The Weight

In mid-November, just as I was emerging from the first trimester fog (otherwise known as “Jenni feels like a zombie every day”), I flew to Colorado for the annual American Speech and Hearing Association conference. It was the first time I attended, and it was an overwhelming blur of learning opportunities for me. I also led an hour long presentation on my case study – we shared what we’ve learned so far based on my experience in recovery from apraxia and how this fits in with the current research. I spent most of the week just trying to soak everything in.

Flying into and out of Colorado, I was a little surprised at how bland the landscape was. I was expecting a vista of majestic, snow-capped peaks to stare at while I squirmed uncomfortably in my window seat–avoiding thinking about the fact that I had to pee seemingly every five seconds. Yes, the joys of pregnancy are true (by the way, the snow-capped peaks didn’t show up until we were close to landing in Colorado, but they were, in fact, grand).

I do a lot of thinking on planes because I can’t ever seem to sleep on them. I was happy to head home, and flying back to Raleigh, I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the area really is from the air. The trees were on fire with the colors of fall, and it always makes me a little sad that the fall leaves are so fleeting. My thoughts were wandering back to some time warp, as they tend to do, and I was thinking about the little fake plastic trees my dad used to have set up around his Lionel train set. From the air, the trees below looked just the same, and this sort of perspective made me oddly nostalgic. I knew that once I returned home, I would have to sort through all the vintage train sets littering our office–one of the last vestiges of cleaning out my parents’ house last year that we hadn’t gotten around to dispersing yet.

A couple of weeks after I returned from ASHA, I did just that. Paul loaded my car down with boxes of trains, and I drove to a little niche toy train store in Raleigh to see if they were interested. I stood there in this cramped little shop and couldn’t help but think how my dad would have loved to look around. Did you know they have not just miniature people to decorate your train set, they also come in sets with very odd themes, like “Disaster waiting to happen…” I kid you not.

The train store ended up buying all the trains, and I walked out with a much lighter car but also with a heavier heart. Since my dad died, I have had to give away, throw away, sell or otherwise get rid of more things than I can count. Things that I used to hold on to became mostly just objects, and while it’s freeing to rid oneself of extraneous material things, it’s still also hard to say goodbye.

I have become very good at saying goodbye.

That being said, in the past year, I have shed a lot of emotional weight this way (perhaps now to compensate for the increasing size of my midline?). Recently, Paul and I were walking the dogs, and he asked whether I would go back and change having had my accident.

Given that we all know how this story ends up now, it was hard to give an unbiased answer. But I said no. I would be kicked 20 more times and go through every part again if it meant that I could bring my dad back, but obviously this isn’t possible. Still, I wouldn’t change anything that happened because for the first time, I feel like I have a clear purpose.

Soon after my dad died in 2012, I found myself wanting to make some sort of change in my life, but I couldn’t identify what that might be. Since my accident, my path toward research in the speech field has been made clear. It’s gratifying to have a sense of direction. Now I just have to get myself there, and I am doing everything I can.

When I wrote my last post, I had just begun my application to a Speech and Hearing PhD program, though I didn’t share this.

I had also just found out that I am pregnant. Now as I type, I have submitted my application, and I am over 20 weeks along. Half way (let’s talk about how frightening and awesome this is in a later post)! I have felt every day like I should be knocking on wood – that I can’t be too excited about these exceedingly good things happening, because something bad could happen in turn. Right? But that’s no way to live. I’d like to think that these good things are balancing out the past three years, but that’s not really how life works.

I’m just rolling with it, aware of what has been lost and also of what I have and have to look forward to still. As my old internship supervisor said, you can’t control the waves, but you can control how you surf them.

I’m strapping on my board for 2016.





Two Lines

There is this hill on my typical running route that always gets me, no matter how many times I scale it. Some days I can tackle it with a little more enthusiasm, and other days leave me huffing and puffing with a stream of expletives running through my head. A lot of the time, I just put my head down and focus on keeping one foot in front of the other.

