen to form the inferior vena cava. On the right side of my body, just before those iliac veins meet, I had an inferior vena cava filter inserted. Clots are usually treated with blood thinners but very early on in my hospital stay they could not give me blood thinners because I had three brain hemorrhages (bleeds). So they inserted the filter to keep the clots in my leg from going into my heart. Unfortunately, the clot broke loose in my leg at some point. Fortunately the filter was there to catch it! Unfortunately, it was a rather large clot in width and length and has resulted in a complete blockage of blood getting from my right leg and into the inferior vena cava. The inferior vena cava is obviously important in carrying the de-oxygenated blood from your leg to your heart. So in it’s absence other veins in my abdomen have taken over to get the blood where it needs to go. Think of a car jam, main road is closed, so all the small roads get filled up and used. These veins enlarge when I’m on my feet for long periods of time or when I run :( Hence my desire to get a second opinion.

Well the Dr’s opinion was the same, given that they were unable to put a wire through the blockage, they will never be able to put a stent in. My inferior vena cava will never be a functioning vein on the right side of my body. The iliac veins on the left side are clear and working so I do not experience any of these symptoms on that side.

So now the movement from awareness to acceptance must begin. The first step is the awareness that being the type of runner I wanted, is not going to be possible. I wept when the doctor said “you will never be a marathon runner.” He was saying it not at all realizing that is precisely the thing that I didn’t want to hear. I wept when I heard. Then felt so bad as his face dropped, realizing the pain that statement brought me. It may seem silly to be so sad but it is another loss of who I was before the accident and who I was becoming. And anytime there is loss, there is mourning. After realizing what running meant to me, he discussed that running is okay. It won’t hurt me, but it will be much harder than before and he would not recommend long distances. He discussed ways to help blood flow and decrease the swelling in my leg and in my abdominal veins. He prescribed some compression stockings for that side and we’ll see how that goes. :) The second step is gaining acceptance through following the doctors suggestions and deciding how to make the necessary adjustments. Also, there will eventually have to be the acceptance of running not being my main cardio focus. I cannot say I am there yet, but I have, with much determination, built a bridge over that gorge and am crossing a little bit at a time. Eventually I will get to the other side and be in acceptance. So for now, I’m going to enjoy the journey of figuring out what is best for this new body I have. :)

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Living with a disability…and letting the healing begin

At some point, having a brain injury just became a characteristic I used to describe myself.  I’m 5’7″, have long brown hair, hazel eyes, right handed, and have a traumatic brain injury (TBI). I’m not sure when I decided it was something I could just put into that category, but I now know that it is not just a descriptive factor of who I am. It is a disability. With this new knowledge, I began to educate myself, because somewhere along the way I either did not hear or did not get taught about what having a TBI means for the future.  So as I reeducate myself, I would like to share that I am learning so it can help those who interact with and love me better understand me.

When you experience a head injury and are brought into the hospital, they do something called the Glasgow coma scale looking for eye response, verbal response, and motor response.  The highest you can score is a 15, meaning a mild brain injury.  The lowest you can score is 3, meaning a severe brain injury.  I recently found out my score was 4.5, putting me into the severe brain injury category.  Now, I am aware that the people who saw me in the hospital those first few days, saw the severity of my condition.  However, having no memory of those days and having asked very few questions about those days, I never realized that my injury was so severe.  75 % of all brain injuries are in the mild category and only 10-15%  are in the severe category that mine was in.  Here is some specific information and I have put in bold what is the most important thing for me at this moment.

Every brain injury is different, but generally, brain injury is classified as:

  • Severe: GCS 3-8 (You cannot score lower than a 3.)
  • Moderate: GCS 9-12
  • Mild: GCS 13-15

Mild brain injuries can result in temporary or permanent neurological symptoms and a neuro-imaging tests such as CT scan or MRI may or may not show evidence of any damage.

**Moderate and severe brain injuries often result in long-term impairments in cognition (thinking skills), physical skills, and/or emotional/behavioral functioning.**

For more information go here: http://www.brainline.org/content/2010/10/what-is-the-glasgow-coma-scale.html

All of this learning comes up because I tried to return to work again and although there were some great moments where I felt like a great teacher, the 8 hour work day was mentally exhausting.  I never knew that you could be so mentally exhausted.  As a result I have been beating myself up over not being ready for work.  The inability to accomplish these high expectations for myself has led to some pretty serious depression and anxiety around feeling like a failure.  Then all of the sudden, I began asking questions!  Why am I unable to do this? What really happened to my brain? How does the TBI factor into what is challenging me?

My initial discovery -> I realized that in NO WAY should I have been trying to return to work yet. Since my release from the hospital, I have just been pushing forward, being as intentional as possible in my healing.  And there is nothing wrong with that, I have come so far.  However, I have been assuming that all it would take is my devotion to the wanted goals in order to achieve them. In reality, my brain was severely injured. Every good intention and want and need in my body is not going to make some goals achievable yet.  My brain needs time and I need education on living with a severe traumatic brain injury.  My brain injury was in the left frontal lobe and I am realizing that all of the executive functions that stem from there are not just going to return one day.  They are not going to return simply because I want them to. Cognitive skills are a struggle for me right now and I need to learn about how to work on them. In order to be able to fully commit to this, I am taking a leave of absence from work. And this time instead of feeling like I have failed, I am feeling empowered, like I am finally doing the things that I need to do for this new life that I have.  Letting go of the past life for now until I figure out how this new me operates and works. :)

So you thought you had to keep this up
All the work that you do
So we think that you’re good
And you can’t believe it’s not enough
All the walls you built up
Are just glass on the outside

So let ‘em fall down
There’s freedom waiting in the sound
When you let your walls fall to the ground
We’re here now

This is where the healing begins, oh
This is where the healing starts
When you come to where you’re broken within
The light meets the dark
The light meets the dark

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Week 2, Day 2 of teaching 23 children

As I lie awake pondering what lies ahead on day 2 of the second week with students as a Kindergarten teacher, I am all at once overwhelmed by the magnitude of this task.  Being back at work full-time is the first time I have had to use my brain continuously for 8 hours straight since November of 2011.  I mean this with all seriousness. If you have been around me, you know that in the beginning to promote brain healing, I was required to take naps each day and went to bed by 8:30. Slowly that was moved to only taking a nap when necessary but making sure I took some time to close my eyes each day and let my brain rest and now…. I am faced with the challenge of teaching 23 5 and 6 year olds. My first reaction was to jump ship, give in, and say “I think this brain injury got the best of me.” I mean how could tasks at school that were previously routine require such cognitive demand? And as has been true of me in many areas of my recovery, I have been hard on myself since starting the new school year. Brain injuries are a tricky thing because they are not visual in any way.  I look the same as I did at the beginning of last school year, but inside, I am working so much harder.

It is important to remind myself that teaching has never been a walk in the park. For the last four years, during the first few weeks of school, Glen would have to convince me not to quit! :) He would tell me each year “babe, you said this last year too. You will get through it.” The absence of his devotion to my success and being able to break down my day with him has been palpable. So, for me, along with my return to work has been my obvious return to work without Glen.  And it hurts.

I believe to be a good teacher you are always striving to give your students the best learning experience. Always thinking of new and engaging ways to teach them, refining activities that you have done in the past. I still desire to do those things but for whatever reason I have been unable to ask for help in the areas that I am struggling.  Instead of asking for help I’ve just been feeling like I have to prove to myself and to others that I can do it all and my brain is just fine.  After having an emotional session with the counselor yesterday she told me that my brain is not fine and I have to stop acting like it is. I have been through major emotional trauma and major medical trauma.  She was making sure that I realized that I have to ask for help when I need it.  All people do. Brain injured or not. That no one has as crazy of expectations for me as I have for myself. So today I feel like I am going to start on a new page.  I am going to start on a blank page and become the teacher I am now, not hold myself to some expectations I had of the teacher I was before.  And remind myself constantly that at the end of the day whether I did the exact reading lesson I wanted or not, my students are leaving the room with a smile, hugging me, and saying they can’t wait to see me tomorrow.  And because I teach Kindergarten I have already received quite a few “Mrs. Walker, you’re the best teacher ever!” And that is why I have to keep fighting, because it’s not about me, it’s about them.

