What I’ve Learned in 530 Days

Last Sunday, Paul and I took a lovely walk to Durham’s Central Park to gorge ourselves on the city’s finest food trucks. After chowing down on Humble Pig, Sweet Traditions, and Only Burger, we took a stroll up the street and purchased what we realized were the first picture frames for our new house.

We signed the closing statements on September 28th.


On the walk home, we talked about how much we love our house – adore it, really. And, how everything we knew before we bought our house was irrevocably changed the day we closed. The day my dad suffered the massive stroke that would lead to his death.

You see, I didn’t start this blog to chronicle my grief. I thought I had done a pretty good job of that on the Caring Bridge site I kept up for my dad. I shared my experiences long after his death, as writing has always been a good way for me to cope with things.

No, of course I started this blog to share my experience recovering from a traumatic brain injury and the myriad results – namely, of course aphasia and verbal apraxia. And yet, as evidenced by my last post, the further away I moved from the acute recovery process, the more I was forced to deal with the evolution of my grief.

For the past year and a half, Paul and I have spent more hours than I can count driving back and forth to Cherry Grove. This past November, we helped my mom to purchase a house much closer to us, which was a much-needed change. However, moving her meant it was time to face what I long been dreading – cleaning out and listing her house. Their house.

And so for the past couple of months, Paul and I have been continuing our life interrupted. Lately, we’ve been pulling all day trips, driving down and coming back the same night just to have  a full weekend day in our own house. Thus, the lovely Sunday we enjoyed last weekend.

As mentally (and physically) taxing as these trips to work on the house are, we have carved out our own routine. Leave early Saturday, get breakfast from Chick-Fil-A and coffee from Starbucks. Work, re-up on the coffee from the North Myrtle Beach Starbucks, turn around, and head back home. I can think of a hundred over things I would rather be doing with my Saturday after working all week, but it is our routine, and we try to glean some hope out of each trip, because each trip is one step closer to getting the house listed. And, maybe then, the beach will be “fun” again.

But it’s hard. Hard to face the reality of cleaning out a house filled with memories. And I always leave feeling emotionally drained, like my soul has been poured out.

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The upstairs office in our home has held a rotating plethora of papers, records, notebooks, pictures, and other items from the station and house. It is surreal walking in and seeing several copies of my dad’s death certificate on the bookshelf. Dying is a complicated process, both mentally – and legally, apparently.

I know that I am digressing here, but you see, I don’t know how many times I have told Paul that I would take my injury all over again if I could have my dad back. And I’ve thought to myself, wow. That is really saying something.

But then again, I was lucky, and we know how this has ended up. I didn’t die. I survived, and I am still making progress.

And so I thought again, maybe the purpose of this blog was never about chronicling my grief, but in a way, this recovery process has been much like my experience grieving for my father.

Recovery is not neat. It’s neither simple nor linear. And I say that being someone who has been incredibly lucky, because although I may always have some speech impairment, I am healthy. To look at me, you would never know I spent hours in surgery have pieces of my skull removed from my brain. You would never know I still can’t feel my right arm 100 percent, because it moves just fine.

I’ve always been someone who enjoys order and having a clear process for everything. And recovery is not that easy, even when you’re lucky. Frequently, you take two steps forward and a giant step back. Additionally, there comes a point in which you have to face the fact that you may never be the same person you were before. Even if it’s just in small ways. You will always know it – and that’s just part of the process.

Grief, I’ve found, is much the same. Time does, in fact, cause the acute shock and despair of loss to become somewhat easier to bear. It does not, however, prevent you from breaking down in tears when you find an old Father’s Day card he kept or notes he wrote and left around the house to remind your mom to take her medicine. In the end, even with the kind of healing only time can promise, you are still left to face a life without that person.

In a way, then, recovery and grief both boil down to the choice we have to make – to accept this new reality and proceed with doing the best we can making do. No, not just making do. Making a life – one that is bittersweet but still filled with promise.

Because you are alive.