I guess the irony is not lost on me – that is how I have mostly approached the last (almost) three years. After my dad died, it was literally all I could do mentally to function, and a lot of the time, it was more about getting through the next five minutes without having a breakdown. Eventually, the minutes became hours, then days. Not that I didn’t think about him all the time, but I was better able to look at the big picture–the good times, the memories–than just keeping my head down and focusing on my emotional survival.

My recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury has been much the same way. I wasn’t scared to look up toward the top of the hill–to set goals for my recovery–but I often had to focus on the smaller chunks of recovery. And many times, I had to re-set and adjust my goals along the way. I had to be flexible, which hasn’t always been my forte.

Recently, we took what may be our last trip down to the beach for the foreseeable future, as we finally sold my family’s condo there – the last vestige of our presence there. It was bittersweet saying goodbye, and for a long time, I didn’t want to believe that that chapter was finally closing. I worried that by leaving the beach behind, I would be losing a piece of my dad. I gradually came to understand, though, that it was never the beach itself that mattered – we could have gone anywhere. It was the memories we made together as a family. And while I can’t take the ocean with me, I will always hold the memories we made there in my heart.

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And I said goodbye, for now, to the beach.

I had no idea, though, that less than a month later, Paul and I would be writing another new chapter in our lives.

I am going to be honest.

A baby is something that I have always wanted, but not until the last couple of years did my desire to have one really materialize. Once we finally started trying, everything else happened. I lost my dad. We helped my mom move up here. We dealt with the properties, the radio station, and ourselves. And then I got hurt. In the mean time, several good friends were blessed with children, and I was so very happy for them, truly.

But it was hard. I guess it sounds selfish, and I don’t intend for that – because I truly, truly was happy for my friends. It was just hard to want something so badly and not have it happen month after month. It wasn’t really something that I shared with many people. I know other women have gone (and are going) through the same emotions. It took me a long time to realize that it was completely okay to want something to go right.

Still, this past Wednesday morning, I wasn’t expecting this:


I probably shouldn’t repeat the exact words running through my head at the time. I was just in total disbelief. I still am.

Wednesday’s blood test confirmed it, and today’s blood test showed everything is on track so far.

As you can probably guess, it’s very early on. So why am I sharing? A lot of women wait until their second trimester. I just couldn’t. I understand that there is always a chance of something happening, but I have determined that I can’t live the next two months full of anxiety and “what ifs.” I have to live the life that I have today, and today I am thrilled and excited.

Through this blog, I have shared the ups and downs of my recovery from grief and TBI, and here I am. I am so excited to share this now.

I don’t have a due date yet – that will come in a few weeks with the ultrasound. But it’s looking like May. Again, the irony isn’t lost on me – my dad was born on May 8. While I am devastated that he won’t be physically here to meet his grandchild, I always carry him in my heart and can’t wait to tell our child all about him. I am grateful that I have my mom, Paul’s parents, and kind and understanding friends.

I am ready for this new chapter and can’t wait to share it.

Two Years from 23,000 Feet

Tomorrow marks two years since my accident.

In my mind, it’s last Saturday afternoon, and I’m on the first of three flights, flying from Monterey, California, to Los Angeles. Miraculously, I have the row to myself (I use the term “row” loosely, since the plane was so small – a trip to the bathroom resulted in contortions). I also have a window seat, which I treasure. Some people are terrified of heights and so they keep the window shades pulled down tight. While I try not to think about the fact that we are hurtling through the air in what is essentially a tin can, I get a sense of comfort from looking at the earth below. It makes me feel very present.

The scenery from Monterey to LA was dotted with mountains and cloaked in fog. We flew down the coast, but it was impossible at times to discern the fog from the ocean. It was as though the fog just rolled right into the beach and beyond. The man behind me has been talking non-stop since we boarded. He seems to be unaware that speech is something to be preserved and conserved like water in the drought-stricken state we are passing over.

When I look at the earth below, I note its cracks and deep veins, as if the earth was literally being sucked dry despite being so close to the coast. Visualization has been a powerful tool in recovering my speech over the past two years, more from the perspective of “seeing” a new way of thinking about how to say a unique or complex word. Glancing at the rolling earth below, I think this must be the literal visualization of “arid.” I could almost see the word floating up through the air currents. I wondered if I could reach down and touch the earth below, would it blow away?