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9 months…

Nine months ago today, my life changed drastically. Changed in a way I could not have ever imagined possible.  Changed the trajectory of where I envisioned my life going. Changed me.

The 5th of each month for me is a difficult day.  The day is difficult because it is the day that everything actually changed. It is the day my brain suffered a traumatic injury.  It is the day that catastrophic damage was done to my husband’s body.  It is the day my children witnessed these injuries and lost a piece of their innocence that I can not give them back. It is a day I mourn.

The 5th  brings to mind the question you will hear people ask each other, “if you could do it all over, would you do anything differently?” My mind wants to say, wants to shout, “Yes, yes, yes.” I would not have started running.  I would not have started participating in races. I would not have picked that race, that day, at that time. But my heart knows better. My heart is at peace with the way that everything happened. At peace with the way the intricate details of life led us to that day.

This peace with that day does not negate my grief, my sadness, my weaknesses, my imperfections, my trauma. I am reminded daily of the ways that my body and brain are different.  I am still so easily physically exhausted and my brain is so easily confused at times. And I am hard on myself. Too hard. And I will be the first to admit that.  It is a process that I am working on each and every day.  I am acknowledging this new person, the mistakes I make, whether from my brain injury or from grief. I am becoming accustomed to this new person and not being so hard on myself when I don’t live up to the expectations I have for myself. As I work on this part of me and remember to grant myself the forgiveness and mercy God has for me, these lyrics often go through my head:

I am not the same Iʼm a new creation
I am not the same anymore
I am not ashamed I will not be shaken
I am not the same anymore

You restore the wasted years,
You build the broken walls
Your love replaces fear,
Your mercy makes us whole
Adopted healed and lifted

I am not the same Iʼm a new creation
I am not the same anymore
I am not ashamed I will not be shaken
I am not the same anymore

I bow before your cross, A broken life made new
Amazed at all You are, And who I am in You
Adopted healed and lifted
Forgiven found and rescued

You have overcome, it is finished, it is done
Now my heart is finally free
Every chain undone, by the power of the Son
Risen Savior, Reigning King

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The question “Why?” and the Faith not to know

This post is a semblance of things that have been going on over the last few weeks. Last night I read an incredible chapter from a grief book entitled Experiencing Grief by H. Norman Wright. I read Chapter 8, The Questions of Grief, because last night I had about a million questions most of them beginning with “Why?” Here are some excerpts of this chapter:

“Why?” is saying “I need some explanation. I need some answers.” Having no answer can feed our anger. … Answers don’t always make the pain go away. But don’t let others keep you from voicing your pain. Don’t be offended by their answers. Even though they don’t know the answer, they may be trying to help you.

Keep asking because in time a transformation of your questions could occur. One day your why will turn into “What can I do to grow through this experience?” and “How will my life be stronger now” Faith is involved in this process. On one hand you will ask why and on the other hand say, “I will learn to live by faith.” Faith is many things. It is not knowing the answer to the why and being willing to wait for an answer.

Acceptance comes in realizing that we may never know the “why” of what happened.

“In times of upheaval, a voice from heaven says, ‘Be still and know that I am God.’ It doesn’t say, ‘Be still and know why.’

Accepting the silence could be one of your steps in moving on.

According to Craig Barnes, “God is often silent when we prefer that he speak, and he interrupts us when we prefer that he stay silent. His ways are not our ways.

Ultimately this all speaks on faith. The church I attend, 12 Stone, is doing a series on faith this summer. I was contacted by my church and asked if I would do a testimony on what my faith has meant through this tragedy in my life. Just days before they contacted me, I had posted this to Facebook on Glen’s birthday:

Glen, there are definitely not words to express what experiencing this day without you feels like. Yet I amazed at how well you are still taking care of us. I am encouraged that in our time together our faith was deepened to an even stronger level. For “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1 Sure and certain, what an amazing God we have because I am able to be sure of the hope I have for our children and our future and certain that you are safe and in no pain while rejoicing with our Heavenly Father. And as Alana put it “mommy that is so awesome that daddy got to go to Jesus’ birthday party and now Jesus gets to go to daddy’s.” Awesome indeed. We all love you so much and miss you every day. Happy Birthday, babe! :)

From the three loves of your life ♥ ♥ ♥

I certainly felt overwhelmed with the idea of sharing my story, but after discussing it with them, felt ready to attempt it. So unbeknownst to them, on my first wedding anniversary without him, they came and spent the day with me and my family. It was an emotional and exhausting day, yet it was the perfect thing to do on what would have been a very hard day to handle. Instead of missing him on our wedding anniversary, I got to talk about him, our faith, and our marriage the whole day.

I wanted to share the video with all of you who have been supporting me and the children through this whole transition. I desire for people to know that with my faith in God I am at peace with my questions not being answered. That doesn’t mean I never hurt, I never cry, or I never have questions. But with my faith I am able to work through those difficult and trying times. I am able to close my eyes and remember to “Be still and know that I am God.”

;;Sandra’s Story; from ;12Stone Church; on ;Vimeo;.;

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Learning, Growing, Living with Intention

I awake every morning to a new me.  And I’m not afraid of it, but I’m new.  My brain is new.  My heart is new. The trauma that has occurred, has created a new person, a new version.  A person that I love but I don’t quite understand yet.  And while I’m out there figuring out who I am and what I want, God has brought so many people into my life to walk beside me.  People who want nothing in return.  People who have stretched me beyond the limits I had unknowingly set for myself.  People who have dealt with my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. People who have not ignored me, my needs, and my grief because it was easier for them. People who have been patient with me. Patient. With so many different aspects of this new person I am becoming.  And I am eternally grateful for that patience.  I know that God gave me each one of those people to help me handle all of the ups and downs, because they haven’t abandoned me when it got hard.

The time period they stayed in my life or the frequency that I have talked to them, has not been the important part.  The important part was did I take the time to look beyond myself and my own wants to  see what God wanted me to learn from them?

This realization leads me to who else God gave me to help me through the ups and down and the days of doubt. My children.  For a long time I have felt like God gave me my children to help me become a better person, a more forgiving person, a less self-seeking person, a more loving person, a more understanding person.  All of these characteristics have been growing in me since June 30, 2005 when my daughter entered the world.  You suddenly realize that as much as you knew you would love your child, the reality of having that child is in actuality more than you ever could have imagined.  And when you love someone that much and with that much intentionality, you are willing to work on all the parts of you that they need you to.  Not parts perhaps that you really want to work on, but parts that your children need you to. Being a mother is no easy task. It challenges you.  Motherhood can bring you down to your knees and take you outside of yourself, your comfort zone, more times than you have ever had to in your life. As you are broken down though, you never stop fighting. Never, because you realize that if you are not fighting for them when they are so young, who is?  Enter May 13, 2009, the day my heart simply expanded to realms which I didn’t even know possible. My son was a whole different depth into parenting, because I had to take what I had learned with one and somehow divide it among two children. As hard as those early days may have been, each night when I tucked them into bed, I could breathe a sigh that with God’s grace and support we were going to be just fine.

