The Families

Since 2006 when my first brain aneurysm ruptured, Dave and I have come in contact with hundreds of families effected by brain aneurysms not only in Maine but throughout the country. Although some friendships and communications have varied in frequency as they have weaved their way through our lives over the years, their stories remain with us.

We shared last nights annual Dance for Brain Aneurysm Awareness fundraising event with many of those families. Today, I am reflecting on just how vast the brain aneurysm community is. Not only do Dave and I have contact with survivors and those who have lost a loved one, but we have met and become involved in the lives of their family members as well.

Learning how brain aneurysms effect an entire family is a part of OUR lives through the work we do with our group and each story effects us.

Last night I danced for the first time with a fellow survivor we’ve known for several years. He is a walking miracle. His recovery from a severe brain aneurysm rupture is remarkable. Learning to walk again, overcoming dramatic emotional struggles, and a memory pathway that is forever changed. I’m pretty sure I never stopped smiling while dancing with Dan for many reasons: he is a survivor, he is a fantastic dancer, and we have gotten to know his wife and young children. We know his life now. He is a part of our extended brain aneurysm family.

Everyone’s struggle is different, but the cause is not. Brain aneurysms can rip a family apart or bring it closer together. Dave and I have experienced both of those results with many of the people we have met and as a result we also begin to care and worry about their family members. We now know their children, their siblings, their grandchildren, their parents, their co-workers, and even their pets.

Some people have a massive amount of support from family and friends while other’s are not as fortunate. We hope those who don’t have that larger support system feel a sense of community and encouragement when spending time with others at our events. It’s vital we show them they’re not alone in their struggles.

With relatively new “family” member and brain aneurysm survivor, Carol.

The date of our annual Dance for Awareness is not by accident. The birthdays of two young women lost to ruptured brain aneurysms fall around this time: Kim Tudor, Dave’s niece, and Karolina Kurka.

Karolina’s family, during a time of intense grieving, came to our walk only a few weeks after losing Karolina. Since then, their family has joined ours in raising awareness and bringing their friends and extended family into the fold.

Each year after the dance, a small, solemn, informal ceremony takes places outside in the parking lot. A release of balloons, in the colors we use to represent Kim and Karolina, are released to the night sky into the heavens to honor them both on their birthdays. Some years it’s a small group, other years, it’s a larger group, but it’s always meaningful to the family and friends of these two young girls taken far too soon. This year, Kim’s mom Nancy, and Karo’s mom Mira, released the balloons.

One shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate the lives of those lost. It is very easy to let the tragedy and grief of their deaths overshadow the joy of the years we DID have with them.

I thank all of the families of those we have met over the years for inadvertently reminding me that it’s okay to remember the family members I have lost. It’s okay to celebrate their lives through OUR lives and it’s okay to allow someone else to love you and support you. THANK YOU!

A Needed Break

Dave and I are always thinking….thinking about brain aneurysms. They have been a part of our daily lives since 2006. We raise money, we produce print pieces, Dave creates banners and maintains all of our Facebook posts. I do Instagram and Twitter posts and maintain the website. We help with the monthly support group and we’re always trying to raise awareness for brain aneurysms.

So,  it was odd when after our first real vacation in five years, I realized that we never discussed brain aneurysms in that three week period. I think the only time I thought about my aneurysms was on the flights, but for the most part…it was a three-week break from brain aneurysms.

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At a beautiful waterfall in Scotland

It was a very welcome break and one we needed to recharge and discover the world outside of our little Maine bubble. And we loved it! It wasn’t until the last week of the trip we even turned on a TV and it wasn’t to a news channel but local UK home & garden programming.

Because we were gone last month, we missed last month’s brain aneurysm support group meeting. Tonight we attended as usual and welcomed some new faces. I’m again reminded at the important work we are doing. And I’m also reminded that what’s most important to us (Dave and I) is the human contact and helping others…not the money. Yes, the money is important and it’s helping to fund important research, pay for event costs, and student scholarships, but it’s that one-on-one support and comfort we can give to others that is certainly the most rewarding.