I think about the last five days, which I spent at my first Clinical Aphasiology Conference in Monterey.

I am avoiding finishing the last few pages of my book–like the last bite of a tasty dessert, I’m just not ready for the end–and so I take some time to let the past few days settle and absorb. I had been mentally preparing for this conference (and this trip) for months, and it was hard to admit that it was over, and I was coming home.

It was even harder to absorb where I am now compared to where I was two years ago.

I learned so much at the conference, which is a fairly intimate gathering of some of the top researchers in aphasia. I also had the pleasure of meeting some really lovely people. I am not certain I could adequately convey the impact that attending this conference had on me, both professionally and personally. Seeing data from my recovery presented to a group of clinical researchers and standing up to share a bit of my experience was invaluable to me. More than that, I hope that it is a inkling of work to be done and can help to further the field in some way. Because more than anything, what good does all the research in the world do if we can’t apply it and see it make a difference in someone’s life? What are we doing, then? I hope that my own recovery–understanding that we are all unique–gives even one person hope that there is something beyond those fragile first few months.

Ironically, my favorite memory from the conference was the evening that a group of us drove over to Carmel-By-The-Sea. It was chilly for late May, but there was something undeniably magic about the town. We walked on the beach and back up through town, stopping at the Cypress for dinner and drinks. Just having an intimate conversation with a group of lovely ladies, most of whom I had just met at the conference, was fantastic. To be able to sit and converse and relate on a personal level, isn’t that really what it’s all about? Two years ago, I had no promises that I would ever be able to do so again.

Some people who sustain a TBI suffer immeasurable changes in personality. While I am beyond grateful to say that that has not been the case with me, I would be untruthful if I said I hadn’t changed at all. But, for me, it’s been more of a slow evolution in the things that sustain me – the things that I value and treasure. Gradually, I have come to the realization, as I wrote in my last post, that I need to be more present. More appreciative of the mundane moments that make up life, because really – the moments that sweep you away  (whether in tragedy or joy) are few and far between compared to the everyday. Maybe it’s not that I have changed all that dramatically. I am still the same person, but to put it succinctly, maybe it’s just that I let myself feel more.

So I come full circle, back to the guy in the seat behind me, talking incessantly.

Maybe any other time I would be annoyed. However, reflecting on the then and now – I let myself be.

Some people are uncomfortable with silence. They will do anything to fill it. After having to think so hard about speaking after my accident, I became a lot more comfortable with silence. I accepted that sometimes it’s not what you say, but how you say it. Whether you say it in words or not.

Here’s to two years.

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Since my last update, life has been flowing along like a swiftly moving river. It may not always be the smoothest journey, but it’s always moving forward.

A few weeks ago, Paul and I witnessed a very cool thing.

Our house is nearly 100 years old and boasts a creaky front porch and lots of eaves and overhangs under the roof for a variety of wildlife, most of which is welcome (let’s not talk about our first year in the house and the squirrels who managed to find their way into our attic). Each spring, we watch the birds build new nests and monitor us carefully as we come and go.

This year, an American Robin made her nest under the overhang of our roof and settled in to commence brooding her eggs. As is typical for us, we had to come up with a nickname, and so we promptly named this bird Kevin, after the chocolate-loving bird in Up.

Kevin peered out at us skeptically each time we pulled into the driveway, but she hovered around the yard and enjoyed the free bird seed buffet we provided. Not long after, I noticed a few tiny beaks pop up – three tiny Kevin babies had hatched. I knew it wouldn’t be long until they climbed awkwardly from the nest and started testing out their wings, but I had never actually witnessed a bird learning to fly.

One Saturday, Paul and I were sitting on the couch watching a movie when Buster, our tuxedo cat (really, the Barney Stinson of cats), suddenly became quite interested in trying to poke his head through the window blinds. I opened the blinds and was surprised to see a mini Kevin perched atop one of our porch chairs. He was preening himself, tufts of tiny gray feathers sitting atop his head, as if he were a little old man. At times, he would raise one of his wings, as if he was unsure of how he got there and had no clue how to extricate himself from the situation.