Enter the day that the three of our lives were changed forever, November 22, 2011. Unlike the two previous dates of birth, light, and new life, this date was heavy, dark, and brought death.  And similar to the other dates where I had no idea how much my heart could love, my heart had no idea just how much it could hurt and be consumed by pain. How everything that birthing my two children had taught me and changed in me could be wiped away by this day. Could be. If I let it.  But I refuse to let it. Because I want to be the mother that my children deserve.  And they will see me hurt.  We will hurt together at times. Not only do I have to be intentional in my healing, I have to be intentional in my parenting.  I will still be a better person, a more forgiving person, a less self-seeking person, a more loving person, a more understanding person, because despite times unfair trials and twists, my children deserve nothing less than what I have to offer them. As we all are though, we are human and have moments or even days that will not be the best representation of ourselves.  We will have downs among the marvelous ups of motherhood. These moments cause me to marvel at the grace of God, his ability to help us through these times in our lives and his ability to place the right people in our lives at the right time:

Cause God gave me you for the ups and downs
God gave me you for the days of doubt
And for when I think I lost my way
There are no words here left to say, it’s true
God gave me you
Gave me you

In talking with my dad he said that tragedy has a way of bringing things to the forefront a lot quicker than if our lives just unfolded the way we were expecting.  Sometimes we get to ignore them, put them on the back burner, be self-absorbed with our careers, our success, our individual goals.  We fail to realize that while all of those things are important, as time goes on, our self-focus means we are missing out on monumental moments of our life and the lives of those around us. Crisis brings about change within a person.  Generally positive change when a person deals with their pain and loss. I am learning that you have to try to look back at the trauma not as a crisis but as a valuable, life-changing, learning and growth experience. I have had to learn some lessons because of the loss in my life. Many have been painful. All have been valuable. My hope is that through my experiences, I can share these life changing lessons.

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Beginning the Next Volume

Grief is such a unique experience. It’s an emotional awakening and revival that can not be anticipated. Nothing can prepare you for it’s realities. Nothing can take it’s realities away from you. However I am learning that having an honest desire and attempting to walk “through” the grief will get you that much further each day. I am unable to imagine understanding what it is like without having experienced it myself. Grief changes you. Puts you in a new place, where new things are important, and parts of you that have been closed off, begin to open up. Grief has now been my experience. I understand what it feels like. Helping someone go through grief is a daunting task. Grief is uncomfortable. On both sides of the interaction. For the one experiencing it and for those trying to help the bereaved. It doesn’t make sense and you’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, afraid of asking the wrong questions, afraid of doing the wrong thing and I’m just as afraid that you are going to ask me a question that I won’t know the answer to. :) Or afraid that my answer will somehow not live up to what you were expecting to hear.

I am aware that people are not sure what to say when they see me. The one thing they are sure of is that they love me and want me to know that they love me. In my experience over the last few months, people feel like they have to acknowledge the loss, the grief, my pain in order to see how I’m doing. And I can’t say that if the roles were reversed that I would do any differently. Until you have experienced grief, you don’t know how to handle others who are in grief. But I have to be honest, at this point in my healing, I don’t want to talk about it all the time. I don’t want to constantly be going back there. To the beginning of this tragedy, to the most intense days of my grief and pain. I know it’s only been 8 months, but in a life where you have a 3-year old and a 7-year old, it feels like 8 years. :) Add to that severe physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, counseling, and physical recovery and it feels like a lifetime. I need those in my life to be strong for me sometimes, to not take me back there each time they see me. Instead tell me you are so happy to see me. Ask me how my day is going? Ask me how my weekend went? Watch me. See how it looks like I’m doing for that day. But don’t just ask me the slow, low-toned, dreaded question “so how are you doing, Sandra?” Because that is such a HUGE question to answer and because honestly, I am doing as well as a 30 year-old widow with 2 small children is able to do. Each and every day God’s grace is sufficient to help me get through. Some days are brilliant and other days I have to work a little harder to find a place where I can breath.

The biggest change: I am a new creation. Grief and life experience has made me a different person, a new version of myself. Everyone has pain or grieves but they are often done in private, only shared with those they want to share with. My grief is public. My tragedy was on the news. My grief was a news story and therefore I have continued to allow it to be a public journey. Early on I had people approach me in grocery stores or restaurants to express their condolences. People I had never even met before. And I get it. Really I do and I don’t for a second want people to think I am unappreciative or angry about the way that they have loved and supported me. In the beginning, I DID need people to ask me how I was doing. Often. Several times each day. But now I live for the day when someone sees me for the first time in a while and says something like “Hey, Sandra, I love your dress.” Because they would not be seeing my circumstances, they would be seeing me. I’m still me. I’m me without Glen. I’m me who suffered a brain injury. I’m me with obvious holes in my life. But I’m me who is wearing a new dress. I certainly don’t mean to trivialize all of the kind, considerate, and loving ways that I have been approached and supported. I just want to help people see where I am now.

Hence the beginning of a new volume. Life has many volumes. Some filled with joy, others with pain, and still more with accomplishments, life-changing events, important people. And each volume has an end. Those periods of time in your life come to an end. And that volume goes on the shelf of your life. There is not a moment that goes by that I don’t miss Glen. I would give anything to see his sweet face and have his protective arms around me. However, the time I spend in that grief and the depth which it reaches has started to lessen. And suddenly, I feel ready to begin writing the next volume of my life. Not to throw out this current volume or forget it exists. It is and has been a fantastic and memorable volume in my life. But life’s twists and turns have left me with nothing more to write in it, so it must take it’s place on the shelf of my life. It will always be there for me to read on the days I want to relive those good times. Also on days where I want to remember the pain and tragedy of how the volume closed. But I need to close it nonetheless.

There has been so much that I have been holding on to. Refusing to let go of. And then the truth that has been lingering this whole time came to the front; life goes on.

My life goes on.

It has to go on.

And it has.

I had the absolute pleasure of a friend telling me, “thank you for being a shining example of love and hope. No matter what happens in life, if you have a pulse, God has a purpose. You are connected to and refresh my sense of knowing that people are good and there’s still a beautiful path in a dying world.”

And with that beautiful blessing in my head, I am beginning the next volume. Trusting God to lead me from chapter to chapter, knowing that He will grant the promises of the 23rd Psalm.

Psalm 23

A psalm of David.

1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
3 he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.

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Setting the Sail of Better Thinking

Living.  Life.  It is your life.  You live your life.  You set the direction. You maneuver the bumps that are inevitable and numerous.  You have to be present in living your life. For what reasons would you let your life live you? You cannot let your life circumstances run you over and make you submissive to them.  They are circumstances. While they are often unfair, challenging, or difficult, they are merely circumstances.  And circumstances change.  Your circumstances do not determine your happiness or satisfaction with your life although many people allow them too. Many people get stuck in their circumstances because they are so focused on what is wrong or what they don’t have, they forget to look for what is right and all the things they do have.  We all have imperfect circumstances. We live in an imperfect world. How you respond to them will be paramount to the direction your life will go.  If you let your circumstances take over you, your life is living you, you are not living your life.  I have known this as I face the circumstances of my life head on, but it was not until a recent conversation with a friend that it all became so much clearer.

The conversation began with me expressing that I was feeling a little lost in what God has planned for me. Following God’s commands since being widowed has felt like more of a challenge because what happened still doesn’t make sense to me on so many levels. At times, I am still grasping for an understanding instead of trusting. In those moments, I sometimes don’t even have the emotional energy to get out of bed.  But I do, every day, some days in a thicker haze than others.  As I press forward, the haze always lifts for moments but I honestly just feel a little lost some days. My friend replied the way I feel like I’m often met when these discussions happen.  He said “your situation is rather unique.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never had such a tragedy happen to someone who I interact with.  If anything, you are certainly the exception to any common wisdom.” And beyond that recognition of the magnitude of what has happened to me, people feel like they don’t have anything to offer because they haven’t been through it.  I completely understand their fear of saying the wrong thing.  But thankfully my friend didn’t stop there! Although he cannot relate specifically, he can relate to having to take charge of your life and not letting the circumstances define you.  Through the teachings of motivational speaker, Jim Rohn, my friend provided me the most amazing illustration of “setting the sail” in your life. He said:

“It’s not what happens that determines your life’s future; it’s what you do about what happens.  All of us are in like a little sailboat and it’s not the blowing of the wind that determines our destination, it’s the set of the sail. The same wind blows on us all.  The wind of disaster, the wind of opportunity, the wind of change, favorable and unfavorable winds, political wind, economic wind, social wind.  The same wind blows on everybody. The difference is attitude and where you arrive next week, next year, tomorrow…the difference in arrival is not the blowing of the wind, but the set of the sail.  This is what learning is all about, to set a better sail than last year.  Sandra, the ability to change is not a law, it’s an opportunity.”