The break was great and it was needed, but I’m pleased with how Dave and I are spending a good deal of our time…helping others when and where we can.

I Hope You Dance

Our 6th annual Dance for Brain Aneurysm Awareness was held last night. Thankfully, we dodged a bullet with all of the snow storms around us and a cold, but clear night greeted the guests at the legion hall in Westbrook, Maine.

For the first time, we held a “theme” dance and this year the choice was an 80’s theme. Some of the 80’s-inspired outfits were truly fun and brought back a lot of memories for me in my 20’s. Yes, I’m aging myself there.

As people started to filter in, the drinks started to flow, the music started to pick up, and the money jumped out of people’s hands. The numbers haven’t been tallied yet, but we feel there was a great turnout and that a lot of money was raised to go towards education, awareness, and other brain aneurysm events. Granted, we’d still like to get some education and awareness out there, but it’s truly not the perfect event for that kind of interaction. Most of the people are there because they know someone who has been affected by brain aneurysms, and that’s enough for us.

I can only do so much helping to setup and I’m horrible with math and money so I leave that up to the experts.  As a result, I don’t feel very “needed” during this event and the loud music & flashing lights from the DJ doesn’t lend itself to in-depth conversations at the tables. It’s all about the drinking and dancing. I’m just a survivor.

Dancing to a good song is something I love to do and this is basically the only time of the year I do it. The last few years I have only danced to one or two songs throughout the evening. Usually it’s Bruno Mars…I just can’t sit when Uptown Funk is played.

I have taken photographs the last couple of years during the event and try to take photos of people at the tables and on the dance floor. Our committe member LeRay is a 40+ year brain aneurysm survivor and I caught her dancing with fellow committe member, Mira, who lost her daughter Karolina to a ruptured brain aneurysm. It was a poignant  reflection of the evening to see these two dancing hand in hand in the middle of a circle of friends and family.

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Mira & LeRay Dancing

As I was smiling and enjoying watching LeRay dance, a woman I didn’t know came up beside me to indicate she hopes her family drags HER up on the dance floor when she is LeRay’s age. I smiled and said “I hope so to!” And meant it. Then my own story caught up with me.

Perhaps it was the nostalgia of the evening with the music and outfits, but I was hit by a wave of emotion as I thought about my own story and how I loved to dance with my sisters and my mother. Pain ripped through my heart and the tears started to form as I remembered I’d never get to dance with my mom and sisters again…until I meet them again.

Thankfully everyone seemed to be ON the dance floor at that moment so I made my way through the crowd with my camera in hand to get some air. Dave caught sight of me as I was struggling and I tried to tell him what had happened. I’m not sure I did a very good job of explaining and know that there wasn’t much he could say to me at that moment to make me feel better, but he gave me a strong hug and asked if I was going to be okay. I said yes, but knew I just needed to get out of the building for a bit and get some fresh air, which I did.

Breathing in that fresh, Maine winter air was a welcome respite and I was soon joined outside by Rob Kurka, whose mother MIra was just dancing with LeRay. Rob knows the pain of losing a sister (Karolina) to a brain aneurysm as well and he was kind enough to listen and agree with me that it just “sucks”. We also agreed that people who complain about really, really minor things that don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of life, are truly annoying. LOL I almost think Kim and Karolina sent Rob (and perhaps myself) outside for us to have that moment together. Then I went and screwed it all up by asking him a personal/political/military question. I’ll blame the beer.

I went back inside and was then pulled on to the dance floor by a stranger. It was fun dancing with him and I was grateful he insisted. I’m grateful and blessed to be here TO dance. I’m grateful we have our small group here in Maine to bring awareness and educate people about brain aneurysms, and I’m grateful for those who put in so much work gathering silent auction items, selling tickets, setting up chairs & tables, bartending, DJing, and buying food for the dance. I think everyone had a great time!

Even though I suffered an emotional lapse, I know there are many angels watching over me and that they were dancing with me…even when I was dancing all by myself.

”Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance, I hope you dance.”

Lyrics “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack

Dancing at my wedding.
My sisters and I dancing at my wedding.

