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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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


The Good, The Bad, and The Tired

Tonight was my first time back to our brain aneurysm support group meeting since probably last September, possibly August. During catalog season I’m always working late and far too tired to go anywhere during the week. Ironically, fatigue and memory is a common theme at many of our meetings as it was tonight.

As always, it was good to see returning faces and I missed a few who weren’t there. We’re getting a nice “core” of survivors, care-givers, and those who have lost loved ones. The support is always there and we all try to listen to each other’s stories and offer validation for feelings and emotions that only those who have gone through the same thing can appreciate.

Unfortunately, I’ve had the brain aneurysm double-whammy; I myself, have suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm, and I have lost two loved ones to ruptures. I’ve seen both sides of the caregiving aspect, or those left behind, and I’ve also been a part of the survival and recovery part. Each part has struggles and pain.

Tonight, a father shared the story of the night his adult son’s brain aneurysm ruptured. It was a violent rupture and if he had been home alone, he would not have survived. His wife was able to revive him briefly – twice. He survived surgeries and a little bit of rehab and multiple rounds of different medications. He was at our meeting tonight while his father described the night it all happened to us. Even though his short-term memory has basically been lost, he cannot work or drive, and his family continues to endure a level of frustration and pain I cannot even begin to understand for several years now. But he IS alive, walking, talking, and able to function in some capacity.

Hearing a caregiver, and a father, talk about what happened that night, was difficult for me. My sister and Dave’s niece went through very similar experiences….or we can assume. My mind immediately raced to Dori’s rupture and how she lost consciousness on Mother’s Day and her husband was able to revive her while their 15-year old son called 911. But by that point it was too late. The damage from the rupture had already been done.

Then I thought about Kim, who was home alone when her rupture occurred. I can only hope and pray it was quick, but I also always wonder if someone had been there and found her sooner, if she’d be here today and if she were, what kind of life would she be living. The severity of her rupture and the location of it, leads me to believe Kim would not be the same person if she had survived. The same can be said for Dori.

We witnessed tonight the amazement in seeing a survivor of such a devastating rupture, but also the heart-wrenching pain in knowing their loved one will never be the same. That they can no long take care of themselves or their children. That they need major supervision. That they need to be reminded of things on an hourly basis to get through the day…yes, they DID survive, but in a sad way, they’re only a shell of the person they once were.

Is it only by the grace of God, that I am here today? Why did I survive and they did not? Why did I survive with very few deficits when others have continued issues and pain, even years after their ruptures?

I don’t like it when I come away from one of our meetings with these kind of questions. I should just be grateful and keep my mouth shut and never complain about anything, ever again. I AM one of the lucky ones…or one of the chosen ones…or just a person who was in the right place at the right time, with the right set of doctors. Fate? I don’t know.

I suppose those are all questions that will have to remain unanswered. Kind of like “Why doesn’t Fred Flinstone have horribly bloody feet when he has to stop his rock car with his heels?” Why? Why?

Too Many “Firsts”

As the holidays descend on me, it’s another group of those dreaded “firsts”:

  • The first Thanksgiving without my mom and my other sister.
  • The first Christmas without my mom and my other sister.
  • My first birthday without my mom and my other sister.

Unfortunately, I’m no stranger to those “firsts” after losing a loved one, but it never gets any easier and it’s always a struggle to know how to behave during festive times when you’re dealing with loss. Each loss has provided me with another new chapter or phase that one must get through. Yes, I’m tired of it. Enough, God! I’m tired. Give me a break.

I’m thankful we drove to NY last year for my 50th birthday and for Christmas. As it turned out, it was the last time I saw both my sister and my mother. I’ll be thinking about that this Christmas. It will make me sad and I’ll probably not look at the photographs we took last year for some time.

My wedding photos have been difficult to look at since the death of my sister Dori in 2012, but now my other sister Rhonda and my mother will be two more “ghosts” that will haunt me when I look at the photos. I know that’s the wrong way to think of it, but they make me sad. I wonder how long it will take me to look at those photos and not be sad. It was such an incredibly fun day and we all had such a fantastic time.

I don’t have a group of friends who come and visit me and check on me and take me out for fun things to do. I don’t have close friends who make me wonderful comfort food when I’m having a hard time. As it has been since we lost Dave’s niece in 2008, it’s just Dave and I here on the stream. We rely on ourselves to be each other’s rocks and it’s a hard burden to bear for both of us. How much can we say to each other after each loss? We do the best we can and we take strength from each day we’re here to spread the word about brain aneurysms. We have to. It’s all we can do to truly honor Kim and Dori’s memory – trying to save another life.

I’m tired of planning services. I’m tired of losing the people I love and I’m tired of grieving…and yet, I have more to do yet. Granted, I haven’t spent every Christmas with my mom since I moved to Maine in 2000, but we have made it back to NY every couple of years to spend the holiday with her. I miss her voice. I miss her laugh and her wacky sense of humor. She’s irreplaceable and I knew the day would come when we’d have to say “good-bye”, but I hadn’t expected it when it happened. Grieving can suck the life out of you, but I have more life to give apparently and God keeps testing me. I wish he’d stop…I’m good! Really! Oh, and by the way, while we’re at it God, my own brain aneurysm angiogram checkup in January needs a clean bill of health, okay?

So, this Christmas I haven’t decided yet if I’ll put up our Christmas tree. I love Christmas. I love Christmas carols. I have listened to carols for a few weeks already, which was a big no-no in our household growing up! Mom refused to let us play Christmas carols on the piano until after Thanksgiving. The only exceptions was music we had to rehearse for band concerts because we usually started rehearsing those earlier in November. Rhonda played clarinet, Dori the saxophone, and I played the clarinet and piano. I supposed I love listening because they’re familiar, comforting tunes and I know all of the words. 🙂

I remember we couldn’t WAIT to get the Christmas books out after Thanksgiving. I found one of those old piano books at mom’s apartment in NY. I may pull out the electric keyboard and see if I’m still able to tickle the fake ivories in honor of my mom. We’ll see. I think I want decorations, I just want to take the time and effort to do it. LOL I need those Martha Stewart elves to come in and beautify my house for Christmas.

One extremely sentimental item I WILL be placing out somewhere, are the old manger pieces from the manger we had growing up. The physical manger is long gone, but the ceramic pieces that went in it have been securely wrapped in newspaper every year since I was born I think. They were even in the original box in my mom’s apartment, which blew me away. Putting out the baby Jesus was something mom always made a big production of. We HAD to put him in the manger last and could not unwrap him from the newspaper until everyone else was in their proper positions.

So, perhaps this year, in honor of mom and Rhonda, I’ll put up the manger, I’ll pause to position the baby Jesus just so in the middle of the manger, and try to be happy and smile. And I should also take a note from the Moms Eulogy FINAL (<–PDF) and read at my mother’s service and “Have Fun!”. I’ll try…I’m trying.