Wow…the set of the sail…I love this illustration for my healing as well as in my daily life.  The confusion in my brain cleared up as I realized this is what I have been attempting to do all along.  Through my grief and healing, I have had my sail set towards progress, towards forward movement, and then the loneliness really fell in and I stopped properly operating my sail.  I left it neglected and just hoped it was going in the right direction.  I can now see that I have to continue in this journey with all the intentionality that I had in the beginning.  The same resolve for better health and a better life.  One of my favorite quotes since I was little has been, “there are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”  And that includes this time in my life.  Although it is uncharted and untraveled, I can see the shortcuts.  As tempting as they may appear at times, they are really just a path to nowhere. A path to immediate needs, not longevity. A path to temporary, not everlasting.

As the conversation continues I begin to realize that God’s working on me. Because the wind is blowing like crazy but God is showing me how to set the sail for His glory and the changes I need to make and I want that opportunity. I want that knowledge not only for myself but for helping others. The bottom line is that no matter what we have been through in our lives, we still have the ability to help others. The ability to say to them, “I can’t fix your circumstances, but I can help you set your sail in a purposeful and intentional matter.  With your sail set, while you’re out there, with the wind blowing, you’ll know where you’re heading.”  And in doing that you have not only encouraged them to set the sail of their actions, but also to set the sail of better thinking.

The Set of the Sail

In the process of living, the winds of circumstances blow on us all in an unending flow that touches each of our lives.…

What guides us to different destinations in life is determined by the way we have chosen to set our sail. The way that each of us thinks makes the major difference in where each of us arrive. The major difference is the set of the sail.

The same circumstances happen to us all. We have disappointments and challenges. We all have reversals and those moments when, in spite of our best plans and efforts, things just seem to fall apart.…In the final analysis, it is not what happens that determines the quality of our lives, it is what we choose to do when we have struggled to set the sail and then discover, after all of our efforts, that the wind has changed directions.

When the winds change, we must change. We must struggle to our feet once more and reset the sail in the manner that will steer us toward the destination of our own deliberate choosing. The set of the sail, how we think and how we respond, has a far greater capacity to destroy our lives than any challenges we face. How quickly and responsibly we react to adversity is far more important than the adversity itself. Once we discipline ourselves to understand this, we will finally and willingly conclude that the great challenge of life is to control the process of our thinking.

Learning to reset the sail with the changing winds rather than permitting ourselves to be blown in a direction we did not purposely choose requires the development of a whole new discipline. It involves going to work on establishing a powerful, personal philosophy that will help to influence in a positive way all that we do and that we think and decide. If we can succeed in this worthy endeavor, the result will be a change in the course of our income, lifestyle and relationships, and in how we feel about the things of value as well as the times of challenge. If we can alter the way we perceive, judge and decide upon the main issues of life, then we can dramatically change our lives.

To Your Success,
Jim Rohn

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Marriage: Plagues, Pressure Points, and blessings in disguise.

I remember the first few months of our marriage like it was yesterday. We were married in July, pregnant by September, and then all this crazy stuff started happening! :) We had some intense hail storms and our roof started leaking and we ended up needing a new roof.  Alana was hospitalized with pneumonia complicated by her asthma for the third time. Then our washing machine, which had been jumping out of the closet for months, decided not to wash clothes anymore. Next there were bugs in our house!! Oh the bugs. This about drove Glen crazy because no matter what we did, the bugs prevailed. When the bugs arrived we began joking of the similarities to the 12 plagues of Egypt and we knew we just had to have faith and keep pressing on.  Glen made plans for me to attend my first UGA vs. GA Tech football game that November and we all ended up with such as extreme case of the stomach flu that we couldn’t even watch it on TV! We were blessed with an incredible Christmas and then came January. In January came the very surprising and frightening loss of Glen’s job :( And the plagues didn’t seem so funny anymore.

January brought two trips to the emergency room for me from dehydration from the stomach flu! One time the night of the Super Bowl and I relaxed and got renewed and made my husband go watch the game somewhere.  There are just those things that you know  your husband loves.  Football was definitely one of his.

We made it through that weekend and we kept pressing on, we kept believing that the Lord would provide. Our love grew to depths I didn’t know were possible in such adversity. Then the next plague, snow in Georgia! In March!! As if the snow wasn’t enough, our furnace decides to go out. So 7 months pregnant, with a 3 year old, we make the trek to Glen’s parents for a few days. Somehow manage to pay for a new furnace although Glen still hasn’t found work and not for lack of trying. He had spreadsheets of all the jobs he had applied for and all the steps he had been through.  Then to top off all the plagues, my well intentioned idea to garden at nine months pregnant results in poison ivy!! Not just poison ivy in a few spots but ALL over my body, including my huge 9 month pregnant belly. Poison Ivy resulting in cellulitis (staph infection) in my leg and so widespread that it required huge amounts of determination to not scratch my itchy body. I had been to the doctor and was taking all the medication I was allowed to take while pregnant, with very little relief.  I continued to take the medicines and then one day I realize that the baby is not moving so much. The baby. Is not moving so much.  This is May 12th and I’m due the 23rd.  We go in and do a non-stress test and all the baby’s (Cameron’s) vitals are okay but he is not as responsive to the juice, food, etc that they give you to see what the baby will do.  So the mid-wife comes in and looks at us and says tonight’s the night.  Go pack a bag and be at the hospital at 6:00.  Shock.  I’m not ready, who will teach my kids for the next 2 weeks, who will do their final report cards, who will…nevermind, “I’m having our baby!” :)  So we go to the hospital, get induced and the next night have an effortless birth of a completely healthy baby.  Relief for me in two ways, the baby is healthy and well and now they can give me all of the steroids and medicines for the poison ivy that they couldn’t give me before.

So on May 13th Cameron Joseph Walker is brought into this world.

And despite Glen not having a job, we were able to use part of his 401K to make all of our house payments and we are not behind on a single bill! :) And then another turn for the better! 2 days after Cameron is born, Glen started a new JOB.  In hindsight, by the grace of God, I was able to go through much of my pregnancy with my husband at home.  He was there through my sicknesses and Alana’s hospitalization and every day when I came home from a very stressful day at work he was there to greet me at the door. :) Glen also did daddy day care for Alana and their bond grew even more solid.  So you never know, sometimes the things that seem like the worst plagues of your life are actually His blessings in disguise!

On Sunday, Pastor Kevin Queen, taught on manhood and “what makes a man?”  I wept many times in this service because Glen was a man and he was solid in his manhood.  The first year of our marriage was testimony to the type of man he was.  There were a million different things challenging his manhood, pushing him to the limits of quitting.  But he didn’t. Not once.  Even though I know fear wavered it’s way through his mind at times, he never allowed it to question his manhood.  He continued to invest, to secure, and to lift his relationships and to love his life despite all that was going seemingly wrong in the first year of our marriage.  He kept our marriage in the “honeymoon” phase despite the steady and unrelenting occurrence of events that could have been the demise of a new marriage.  Pastor Kevin said that God gives strong men ->strong convictions-> to keep life from spinning out of control.  Well if this is not a testimony to Glen’s strength as a man, I don’t know what is.  He took responsibility for the three things Pastor Kevin mentioned.  He took responsibility for his faith. Responsibility for his character.  And responsibility to back the messes in his life and work hard to clean them up. He kept our life from spinning out of control.  Strong man -> strong convictions -> living life to the finest and fullest of what God planned for us.

