Those Left Behind

Last Saturday we held our 11th annual KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. For the first time in 11 years, we had weather. Granted it could have been much worse. The remnants of a hurricane came through the weekend before. We were lucky to only have some brief showers, clouds, and wind.

I think the gray, damp, cloudy weather reminded me of the reasons the walk was originally started. Dave’s niece Kim died of a ruptured brain aneurysm at 32 years old and her close friends and relatives started the KAT-Walk in her memory. It was named after Kim using the initials of her name: K for Kimberly A for Ann and T for Tudor. Her loss was felt so deeply by so many people and it weighs heavy on their hearts on this day.

My heart also bears the loss of my sister Dori on this day, who we lost to a ruptured brain aneurysm in 2012. I was very close to Dori and I miss her every day. I miss her laugh, her smile, and her joy for life.

Each year, our group continues to reach more and more families who have been touched by brain aneurysms. Their voices and pain join our choir as we come together and sing as one community in raising awareness and comforting one another.

It’s those stories that Dave and I add to our memory banks and emotional cache. The loss, the struggles, the victories, and the heart-wrenching tragedies are now apart of our own. What started as an event to honor the memory of our sweet, dear Kim and a place for each of us to project our grief, has now turned into a community gathering place from around the country.

As we celebrate and congratulate those who have survived, myself included, the lives of those left behind and their struggles to live life without those loved ones have also become our concern. Grief has no time table. There is no right or wrong way to deal with grief. You will be fine one day then out of the blue, in a location that has no connection to your love one, you can be overcome with emotions as strong as the day you lost them.

A ruptured brain aneurysm can strike at any time, any place, any age, any race, and both men and women. Often times there is no planning. No plan of action to avoid it or a way to prepare. Which is why we do what we do…if you’re lucky enough to have symptoms a brain aneurysm can be fixed. A life could be saved. A family could avoid going through heart-breaking loss or years of caring for one who survived, but with serious disabilities.

Today we participated in the Nolan’s H.E.R.O. Foundation 5th Annual 5K Run & 3.13K Walk in Pittsfield, Maine. Nolan Berthelette died from a ruptured brain aneurysm at only 14 years old. A heart-breaking and devastating loss for his parents Ray & Amy, his siblings, and the community. Parents losing their children is always difficult, but one so full of life and with so much more life left to live is especially painful.

I have attended four of their five events for Nolan, but for some reason today I was feeing Nolan with us. I can’t explain why. I just felt him there and he was saying he’s “Okay”.

It’s so hard for those of us left behind to continue life without those we love. Literally picking up the pieces. Finding our new “normal”. Reinventing family traditions. Finding ways to move forward and live without feeling guilty when we’re having fun without them.

Each year at our KAT-Walk & Karo-5k, I feel Dori & Kim. Some years more than others, but I know they’re there walking with me. One year we had a spectacular rainbow greeting us. One year, I had a butterfly traveling along side me while I walked the trail.

Dave’s niece Kim and my sister Dori

For those people like me, who have not only lost a loved one to a brain aneurysm, but also survived one as well, it’s a double-edged sword. I certainly know I had survivor’s guilt. Why did I survive and Kim and Dori did not? Kim who was so young at 32-years old and still had a long life of milestones yet to reach and Dori, who would not see her 15 year old son reach his 16th birthday. Why them and not me? There is no answer to that question. God may have had other plans for me, but I’m certainly not happy about it.

So, for two weekends in September…those left behind are continuing to struggle with loss and heart-ache, but we’re trying our best to move forward and honor those we have lost in a constructive and meaningful way. We remember. We feel. We DO something and try to honor them by hoping to save others.

I think they would all be proud of us…those left behind to carry on.

Paws to Pause

For many who attended our 10th annual KAT-Walk for Brain Aneurysm Awareness yesterday, they probably did not catch the significance of a special moment for our family personally.

Because this was the 10th anniversary of the KAT-Walk named in honor of Kim, Dave’s niece who died from a ruptured brain aneursym, there were some special moments dedicated to Kim’s memory yesterday. One of those moments was the start of the walk.

The start of the FIRST KAT-Walk in 2009 was lead by Dave, myself, Kim’s mom Nancy, and Kim’s pug, Bella. Bella has been there to lead every KAT-Walk since Kim’s death, except yesterday because she passed away earlier this year after a long battle with illness.

