Thanksgiving, Every Day

A short pre-Thanksgiving story for you…

In early August, I began planning a secret surprise for Paul. At the time, I was approaching my second surgery, and Paul was approaching his 30th birthday.

Over the summer, I had a lot of time to think. I spent entirely too much time on the couch, watching too much of the Bravo channel and feeling fairly useless. I kept a daily list of things to do, and I felt pretty accomplished just driving to speech and navigating the UNC Hospitals parking deck.

Almost six months out now, I owe my recovery to many different people – the staff at NCTRC, the first responders, the doctors and surgeons, my therapists, family and friends. It would be impossible to name every person who has played a part in my recovery. But one thing is for sure, I couldn’t have done this at all without Paul.

So in early August, as the world sweltered and everyone else went about their summer, I started to plan a surprise vow renewal for me and Paul.

Now, it seems a little odd, I know, since October 31st was only our third wedding anniversary. Yet, it was the best way I could think of to thank Paul for the absolute loyalty to our vows that he has shown me thus far. Last October after I lost my dad, I was a complete mess. I was a sack of misery, going about my daily routine but not good for much else. Paul stepped up and started fixing things – the estate, the business, the finances, and whatever else needed to be done.

Eight months later, I was injured. Once again, Paul stepped up. He never left my side in the hospital. He cared for me. He also drove me crazy – there was a while there where I wasn’t even allowed to walk up and down the stairs alone (a stubborn, independent girl’s worst nightmare). But he once again took to fixing things.

You know, come to think of it, he reminded me a lot of my dad. Always the fixer, absorbing way too much stress because he could and because he cared. It’s the kind of man he was.

It was not without a toll. When you’ve been to Hell and back, you walk a treacherous road because you know how to really hurt someone – when you share experiences like this, you know what words can cut deep, can really hurt. We had been through more in three years than we ever expected. It was time for a renewal.

I contacted the minister who led our wedding, and she graciously agreed to help lead the renewal. I chose to have it on October 13th. You see, I spent October 13th last year at the hospital with my dad, where I said goodbye. I wanted to create a new memory this year.

I somehow managed to keep the secret from Paul for two months, which in and of itself is a small miracle. I’m a horrible liar, and so I just tried to keep my mouth shut (which, you know, wasn’t hard to do at first). And on October 13th, I surprised Paul by taking him to the same rose garden in Chapel Hill where he proposed four years ago. Under that same gazebo, we renewed our vows along with a couple of close friends and our parents, with my dad joining us via picture. Our ring bearer, sweet old dog Dixie, who left us (after 18 years!) not long after our wedding, also joined via picture.

I practiced my new vows, which I worked on at home whenever Paul was out of the room, for a month in speech therapy. The first time, I could barely make it though. But that day, I was able to speak loudly and clearly. My being able to say those vows was a testament to how much both Paul and I have overcome, not only over the last few months but really, the entire year. I couldn’t think of a better to tell Paul “thank you” for everything he has done for me and my mom.

I’d like to tell you all that since the vow renewal, we’ve been riding off into the sunset every night. That things have been perfect. But you and I would both know that’s not how life works. We don’t live in the movies. It’s our job to navigate life the best we can, and we frequently make mistakes.

But, the eve before Thanksgiving, I just thought I’d share my story of thanks with you all.

vows

I don’t need a specific day to be thankful. I feel it every day.

(Though I am extra happy to celebrate with some cranberry sauce!)

The Simplicity of Being Nice

When I was in high school, I used to want to be a journalist. I had fun imagining myself writing for Newsweek while it was still a heavyweight in the field of journalism – back before the advent of crazy things like social media and the slow, depressing death of print media. I wanted to travel and write about important things. I wanted to write stories that would impact people.

I ended up at Carolina because of journalism. My sophomore English teacher happened to mention that Carolina had a competitive journalism program, and it was right here in-state! I never even looked at another college. In fact, I never even visited UNC. I just applied for early admission, got in, and went.

While the time I spent at UNC was one of the best times of my life, clearly, things ended up differently for me. I found the Rehabilitation Counseling Program at UNC a couple of years after leaving undergrad, when my dreams of writing full time fizzled with the aforementioned slow death of print journalism. And, I had slowly been nursing the spark that had long since been ignited – the desire to help people with disabilities live their lives as people first, not as a “disabled” person.

Certainly, after my own experience with TBI, I have had plenty of time to think. It’s funny though, because the intense recent coverage of the Philippines typhoon made me think back to my original dreams of being a journalist and just much we can change. Now, nothing seems more odd to me than watching coverage of such devastating events, with a reporter broadcasting live, dressed in clean clothes – likely with a bottle of water and a warm place to stay after she’s done.

I’m not saying it’s the reporter’s fault. But, the thing is, she gets to go home. The people she’s reporting on don’t – they’re already home, and their entire city has been destroyed.

I think that’s the thing about the news. Every day, we hear another horror story. And the thing is, we all get to go “home” when we turn off the TV or the computer. Everyone is dealing with their own tragedy or hardship of some sort, and I guess that’s the important thing to remember.