In all the books I’ve read on being a widow, they say to be careful not to elevate your deceased partner to sainthood.  So let me say that I am in no way attempting to do that.  Glen was not a saint, we all have weaknesses and are imperfect people.  However, our marriage was amazing. And in the moments it wasn’t wonderful, Glen desired better for us and made it happen. Fought for it to happen.  All marriages have struggles.  The question is what are you going to do when they make their appearance?

This brings me to what started the idea for this whole post.  Phil Stevens, a blessing to my spiritual life and friend who I met  through church is doing some incredible work on marriage. From his website –

Pressure Points ‘A Marriage Series This project is a series of about 10 films [maybe more, no less] showing the individual brokenness we all bring into our marriage.

This series has been named ‘Pressure Points’, as a pressure point can be extremely painful and/or fatal. Individual brokenness may launch an attack on a marriage’s pressure points causing family pain or ending in divorce.

This first video is Phil’s explanation of the project.  The quote that speaks to me,

“I want you to feel, I want you to feel what it’s like to experience a marriage that’s so healthy that there’s grace between the two of you. Grace, grace from God that can not go wrong. That can face the test of times.”

Glen and I had such a healthy marriage, full of tests, and so full of grace. And I understand when Phil so emphatically says the above statement.  A healthy marriage is an amazing thing. I know I am blessed to have had the years with Glen that I did.  Being in a healthy marriage stirs your soul, makes you want the same for those around you. You will see that in Phil, when you watch.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/42935738″>Pressure Points Promo</a> from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/getyerphil”>Phil Stevens</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Please watch this first film in the Pressure Points Series called Anger. It is so deeply emotional and moving.

<p><a href=”http://vimeo.com/41007578″>Angry.</a&gt; from <a href=”http://vimeo.com/getyerphil”>Phil Stevens</a> on <a href=”http://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Please go here http://www.indiegogo.com/pressurepoints and consider donating to see this project continue to serve marriages in need of healing and restoration. It has begun already…

From Phil’s Facebook -

True story. Yesterday I was in a Boulder Creek Coffee and a 20 something year-old guy approached me. I assumed he recognized me from acting/choir at 12Stone. However, he knew me from the buzz of the marriage series. He asked me if I was the guy that created the series. He explained, “I am engaged to be married and watched your movies. After watching them I hope and pray I will do right by my new wife. I think your films are needed in this era. Thank you.”

Thank you Phil.  Thank you for taking the time to make a difference.  I am fully confident Glen is behind you %100.

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3 days post surgery

Well, I wish I had more exciting details to give of my procedure, but I do not.  Once the vascular surgeon went into the vena cava he was able to see that the blood clot was much longer and thicker than he was able to see on the CT.  Because of this, he was not able to get a wire through the clot which means he could not insert a stent into the blockage.  What does this mean moving forward?  The doctor told me that because of the blockage I essentially do not have a functioning vena cava on the right side.  As a result my body has had to find a different way to get the blood from my legs up to my lungs and heart.  So on the right side of my body, in the abdomen area, I have several veins that have now become an important part of returning this blood to my lungs and heart.  The result are some varicose veins in my waist and stomach area, because they are working extra hard and carrying more than they normally would. He was very impressed with the way my body had internally created a system that looked like a web of yarn to assist in this process.  So all things being considered, it was still a success because although he was unable to insert the stent to assist the blood flow, my body has already figured out a way to do it!

I would be lying if I said I am not disappointed in the results.  It was a painful surgery and a difficult recovery and the one thing that made me want it was the possibility of some relief in the varicose veins.  I was very distraught that morning that the stent was not going to be able to be placed.  After recovering for a few days and understanding it all a little more, I am okay with the way things went.  When released from the hospital in December they thought I would need another 6 months on blood thinners.  Given everything the vascular surgeon has seen, he feels that I will need to be on them forever more.  Again not what I wanted but not an awful thing. I am learning that things do not always go as we have planned and that as much as it hurts, it is okay.  If we always planned for the worst, it would be no way to live.  I want to live like Glen did every day of his life; loving life, being present in each moment, expecting the best, and working through the things that didn’t go the way he thought they would.  There is strength in a man who can continue to positively navigate his life and his family’s life when things don’t go his way. I am blessed by this inheritance that was bestowed upon me.

Thank you to each one of you that wrote me, texted me, prayed for me, and called me before and after the surgery to check up on me.  The thing I can remain confident in through this whole process, is that I will never have to face these things alone. And there is comfort in knowing that.

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Furthering my recovery…one stent at a time :)

I have not talked a whole lot about the nature of  my injuries.  I know my dad may have but I have not found the strength yet to read any of those early posts about me.  But some important things are happening with my physical healing so I felt it important to write this piece:

This journey has been so multifaceted and when I think I am clearing one part, another one presents itself.  It was not until recently that I really heard the details of my injury, of the true trauma that my body went through, details of my first day and night in the hospital, details of the true nature of my injuries. And I simply had to stop and praise God for the healing that has occurred.

Many of you know that during the hospital stay, I had a pulmonary embolism and developed clots in my right leg.  The normal way you would treat this is to begin blood thinners.  Unfortunately I had three brain hemorrhages that were still bleeding so until they got that under control I could not begin the blood thinners.  Therefore they inserted something called a vena cava filter into my inferior vena cava. The picture is of one type, I do not know exactly what type they put in me.  The vena cava is the vein that returns all the blood from your leg back up to your heart. The filter is placed to prevent the clot from making it’s way to that part of your body. I did start the blood thinners in December just before being discharged.  I have been going every two weeks to the doctor to check the level of thickness of my blood.  I have moved from my mom having to inject shots of the medicine twice a day (bless her heart) to taking a pill. My range has gone all over the place and we’ve had to regulate the medicine several times.  All of that was no big deal, the only thing that has bothered me during this time is that the veins in my right abdominal area are very raised and prominent.  In the hospital, my doctor told me that I would probably be able to go off the blood thinner about 6 months post injury which I am at this point! :)  However, because of the right abdominal veins he referred me to see a vascular surgeon to be sure the clots were gone before I went off the medicine.

Well, the vascular doctor asked me lots of questions and then when he looked at my stomach, he immediately said that he wanted a CT ordered. :( Not a very reassuring sign.  So one week later and one CT later, I went back to see him and he informed me that the clots had made their way into my filter and were causing a blockage in my vena cava.  Yay for the clots not making their way to my heart, boo for them creating a blockage.  Subsequently the veins in my abdominal area are so prominent because the blood is having to find other ways to my heart. Whew. Deep sigh. Tears. Confusion. “What does this mean? Will it always be this way?” The doctor was very supportive and drew many pictures to explain what he saw on the CT and then informed me that he would like to surgically insert a stent into my inferior vena cava. Whew. Deep sigh. Tears. Confusion. I had heard of stents in hearts but this was crazy to me for some reason. He explained that it would be like a tube (stent)  inside of a tube (vena cava) and that it would bring relief to all of my abdominal veins that have been  working so hard. All of this was so not what I was expecting.  I expected him to say that everything had cleared and we were good to go off the coumadin (blood thinner). Oh how wrong I was. He indicated that there is a possibility that I will forever and always be on the coumadin. Despite these minor setbacks, I try my best to always realize how fortunate I am to have healed so well.