Bella the dog leading the 2009 KAT-Walk
Bella leading the 2009 KAT-Walk

A month ago, our brain aneurysm group was lucky enough to be a featured community organization at a Portland Sea Dog’s game. The Sea Dogs are a double-A minor league team for the Boston Red Sox. As a part of our efforts that night, we had asked if their mascot, Slugger the Dog, could attend our KAT-Walk & Karo-5k to add some special local flavor.

Slugger showed up and had a lot of fun with those in attendance. Earlier in the week, I had suggested we start the walk with Slugger taking the place of Bella since it was the 10th year of the walk. Dave thought it was a great idea and Slugger helped Nancy and I hold the original banner created by Dave for the first KAT-Walk to start the walk.

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Carrying that banner with Nancy was sad, but also a proud moment because of the work we have done in Kim’s name and for those touched by brain aneurysms.

Times are changing.  People move away. Pets pass away. Our committe members are getting older. It gets more difficult to find willing, and physically able volunteers each year to produce the kind of event we want to provide the brain aneurysm community. But the hard work is worth it when hundreds of people show up to support each other and our efforts to raise awareness.

THANK YOU to everyone who attended and/or donated this year. We could not do it without YOU! And thank you to Slugger and the Portland Sea Dogs, for providing some comedic relief and a helping paw in a special moment.

 

Ghosts From The Past

At work today, as we were discussing a return of flower bulbs to the catalog, we were looking at older catalogs when we sold bulbs previously. For about three or four years we sold Narcissus and Tulips. As I was looking through one of the older catalogs, I noticed a major typo! The word Narcissus, was spell with an “M”!

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Marcissus (oops!)

My first thought was embarrassment because I would have been the one who typed that and then I was laughing because…well, it was funny! Obviously our copywriter/editor/proofreader extraordinaire missed it, and probably many others did too. A group effort!

Then I realized the year of that particular catalog – 2007. Which means I was producing it in 2006. Which means, that’s the catalog I wasn’t able to complete because I had my ruptured brain aneurysm in October of that year.

It was NOT easy for those left behind to complete the catalog that year. They did bring another graphic artist in, but it must have been horribly difficult for her to pick up where I left off and not know how I pulled in information from our database, nor any of the processes, or where I had left off.  I seem to remember I was able to tell my husband to tell them a few things, but beyond that, they were on their own.

Seeing this typo brought back a lot of memories of that period and also of Jeanne, our proofreader. She was brilliant at her job and worked tirelessly to make sure the information that went out of the building to customers was accurate. So, seeing this typo, I wanted to contact her immediately, because I know she would have felt the same way about it as I did.

Heidi & Jeanne (left to right)

Sadly, I’m unable to contact her because she passed away almost two months ago from cancer. Even though she retired two years ago, I always knew I could reach out to her and she’d understand. I also know she’d be some pissed that this typo went out to customers, but she would have also stated that it was a stressful time for everyone while I was out and that “shit happens”.  Yes, it does…so I look upon this little typo as a badge of honor. Jeanne and I BOTH survived that catalog season. Marcissus be damned.  You can be sure in this, my 17th year of catalog design, I’ll spell it correctly!

The Barrette

Six years ago next week, we said goodbye to my sister Dori after she suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm on Mother’s Day and there was no hope for recovery. The Mother’s Day & Memorial Day holidays always bring it all back for me.

Dori was the only immediate family member to come & visit me in Maine since I moved here in 2000. Two of those trips were for fun and two of the other trips were for MY brain aneurysms. During one of those trips she left a hair barrette behind when staying at our house. I remember letting her know she had left it and asked her if she wanted it mailed back. She told me to keep it.

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One of Dori’s garden fairies

Well, I’m so glad I DID keep it. I realized this week It’s one of the very few things of Dori’s that I have. I asked for one of her garden fairies at her memorial service and I set it out each year. I knew she loved these beautiful statues so there certainly is a sentimental attachment to them. But how can a simple plastic & metal hair barrette fill me with emotions?

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The barrette

This barrette meant nothing to Dori. She used it and it held her long hair. That’s it. And I’m pretty sure when I discovered the barrette in our guest room that it held a strand or two of her hair. It’s ironic since the last time I saw her was in the hospital and all of her hair had been shaved off for surgery to insert a drain. 

I’d prefer to remember her with that long thick hair and, ever so slowly, the painful memories of seeing her in the hospital are being replaced with happier, healthier ones and I DO wear that barrette.

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Dori helping me with my veil on my wedding day – 2010