A few minutes later, Kevin flew down and alighted on the chair. She had a worm in her beak and seemed to be encouraging her offspring to make a move. Baby Kevin hobbled around awkwardly and eventually Kevin came over and gave him the worm, then took off for what I assumed to be more worm hunting.

In the meantime, Baby Kevin stayed put, looking quite confused. Kevin returned and looked at her baby, then proceeded to flap her wings. Baby Kevin began to imitate her. This went on for a while, with the baby attempting to copy Kevin, and with her returning every few minutes to encourage him with more flapping.

At this point, Paul and I weren’t certain how long this was going to continue, but we were way too invested in watching this baby fly to care. After a few more minutes, Baby Kevin suddenly took off.

Okay, so he flew a bit like a drunk toddler, but we didn’t care. Baby Kevin made it from the porch chair to my dad’s Japanese Maple tree in the front yard, and it was one of the coolest things I have ever witnessed. I kid you not.

I spend a lot of time at the computer for work, and I’m frequently on the phone both during and after work, either leading meetings or just zoning out on Facebook or looking at various random websites. Sometimes, I think about unplugging and trying to do a better job of just being present and enjoying life as it’s happening, not as I’m reading it happening.

For the few minutes that I watched this baby bird test out his wings, I was truly present and tuned into life as it happened. It may sound silly, but for me, it was a really eye opening experience and one that I will treasure thinking about. I am guilty of spending a lot of time thinking about the future and planning, which can be a good thing but can also cause me to feel like I’m not totally appreciating the moment as I’m in it.

As I approach the two year anniversary of my accident, I want to do a better job of appreciating the moment. The one benefit right after my accident was that I didn’t have anything else to focus on at the hospital other than putting one foot in front of the other. As I recovered and life returned to (mostly) normal, the daily distractions of our fast paced, plugged-in lives slowly crept back in. In a sense, it’s good to be back to my life as I knew it, but I also never meant to start taking it for granted again.

I am grateful for these little moments to bring me back again and remind me to stay present.


Heal Over

Last year as my mare recovered from a severe episode of founder, I leased a nice, (mostly) well-behaved gelding named Winslow. Over the summer, Winslow developed a nasty little sore near one of his front feet. We never figured out how he got it – probably just being a dunce in the pasture.

We (myself and his owner) would treat the sore. It would scab over and appear to heal, and then somehow he would always come in, having irritated it. It never appeared to bother him or interfere with his daily activities (admittedly, his daily activities weren’t all that demanding); it just wouldn’t go away completely.

Winslow moved on to another local barn and is enjoying being semi-retired and teaching kids and adults how to ride. I hear that the sore is still there.


A little over a year and a half since my accident — and over two years since losing my dad — I have found that this blog has changed and evolved with trajectory of my recovery. My recovery no longer refers solely to my physical injury; it also refers to my emotional recovery from two very different, tramautic experiences.

I have discovered that emotionally, dealing with a significant loss is much like Winslow’s sore. The acute phase of grief needs to be treated and acknowledged for what it is: a trauma. It may not be a physical trauma, but emotionally, the impact is every bit as devastating. And, much like a sore that scabs over but never seems to fully heal, grief has a lasting impact.

A few weeks ago, Paul and I finally set out to clean out the radio station building that my dad owned and get it ready to sell. Continuing to deal with the repercussions of a sudden death is a weight on the people left behind. The weight is not only dealing with the grief of the loss but also with the fact that we can’t fully move on with other aspects of our lives until the logistics of death are dealt with in full. In our case, it just happens to be a much more complex situation.

I go about my daily life but always carry around a sore, just scabbed over. I cut it open much less frequently than I used to. However, it doesn’t take much to irritate it.

We had saved my dad’s office for last. I knew that under his desk were a couple of pairs of his walking shoes, left just as they were before his stroke. There were also a few items I had stored under the desk to deal with at a later date. However, when that date came, it was like getting hit with another blow.

For me, cleaning out my dad’s desk was like cutting an artery open.

Regardless, I knew that these things needed to be done. In the end, seeing the building completely emptied, I felt a curious blend of sadness and optimism. Since his death, I have longed to just be sad. I can handle the grief itself but adding insult to injury by having to deal with all the things he left behind is just too much at times.