As a result of the CT, next Tuesday, May 29th, I will be having a stent put into my vena cava.  It is an outpatient procedure, which blew me away, and the doctor assured me that I would be ready to go home. I do however have to take it easy on the exercising for about a week.  No running training :(  The only detail we are waiting on is to see if he can get a wire through the blockage entirely.  He can only insert the stent if he is able to first get a guide wire through the blockage.  Unfortunately we won’t know that until that morning. Although I am overwhelmed by this, I have to remind myself that it is just another step in my healing. So please keep me in your thoughts and prayers and I will make sure that I or my dad update sometime that day. Thanks and much love to everyone who continues to check on me and pray for me and the kids.

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“When a heart breaks, no it don’t breakeven”

I am finding that grief is layered, it is complex, and it hurts.  It involves discovery.  Each new layer is a discovery and these are not always exciting or peaceful discoveries. Some are expected and may be even likable and then there are those discoveries that leave us wishing we could just go back to where we were; the discovery that presents us with a new reality that we hadn’t even thought of or considered yet.  I hit a new level of grief in the last few weeks and would give anything to not feel this way right now.  I don’t feel strong, I don’t feel able, I don’t feel happy, or content, I just feel sad, sad deep in the recesses of my heart that Glen used to nurture and provide for. And while I am willing to accept that all of this is part of the process, I can tell you that it does not make the actual doing of it any easier.  I wish there was a timeline for all grieving, a length of time you knew you would have to spend in each phase. But there is not a timeline or a format for grief.  It is complex and varied and so different for each person.

Sunday was Mother’s Day and Glen always made a huge deal of this day for me.  I had really planned ahead mentally and was having a great morning.  Breakfast in bed from my kids and homemade cards from both of them.  I then went to church with my mom and it was an amazing message that spoke right to me about my importance as a mother.  I wept through the majority of the service and then came the last part.  Our Pastor said that every year the church recognizes the single mothers and to show appreciation of them despite how they got there, the church gives each one of them a envelope with a $50 bill in it so they can do something for themselves. And I lost it. I’m a single mother. I’m. A. Single. Mother. I specifically remember Glen and I hearing this last year and being like oh wow that’s so cool.  How different things can be in a year.

The other important thing that Pastor Kevin Queen talked about is mothers having unrealistic expectations for themselves. Sound familiar?  In an interesting twist, he talked about how social media can really be an instigator of these expectations.  That when women post on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, it is like their press release.  They get to choose what they put in it and by default get to choose the type of person they want people to see them as.  Other women see these postings and think, “why can’t I do that/be like her?” I thought about this and wanted to be sure that my life is not just a press release, that I am not just reporting on the things I want people to believe about me.  I will absolutely continue to post good and even great news on Facebook, because there is joy in each day. But I do not want those posts to undermine the fact that life is really hard for me right now and each day is a struggle.  I am not done grieving, I am not done hurting, I am not okay moment to moment, but I am really excited that my three year old decided he needed underwear and I am excited that I was able to host a housewarming party for 95 people who contributed over 125 books for my new non-profit :) What that does not mean is that I am fine, or not in any pain. I can only take it one moment at a time.

This is a song about breaking up but there is much of it that applies to how I am feeling and I wanted to share those lyrics:

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathin
‘Cause when a heart breaks, no it don’t breakeven

What am I suppose to do
When the best part of me was always you and
What am I suppose to say
When I’m all choked up and you’re okay

I’m falling to pieces, yeah
I’m falling to pieces

They say bad things happen for a reason
But no wise words gonna stop the bleeding
‘Cause he’s moved on while I’m still grieving
And when a heart breaks, no it don’t breakeven, even, no

What am I gonna do
When the best part of me was always you
And what am I suppose to say
When I’m all choked up and you’re okay

I’m falling to pieces, yeah
I’m falling to pieces, yeah
I’m falling to pieces
I’m falling to pieces
(‘Cause when a heart breaks, no it don’t breakeven)

I’m still alive but I’m barely breathing
‘Cause when a heart breaks, no it don’t break
No it don’t break, no it don’t breakeven, no

What am I gonna do
When the best part of me was always you
And what am I supposed to say
When I’m all choked up and you’re okay

I’m falling to pieces, yeah
I’m falling to pieces, yeah
I’m falling to pieces
I’m falling to pieces

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The way things were…

For a great amount of time in my healing, I have been trying to return my life to the way things were.  Having expectations of myself that given my emotional and physical trauma were not appropriate.  But I could not see that. Or I didn’t want to.  I was just trying to make things the way they always were.  I understood that my husband was gone, but why did other parts of my life have to change? I unknowingly have been in a fight with myself each day to keep things the way they were.  With Glen. Somehow. And the longer I have operated like that, the greater my grief has taken a hold of my life.

A leader at my church who set me up with my counselor that I see called to check up on me the other day.  He knew that I was not in a great place and had such valuable, eye opening, and affirming things to say.  He told me “It is emotionally dangerous to continue having expectations that are unfair to your health. Expectations that just aren’t possible right now.” When we got off the phone, I said that aloud to myself. Sandra, it is emotionally dangerous to continue having expectations that are unfair to your health.  Expectations that just aren’t possible right now.  And in my mind I’m thinking, what a joke! Why aren’t they possible?  I used to be able to do them, why can’t I now? And then a wonderful and divine “ah-ha” moment: Sandra you were in a traumatic accident and suffered a traumatic loss.  Accept that. Process that.  Before moving on with your life.  This realization that I have to stop placing expectations on myself just because I used to do them was so obvious.  My inability makes me feel inadequate and that is certainly emotionally dangerous.

This leads me to my ultimate lesson learned: let some things go. Let go. If you know me, this is no easy lesson to learn or accept.  I left work early yesterday at the advice of my dear friends and co-workers to go see my counselor.  I was not in a good place, the grief has been so layered and complex for me lately.  My counselor asked me to think about what was most important right now.  I shrugged my shoulders and had no answer.  She said “you are. You are what is important.  You being healthy and able to take care of yourself and your children.” She explained that the other things will come around eventually.  That I have to slow down long enough to grieve. Then she basically reiterated the above sentiments and told me that I had to stop expecting so much from myself. That given the trauma I have been through, both physically and emotionally, it was important that I don’t take on new challenges until I really feel ready for them. And I really thought I was ready for work, I really did. But alas, I am not. Physically, yes. Emotionally, no.  So although it is bittersweet, it is necessary, and I will not be working until the Fall.

From the day of the accident, I have had to focus on my physical recovery.  There were crucial physical steps along the way; feeding myself, dressing myself, putting my own socks on, walking to the bathroom alone, walking up stairs, picking up my son, getting rid of the walker! :)   Physical therapy led naturally to fitness goals because that is what I am accustomed to.  Working out has long been a part of my life and running was such a new goal so focusing on that made me feel safe.   The results were more than even I expected, and participating in two 5Ks was such a meaningful part of my journey.  Now that I have experienced those accomplishments, it is vital that I concentrate as much on my emotional recovery as my physical recovery.

And today I feel like I can breathe.  Really breathe for the first time. I’m ready now to move from trying to live the way things were to living the way things ARE. Acceptance that I have a new normal. And that it is okay.