Know that no matter what you’re dealing with, someone else is going through something, too. Now, that’s not meant to diminish our own “stuff.” It’s just that, we as humans can get pretty selfish – I know I can be. And it’s about keeping things in perspective. You don’t know what the past year has been like for my family. But then again, I probably don’t know what it’s been like for you, either.

I think all this is just meant to serve as a reminder.

Be nice.

Man, I used to get so annoyed when my mom would tell me that when I was little and misbehaving. But it’s so true. We have a lot of things to do in this life – some things we don’t necessarily want to do all the time (who exactly invented working for 45+ years of our lives?!) and lots of things we love to do. And sometimes we get lucky in life and sometimes we get screwed, but it usually balances out. Of anything, the most important thing we can do is just be a decent person and try to be nice.

My injury has taught me many things. It’s shown me the good and the bad in people, the flaws and the positives in how we care for people, and the inner resolve that’s so important to making a good recovery. And yet, the most important thing was also the most simple – we all know that life can be unpredictable and fleeting, yet how many of us (myself included) really live our lives that way? What would have really mattered to me if I had not been so lucky to survive last June 4th? Many, many things to think about.

I never started this blog with the intention of “preaching” anything – the goal has always been just to share my own thoughts and experiences post-TBI. I have seen people posting on Facebook regarding “30 days of Thankfulness” in November, and I think it’s a good thing to think about.

But, I can’t forget about the other 335 days of the year I’ve been given.

Heads or Tails

Allow me to “geek out” for a minute.

No, I don’t have a comic book collection. I DO love my MacBook.  And I love the Batman movies. But really only the Christopher Nolan trilogy.

Maybe that makes me more of a semi-nerd?

At any rate, I really loved Nolan’s take on Batman – if you’ve watched any of his other films, they pretty much all have this tinge of darkness. Batman became more than just a figure leaping around with colorful balloons announcing every fight with a “POW” or “BAM”!

He became a man, and the evils he dealt with–with some artistic license—were real people.

Sure, it’s easy to put the monsters away at night when they’re not real. But, it’s a lot harder to put your mind at ease when you understand that our greatest enemy is usually each other – and sometimes, ourselves.

Ironically, in the Dark Knight, one such enemy was Harvey Dent. His transformation from good to “evil” was quite literal as he became Harvey Two-Face. Now, if you’re not a big Batman fan or haven’t seen the Dark Knight, bear with me here. I do have a point.

You see, Dent worked to pursue the “bad guy” for most of the movie, until he and his love, Rachel (I’ll spare you the other geeky details) were captured by the Joker’s henchman and taken to two separate buildings, each filled with oil and an explosive device set to explode in a matter of minutes.

The Joker’s idea was to make Batman choose between love (Rachel) and the goodness that Dent represented for the city at the time – the hope of a new beginning and a life without crime (or at least, less) in Gotham. The Joker was certain that Batman would follow his heart over his brain.

But, he didn’t. And Dent was rescued, but not before he suffered from serious burns to his face (really, how was he still alive? Anyone?).

The former “white knight” of Gotham became an embittered, vindictive man instead. He didn’t understand why he had to live and Rachel didn’t, and he was suffering – the “greater good” was lost on him in the face of his own loss. And so, he sought to make other people suffer.

During a life changing tragedy, we are all faced with a choice. Dent chose to act out the anger and suffering he felt at his injury and his loss by opting to take vengeance on others he felt were responsible. And of course, I am talking about a movie here. But to Dent, there was only one choice, one path on which to proceed.

Any time we endure a life changing event such as a serious injury or a loss, as I wrote about before, we face a choice. No, I don’t mean to imply that choice is simple and easy, but in reality, it’s true – we face a choice between moving on and making the best of what we have or allowing ourselves to become angry and mired in bitterness. Again, I’m not saying that choosing to move on automatically means you will no longer feel angry that this happened to you or that the path won’t be tough. But, we do have a choice in how we approach things going forward.

I always tend to relate these topics back to my own loss (both in my injury and my father), because that’s personal to me. I strongly believe we always, always have a choice in how we proceed with things. Even then, we don’t always choose the right path, but it’s there, and we always have a chance to get back on it.

Choosing to go forward and accept what has happened (whatever that may be) requires a degree of resilience, and some people have more than others. Yet, it also requires support. Resilience is vital, yes, but I don’t believe that the majority of people want to end up feeling angry and bitter for the rest of their lives. Maybe they just lack the resources and support to know how to best move forward. Or it’s possible they just don’t know how to access them.

Recovering and moving on from a loss, an injury, a disability or other life-changing event requires work. We can’t just make the choice to be free of our feelings, gather them up and release the tether like a balloon. But we can learn how to slowly deflate it. What are we doing to ensure that others have the same tools?

This blog is my balloon – every time I post, I release a few more through my words. And that’s helpful for me to process everything has happened to me. And I hope in some way, it’s helpful for others. I’ll never be a superhero, but that’s okay. I’ll make my own luck.