I find it interesting how much this blog has changed over the past year and a half, and I often think my experience is not unique. I just happen to have laid it out in writing from the beginning. I don’t often write specifically about my injury anymore because it has become a part of what I have been through and not necessarily who I am. I visualize what happened to me as being completely separate from losing my dad, who was and is a part of me.

Of course, I wish that my own injury had never happened. But in a way, I am richer for it. Because I have recovered so well, I can use my experience and insight to help further research and assist other people going through similar situations. The experience also took me down a different emotional path.

Since time sort of paused at first after my injury, and I became immediately focused on recovering, I didn’t have as much time to sit and wallow in emotional despair (do I sound dramatic? Good, I mean it!). I suddenly had to become very focused on something besides the loss.

When I finally got back to a place in my physical recovery where I could re-visit my grief about my dad, I was struck by how inspired I felt by my dad and how grateful I was to have had him in my life. He had a mental fortitude that I could only hope to emulate.

Often in the past I would encounter other people who had lost significant others (whether it be a parent or other loved one) and who seemed to be carrying on like normal. I was mystified about how I could accomplish this. Of course, now I understand that coming out on the other side of loss causes you to re-define what normal is. There is no mystery involved, no secret to discover about how to carry on.

You just do.

Christmas Lists

I know that Thanksgiving is two days away and that today marks a month until Christmas. Still, I continue to exist in a state of denial. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the summer so much this year, and fall–while still my favorite season–just sort of crept in without my knowing it. Now it seems as though time is passing by faster than I’d like.

Still, getting into the holiday spirit wasn’t hard for advertisers, it seems. I can picture company ad executives just chomping at the bit for November 1st, as it seems that holiday avertising trumps all things Thanksgiving-related anyway.

The other night, Paul and I were enjoying a lazy evening on the couch, watching TV. Among the numerous commercials advertising Black Friday specials (on Thursday, mind you), one commercial stuck out at me. It was an ad for a fancy espresso maker that cost something like $150. Don’t have the cash? No worries, just buy it on a payment plan, and pay only $12.50 per month for a year!…Or something like that. I started thinking about how many people are going to fall for it, thinking it’s such a great deal, and how much stuff they would likely buy in this same frame of mind.

I used to have absolutely no issue making a Christmas list. My favorite thing to do when I was young was to chuck open the latest JC Penny catalog or Toys R Us gift guide and go to town, circling my selections with a giant highlighter. I would dog-ear the pages and make lists for my parents, and then I would anxiously wait for Christmas morning to see what gifts Santa had felt fit to bring. Creeping down the stairs and taking in the vista of gifts before me was a magical feeling.

Years later, I find myself thinking about what made those Christmas mornings so special. Sure, I enjoyed tearing through the gifts under the tree. But was it really the gifts I ended up cherishing, or the memories we made as a family?

I can smell the coffee brewing; I can hear the bacon popping (my dad always made it in the microwave). If I think about it hard enough, I can even taste the slightly burned bacon (crispier was always better, anyway). I never became a coffee drinker, and I rarely eat bacon now, but every time I catch a waft those two smells, an overwhelming sense of nostalgia washes over me.

Inevitably, I would put some new toy on my wish list with complicated assembly instructions. So, my poor dad (whom I awakened with my mom before 6 AM, most likely) and I would spend hours putting together Mouse Trap and the latest Barbie Dream House.

What did I cherish most, in the end? Playing with the toy or the jokes and funny stories we must have told each other while putting it together?

This year, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what I want for Christmas, and I have found over the past couple of years, the things I want most can’t be placed on a list. There is no catalog for the things I want. No gift guide to thumb through and circle; no page numbers to write down. I can’t send my list to Santa because the things I want are not tangible.

I want time. Time with my dad, trading funny stories. I want his advice on certain things in life that only he could give, and unfortunately, I will never get it. He didn’t always tell me what I wanted to hear, but he always told me what I needed to hear.

I want time with my mom where I am not thinking about the empty seat at the table.

I would love to have an argument with my dad about political topics even (he was quite conservative). And really, that’s saying a lot.