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Lonely in a crowded room

Update:

3 months later (7/24/12) and I’m still lonely in a crowded room.  :(  I’m still working on myself and I’m not fully aware yet of other people’s needs of me as I attempt to figure out how to make it myself to the next moment. It’s been such a long time that I have had to focus on myself and my kids making it through the day. And as that part becomes easier, I am realizing the ways I have not been there for the people that I love who have been there for me since day one. Grief does that to you though. If you are actually dealing with it and not suppressing it.  It becomes about your pain and how you are ever going to make it through the drastic change in your life.  Grief is self consuming.  As I continue to work through myself and my fears and my doubts, I can only hope those who love me will know that I still do.  That the more my head clears and heals, the more I can see myself getting back to being the kind of friend that I was for them in the past. Because I promise I’m getting so close. :)

The hardest aspect of the grief for me right now is just not feeling like myself.  I’m a social butterfly who can’t bring myself to get mad at my daughter when I get reports that she was talking in school because I know that is how I was.  We of course discuss how you have to be careful and make sure you are being respectful.  Even as a grownup, I’m the one at school, working out with my Kindergarteners – “feel the burn!” :) I’m the one singing, dancing, laughing, and loving and of course having “random dance party” times. In the middle of quiet work time I blast tunes from my iPod dock and act totally surprised when my students look up.  And then we yell “Random dance party” and get to dancing.  The most amazing part of this is that when the song ends, at 5 and 6 years old, they will go immediately back to their work.  It’s the best!! I and Dorina, my co-worker, may also be responsible for a few staff dance parties in the hallway after the kids are gone – think Soul Train dance line. And this has been me. Everyday.  This energy. And now…I want it back.

Now every day is different.

I only have enough energy to make it through the moment.

My mind is so busy all the time.  I don’t necessarily know what my mind is so busy with but it’s busy. Constantly.

And I’m tired.

Life is so undefined. All over the place really. I am lonely, lonely in my pursuits to understand.

So I pray, and I pray, and I talk to God. And I read. And read. And read.  Last night was from a book entitled “Through a season of grief: devotion for your journey from  mourning to joy.”  It is a book by Grief Share which is the program I have been attending for support of people grieving the death of a loved one. Of all the things in my life that I have wanted to share with others; love, fun, laughter, stillness, strength, music, support, silliness…Grief has never been on the list.  It doesn’t fit the definition or picture I have of myself. Grief is like an uncomfortable outfit that you have to wear through no choice of your own.  And because grief is so uncharted and undefined, the people I encounter don’t recognize it’s model or markings.  So they see this version of myself that I don’t even understand and that makes me lonely and uncomfortable. Loneliness is uncomfortable. As I sit in this coffee house, seeing people engaging in meaningful and charismatic conversations, I want to be there again. And not know this pain and loneliness.

Growing Through Loneliness (from Through a Season of Grief)

Loneliness is never comfortable, but if you ask Him, the Lord can bring something good out of it.

“The Lord sees to it that you find yourself in a lonely position sometimes,” says Elisabeth Elliot, “not necessarily geographically.  You can be in a crowded room and still be lonely.

“Oswald Chambers has something very interesting to say about that, “Friendship with a person who has not been disciplined by loneliness is a very dangerous kind of friendship.’

“You need to recognize God’s discipline of loneliness when it is assigned to you and receive it with both hands saying, “Lord, I would not have chosen this, but I will receive it.  Now teach me what I can only learn in loneliness.”

It is not God’s plan to give you everything you want for your life or to ensure that life is comfortable and problem-free.  God has made life so that it is filled with times of receiving and times of letting go. He wants you to learn to be content where you are now because He is with you.

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:12-13).

Lord, teach me what I can learn in loneliness.

Deep down I know that grief is a part of my life right now. A part of me that I have to share with others among the love and laughter.  I am so grateful to have friends who understand this and who listen and allow me to share.  Friends who also recognize my silence and feelings of loneliness and don’t force me to talk.  The loneliness is difficult but I have to remind myself that I can FEEL alone, but never be lonely. That God never leaves my side. My smile in this picture ensures me that the same me is still there, and reminds me what a friend told me very early on: “Embrace this time in your life, for yourself, because it is a season that is impossible to avoid. You are in a healing season and you have to be really intentional about it. And seek God.” So I will continue to embrace this time in my life.  I can say with confidence that I wouldn’t trade the life I am living for anything and eventually it will all be better.  I just have to keep working and keep growing. And continue to be thankful for everything that I do have, because the list is never ending and always growing.

Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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Five months

Today I did something I had knowingly been avoiding for a few weeks time.  I went and saw Glen’s headstone.  I can’t say I’m sure of why I’ve been avoiding it.  Maybe partly because it would make what has happened too real.  Maybe because as much as I would like to think I’m doing okay, this step seemed more than I could take.  For whatever reason, avoidance has been the only way I could handle the knowledge that the headstone had been laid down.  Enter -> today’s message at church, “Why Do We Quit?” There was so much knowledgeable information but what resonated with me is that every journey goes through stages and that quitting costs. It really does.  And I’ve come so far and I don’t want to quit, despite how much it hurts to continue.  With that knowledge floating around in my head, along with today marking five months since Glen’s death, I decided that it was time for me to embark on a new stage in this journey. Again I was faced with dealing with a part of life that certainly could not be my life.  I decided to make this first trip by myself, so that I could be alone with Glen, alone with my thoughts, alone to break down.

I sat on the ground as the wind blew heavily around me.  And I cried.  Wept. Tracing the letters on his headstone over and over again. And for the first time since his passing, I felt like I was with him.  So I talked to him, something I have not done much, and it brought joy to my heart.  I talked out loud and through my tears I made him promise me that everything would be okay, that I would be okay, that the kids would be okay, that we could somehow figure out how to go on with our lives without him.  And through the blowing of the wind, I felt him say, as sure as if  he was sitting next to me, “I promise.” I thought I created that moment and of course immediately questioned my sanity. Yet there was something so sincere in what I felt, so I asked him again if he really promised me that he would take care of everything and again “I promise.” Not his voice, but a whisper through the wind, a definitive and indescribable moment. And again I cried. Wept. Smiled. And the lyrics of this song began playing through my head, so I placed my iPod on his headstone and played it and sang to him.

Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am home again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am whole again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am young again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am fun again
However far away I will always love you
However long I stay I will always love you
Whatever words I say I will always love you
I will always love you
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am free again
Whenever I’m alone with you
You make me feel like I am clean again
However far away I will always love you
However long I stay I will always love you
Whatever words I say I will always love you
I will always love you

However far away I will always love you
However long I stay I will always love you
Whatever words I say I will always love you

I’ll always love you
I’ll always love you
Cause I love you

I could easily spend pages on how he was a loving husband, devoted father, wonderful son, and great friend.  But it felt better to just show how he was. Please enjoy the pictures and know that he was all of these things and million things more.  The depth of this loss is so immense, layered, and undefined.  Thank you for being a part of my journey as I work to process and to build a new life.  Five months later I still feel like time is frozen. That Cameron will always be 2 and Alana will always be 6,  but deep down I know I must learn how to live in a time of their lives and my life, without Glen there to guide us and support us.  I have finally accepted that time does indeed move on.

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The moment my life froze…

Every day I get stronger.  By the grace of God and my dependence on Him, I get stronger and I heal. As my brain resumes more normal functioning, the haze of the grief lifts for moments, and I learn things about what happened to my body that confound me. As I learn all of the things that happened to my body, I am amazed at how far I have been blessed to come. I also learn some of the things that happened to Glen’s body and it brings me deep sadness that I didn’t get to spend more time with him before he died. I do know without a doubt that my parents did the right thing by not telling me what was going on or where he was.  It allowed me to get healthy and strong enough to be able to say goodbye when the time had come. From the accident, Nov 5th, up until the first day I have memories, Nov 21st, I was unable to remember things they had told me an hour before or anytime that day, let alone things from the day before.  So I am thankful that they didn’t torture me or themselves by telling me what state Glen was in.  I, along with them, would have had to go through the tragedy of the accident each day, unable to remember being told the day before.  On November 21st, I began forming new memories.  My first vivid memory post-accident is my mom telling me that I was in the hospital and that my whole  family had been in a car accident. I can remember the panic and the confusion that I felt.  I often look to the left when I think of this because she came in through the hospital room door and was at the left of my hospital bed.  She continued, explaining that the kids were okay, and then telling me that Glen had suffered serious injuries. That he had just had a CT scan done and that his brain was not showing any activity anymore. That in the evening, he would be taken off of life support.