Seize The Day?

The Latin saying Carpe diem means seize the day or live each day to the fullest.

Do I Carpe diem? If I’m honest, no I don’t. Being a double brain aneurysm survivor, I SHOULD seize each day, but I don’t. Am I grateful? Of course, I am.  Do I wake up each morning and think “I am so grateful and blessed to be here”? No, I do not. I should…but I don’t. And those people who say they DO wake up each morning and actually think about how blessed they are, the skeptic in me thinks, “Really?”

MY first thoughts every morning are that I’m very tired, or my back or head aches, or that I slept far too long on my left side, which is a bad thing because of where my craniotomy is. No, my first thought usually isn’t how grateful I am.

I wish I could live each day to it’s fullest and feel grateful every day. Although I am one of the fortunate ones who still can, I need to work to pay the bills and secure good health insurance. I think more about those things. And I do more work than Carping that diem.

What I DO think about every day is brain aneurysms. How can I not? I think about my own aneurysms and the issues I still face. I think about the paths people’s lives, not just mine, have been forced to take as a result of brain aneurysms.

The parents who has lost a child. The husband who has lost a wife. The child who has lost a mother.  All of those people I have met and they are a part of my life now due to our shared experiences of losing a loved one to a brain aneurysm.

Brain aneurysm survivors are also a part of my life. We share a bond. We share our fears. We share our frustrations and scars with one another.

I’m not crazy about the month of October, so I’m always happy when I make it through the month. It’s VERY stressful at work in October and my family history has many sad occasions and memories that have happened in October. I suppose I should be grateful the month goes by in a snap…suddenly it’s November. It’s cold. All of the colorful leaves have fallen off the trees. One of these years, I WILL get to the mountains of Maine, stay in a hill-top cabin and view the fall foliage. Something I have yet to do since moving here in 2000.

September is the month when I FEEL the most grateful for being alive and being able to share my brain aneurysm story and help anyone I can. It’s the month chosen for our annual walk and run to honor the lives of two beautiful young women taken far too soon by ruptured brain aneurysms.

Then that pesky cynic within me thinks…I’m pretty sure no one I know would have organized a walk or run in MY honor. That’s how loved and adored these two young women were and how many friends they had. I couldn’t even get one person to visit me at home during both of my recovery periods….which were 6 and 3 months respectively. Yeah…I’m pretty sure I would have still remained just part of the statistics had I not survived. Which makes MY survival even more difficult to take. Why did these two young, vibrant, popular women have to die and I’m still here? I guess it’s to share my story and theirs. Lucky me? I’m grateful? Yeah…sometime’s it’s very difficult to feel that.

BEING grateful every day is a given in my case. If I wake up…yeah, that’s good! FEELING grateful is a whole other animal and it hits me at moments, rather than an every day thought.

I remember feeling grateful at the end of October when my devoted husband and I pulled into the driveway after two weeks in the hospital after my rupture in 2006. Although I wouldn’t return to work for another six months, it was a relief to be home. I was grateful to see the inside of the house I had come to love and to pet my kitty cats again.

I was overcome with emotion that following spring when I walked out to my garden for the first time and it hit me that things were starting to come alive again, as they do every year and that I was grateful, lucky, and blessed to be able to see my garden again. To smell the wet soil. Feel the wind on my face. Yes….I WAS grateful and very emotional as a result. It could have all ended in early October for me.

I feel grateful every September during our annual photograph of brain aneurysm survivors at the KAT-Walk & Karo-5k. I am grateful to be alive and to share this photo with other survivors from all over the state of Maine, New England and the country. I FEEL those moments tremendously.

It’s far too easy to assume someone who survived a life-threatening illness or medical emergency is grateful and lives each day to the fullest. Many don’t have the luxury to do so. Many have such horrible deficits that just living each hour is a struggle. Do they have time or the capacity to even THINK about being grateful? I doubt it.

Without even knowing it, I do believe I am grateful on a daily basis. I can rattle off a list of the things I am grateful for. It’s that seizing the day thing I still have to work on. I’m very tired.