At any rate, as I watched this commercial imploring people who cannot afford a $150 coffee maker to go ahead and buy it anyway, I found myself thinking about how focused we get on the things that ultimately don’t really matter. Gifts are supposed to be fun, and things that you buy for other people you care about because you want to, not because you have to.

Sometimes, less really IS more.

I don’t know where the toys and clothes and other things I accumulated over the years ended up (well, that’s a lie – I am fairly certain my parents hoarded them away in boxes, but that’s a completely different story). But, I certainly carry the memories with me every day.


Maybe it was 2003, or it could have been 2004. Regardless, around that time, my college boyfriend introduced me to a little TV show called Ed. We would eat pizza dip that his mom fixed and watch new episodes each week. The series didn’t last long (for some reason, most of the shows that I enjoy, even now, don’t seem to make it long term), but I quickly became invested in its quirky sense of humor and idealistic approach toward love. After all, it makes total sense to go back to your hometown, open up a bowling alley/law office and pine after your high school sweetheart (conveniently still living there, obviously).

In one scene, Ed went to the aforementioned sweetheart’s house and threw frozen waffles at her window (the other five people out there who might be reading this will surely remember the back story here). Why do I remember this in such detail? For whatever reason, this became some totally unrealistic standard of romantic gestures. Let’s be realistic – how many people do you know who have actually thrown waffles (or any other frozen object, for that matter) at their beloved’s house? First, waffles are too tasty to waste (depending on the quality of the waffle). Second, while I guess it’s slightly less stalker-ish than blasting Peter Gabriel at someone’s window, throwing anything at someone’s house (at least in my neck of woods) is sort of asking for a call to the police.

No matter – when you’re young, and your biggest problem is whether or not you’ll make enough in tips at your waitressing job to cover your cell phone bill, this sort of gesture was a high bar for future relationships. I guess it wasn’t surprising – we are inundated with this sort of unrealistic expectation regarding love and relationships every day. In the movies, on the radio, online, and of course on TV.

Here’s the truth – in a way, wanting grand, undying and passionate love is admirable and something to strive for. Everyone deserves to really, truly love and to be equally loved. However, it’s unlikely to come via waffle.

Instead, love – and really, I don’t mean to refer only to the romantic sense of love, but bear with me – is insidious. It creeps up on you. It sneaks in with small gestures and with large acts of selflessness. In order to really appreciate it, we need to be realistic.

This is why I find shows like The Bachelor so irritating. Sure, it can be entertaining, if that’s what you’re into. But I can’t really fathom that anyone could believe the show is anything OTHER than entertainment. Love isn’t sustained by pomp and flash. We might be a lot happier if we all got regular all-expenses paid vacations to tropical islands, but at some point, real life has to go on.

Here’s what happens when it does – you find out in no short order that life can be beautiful and devastating all at once, and there are two truths here.

The first is that you can only ever REALLY depend on yourself – and I don’t mean because you can’t depend on your friend or your husband or your father. I only say that because life isn’t fair, and sometimes the person you look up to and have depended on all of your life can be taken away rather suddenly. One unyielding truth about love is that you must first appreciate and love yourself, because you will have to get yourself through many difficult situations in life. You can have all the love and support in the world, but ultimately, you have to decide to (fill in the blank with the act of your choice) get up in the morning and go on living life.

That being said, love really and truly won’t let you do this alone. Love waits for you to decide that you want to pick yourself up, and it offers you a hand when you’re ready.

In the past two years, I have learned this. I have also learned that love has many facets – sometimes, it’s literally cleaning up the crap of the person you love. Don’t ask how I know this. Love doesn’t hesitate to put its hand in the dirt.

But love can also cut deep. When you have been through the wringer, very often you hurt. Sometimes, the people you love the most feel the fallout – maybe it’s more that you want someone to hurt WITH you more than it is that you actually want to HURT them. Regardless, love can be painful. Sometimes you have to put your own goals and dreams aside because, as we all know, life often doesn’t seem to cooperate with our plans. Maybe you put your dreams aside in order to care for someone you love.

It’s not guaranteed that person will be able to return the favor, but love will try.