In that moment my life froze.  I was so confused and didn’t even know what to think. And with a blink, my life was different. Forever.  I was mad. I didn’t understand, and I wanted him to be okay.  Shortly after being told this, I was able to see him for the first time since the accident. Seeing my husband in a hospital bed was overwhelming in and of itself, but knowing that those gorgeous eyes would never open again to see me was unbearable.  The kids refused to come into the room because although it was daddy they were scared.  So they stood in the doorway and Alana asked Aunt Michelle to take an “invisible string” from her heart to daddy’s heart, tying them together forever.  She then asked Michelle to do the same thing for Cameron.  invisiblestringThis “invisible string” is from an awesome book that my Aunt Margot bought the kids. The night before they had  talked about the invisible string and about how this string could never be broken.  From the book, “People who love each other are always connected by a very special String, made of love. Even though you can’t see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.” Both the kids understood how this applied that day and were able to do this with daddy that day. Michelle and Margot, I love you for these moments and for your strength in my weakness.

For what felt like five minutes, but I was told it was 3 hours, I talked to Glen.  I touched his face, I held his hand, I listened to his heart beating, and laid my head on his stomach to feel his breath moving in and out for the last time.  I wish I could do this every day. Over and over.  Those last moments with him, I will treasure forever.  I am so thankful that I am able to remember this day and although, he was already gone, I got to see “my” Glen one last time so that I don’t have to spend the rest of my life wishing for that moment.

I am also beginning to see the vulnerabilities and weaknesses I had due to my brain injury and the grief and I am so grateful for those around me who have helped me monitor those things before my brain was ready.

The most shocking realization that has happened is that there are words that have come into my vocabulary over the last few months that I feel don’t belong there. Like sometimes I suddenly wonder if I’m living someone else s life. Then the reality that I am not comes hurling down before me.   And I am not doing this for shock value but to help you understand the complexity and the business of my thoughts right now.

  • Inferior vena cava filter
  • Trauma
  • Helicopter
  • Jaws of life
  • INR
  • Widow
  • Traumatic
  • Hemorrhages
  • Blood clots
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Grief. Loss
  • Grave
  • Death Certificate
  • Estate
  • Single Parent
  • Wound VAC
  • Vascular doctor
  • Sever
  • TBI
  • Post traumatic amnesia
  • Walking Boot
  • Deceased

Initially these words make me feel confused and tired. ­Then I will suddenly realize that although these words are in my vocabulary and it’s unfair and awful, I feel joy and hope for my future.  For “happiness is in the heart, not the circumstances.”  This saying is displayed in my counselor’s waiting room and I took a picture of it weeks ago, knowing it needed to be truth in my life but not understanding how until today.  If my happiness were to lie in my circumstances, I would have every right to be unhappy and grumpy and mean. Luckily, my happiness comes from my heart. A heart that God is invested in, a heart that God refines and protects, a heart that loves God and knows no fear despite what the world presents before me.  He reminds me that the above list are just words.  Although these words may define what HAPPENED to me, I cannot allow them to define ME. It goes without saying that suffering is a large part of what I am feeling at the moment. But luckily I am able to live by faith. And in living by faith I am able to trust God.


Romans 5: 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

I find happiness in the love that God has poured into my heart through the Holy Spirit.  Not in the circumstances of my life.I continue praying for perseverance, character, and above all hope through the magnitude of this suffering. There are days when the pain is just so viable and present. I am so grateful for a God who is close when my heart is breaking, guides my pathways, renews my strength, and never leaves my side.

And a reminder I read every day – 2 Timothy 1:7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love of and self-discipline.

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Life in fast motion :)

The last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity.  My mom came for a visit and the day after she arrived, I took my mom, Aunt Margot and the kids to Disney on Ice.  It would be an understatement to say my children loved it!!!


Up next was the big move! I’d like to say my mom came for a leisurely visit but she came to help me and the kids move into a new house. My mom’s twin sister, Aunt Cathy, was here as well and I owe the completion of this project to them. As I have read about grief and healing, all the books say to be careful about making big changes right after your loss. And a new house is a big change! Glen and I had begun talking about it and discussing what kind of house we would want, so that made me feel so much more secure and directed in my search. I am glad that I had my parents and friends to help me make this decision and guide me once I made the decision.  I am very confident and comfortable with the choice I have made and have been blessed in so many ways as the move took place.

The best way to show evidence of this is pictures:

The kids riding their bikes outside!

Unpacking while the kids enjoy their very own bedrooms!

Reading in Cameron's room.

Date night with mommy!! We went out to dinner and I drove!


Although the past two weeks have gone by in fast motion, I didn’t miss a moment of it. I was present through all the joys and all the heartaches. I have been through an intense amount of healing and clarity in the last few weeks. The move was made possible because of the hard work and devotion that my mom, Aunt Cathy, Dad, and brother Tom had to make this move possible. Among the many others who came out to help unpack, bring dinner, and watch the kids so we could focus on moving. :) Seeing the joy on my children’s face during this whole move has been extraordinary. We have openly talked about daddy throughout the whole process and of all things, both of my children wanted one of daddy’s trophies for their rooms. They are both very proud of the trophy in their room. And I am glad that despite all the changes and all the loss, a little piece of Daddy is watching over them every night.

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The Color Run – my 2nd 5K!

On March 31st I ran my second 5K! I wrote a post on my other blog if you would like to check it out. :)

http://andtheniran.wordpress.com/2012/04/09/the-color-run/

It was such a fun time!!!

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And then she ran…

My first 5K was on March 24th.

Facebook status the night before the race: “I am feeling so nervous and excited about tomorrow but have been so uplifted by kind words from all over the place. Thank you so much for the encouragement.
The following passage is back from my high school basketball days and I have kept it close to my heart and mind ever since.
My life changed so dramatically…I have hoped in the Lord…He has renewed my strength…and with Him, I can do this ♥

Isaiah 40:30-31
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”

Facebook status the morning of the race: Race morning! So nervous and excited and as I have said in past writings…“I am not running away from anything, not avoiding my life or my reality, but running towards something. Towards healing, towards peace, towards wellness.” Bring it! :)


I often would wear Glen’s hats and so I felt it fitting that I wear one for this first race along with his cross.


Here is a picture of him wearing the hat and cross.

He loved when I would wear his hat so I knew that he would be smiling down on me as I raced.


I completed the race with my friends Erica,Sarah, and Lisa, and I am SO glad they were there. 

All of them were so encouraging and stayed right with me the whole way.  When I would get tired they would let me know that I could do this! And I did! I am so blessed to have the incredible friends that I do. Love you all for your help and encouragement and believing in me!

Here is a collage of  pictures taken before and during the race. The joy on my face speaks for itself.  This weekend was by far the happiest I have been since the accident occurred. In a way, I almost felt like me again. :)

So we crossed the finish line and I was feeling ecstatic and a little overwhelmed by the vastness of this physical and emotional accomplishment. After recording for the news story, I was reminded of just how seriously I was injured in the accident and just how far I’ve come. I crossed the finish line under an hour but I knew that my official time would be a little less though because we were in the third coral to go.  Our race bibs had chips on them so we had to wait to see the official times!  The best part of the finish line was seeing my beautiful daughter’s face.

She was so proud of her mommy!

We all went out to eat a well-deserved breakfast and later that day, the official times were posted! I completed the 5K in  49:29!!! This time was about 10 minute less than what I was hoping for so I was very pleased. My body has definitely been in shock and hurting of course.  So this week I’m only going to do some walking, biking, and PT for my ankle to get ready for this Saturday’s 5K. This Saturday I am doing the Color Run with a few more amazing people I am lucky to have in my life.  I will again post all the results and pictures.

In other news, I go tomorrow to take my official driving test! I am feeling overwhelmed and worried but am so excited by the idea of starting to drive again.  I will be sure to let you all know how it goes.

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