Sweet Sixteen

Kara Swanson, Brain Injury Blog, February 1, 2012
Sweet Sixteen

I saw a great quote the other day, although I don’t know who to attribute it to. My bad to the author, sorry. It said something like, “Please don’t keep bringing up my past. I don’t live there anymore.”

Love that.

When I was injured sixteen years ago, on January 31st, 1996, my friend Patti was pregnant with a baby who is now driving. My five-year-old niece at the time is now a beautiful young woman, graduating from college. My brother was single and living in a condo and he now shares a lovely home with a gorgeous wife and two fantabulous kids.

What a glorious thing it is to survive. What a glorious thing it is to have filled these last sixteen years with more than an ache for all that was lost. What a glorious thing it is to live. And to love living.

For those of us who suffer from traumatic brain injury, routine is our friend. We need it. We embrace it. It often allows us to be more efficient, more successful, more calm. We simplify, we keep things as they are and as they have to be. We don’t like surprises all the time. We don’t like last-minute changes in plans.

And so it’s hard for us sometimes to differentiate the years since our injuries when so many of them look the same. It has been my resolution these past years to separate them with some living. To create moments and events and memories which will stick out and stamp them. Moments that burst out, jump out of the mundane. Scream and laugh and giggle.

I think a big help for me was in finding the difference between looking back and living back. Looking back for me is great. I can see so much distance that I’ve put between my injury and my life now. So many wonderful experiences, joys, lessons learned, love shared, successes known.

The sadness, the loss, the anger, the disappointment…all seem comparatively small now. Very small. And very far away. Like all that toxic, negative emotion is packaged with the life that died that day. Not the second one that was born.

My anniversary used to be this somber event where I would replay the car crash and all that followed. Suffer the losses all again. Feel the stripping of my former life. Feel it all again.

I don’t feel the need to do that anymore. It no longer serves me.

Now I just enjoy the sharing with those who knew me then. Enjoy recalling who we were, what they were doing, how their lives have changed. The jobs they had, the kids and spouses they’ve added. How we’ve all aged and grown and evolved and enhanced.

Recalling the life that I’ve gotten to live since then. Sharing the life that has blessed me since.

Survivors write to me all the time and lament the fact that they simply cannot move on. Cannot live again. Cannot re-start.

The truth of it is that we already have. Each day we are one day further away. Each day it is one more day back.

There is no standing still. Not for any of us. And that’s why it feels so lonely, so isolating, so frustrating to try and do so.

Because we are not meant to stand still. None of us. It is not a natural state, nor a comfortable one. It’s like trying to fight the current.

That is why people have a hard time deciding when to retire or watching their kids leave the nest. Or when their ex moves on and gets married again or finds a new lover. Or your parents get divorced and get remarried. It’s because everything continues to move on, with or without us. Whether we’re ready or not.

Tiger Woods fell from grace and golf didn’t cease to exist. A new crop of young golfers have stepped up and started winning tournaments and taking golf forward without him atop the leaderboards. Steve Jobs died and everyone still made calls the next day and the day after that. Michael Jackson died and people kept on downloading iTunes and listening to new music and sharing hot new sounds from up- and- coming artists.

Nothing waits.

If you look back through your pictures, shoe boxes full of them, beautifully-framed dozens of them, you’ll see no pictures of the term paper you scored a D on. You don’t cherish the picture of the day she broke up with you. You didn’t keep the picture of the day you found out he cheated on you. There’s no picture of you putting your beloved cat or dog to sleep.

When you get together with old college friends, you don’t show them pictures of the casket you buried your father in. You don’t carry pictures in your purse or your wallet of the first boy or girl who broke your heart in eighth grade (and, if you do, please seek immediate professional help with this.).

You keep the good shots. You keep the ones of that dog leaping for a frisbee or the cat playing with a toy mouse. There’s the pic of you holding your first child, you with your birthday cakes and first days of school. Partying with friends and chilling with family over a thousand holidays and birthdays and special occasions.

There’s no sense taking a picture of when the toilet overflowed. Or your tooth that got infected. Or the water hose that blew on the side of the highway in ninety degree temperatures.

There’s no sense hanging onto the bad stuff. There’s no room for it in a life determined to fill those shoe boxes with pictures of better things.

This is my Sweet Sixteenth anniversary since my injury and I’m keeping the good stuff. For those of you who are behind me-a year after injury or four or six…I’m going to keep shouting back.

There is life to be lived when you are left living!!! I believe that. It’s always going to move away from that horrible day. It is up to us to allow it to.

Life wants to move away from that horrible day. Life wants us to move with it. The people who love us want us to move with it. With them.

There are days to fill. There are children to watch grow up. There are books to read and films to enjoy. There are Super Bowl ads to discuss, games to cheer, new music to hear, news to teach, surprise and delight us. There are Youtube videos of dogs nuzzling with baby deer to adore. There are Happy Birthdays to sing and occasions to toast. There are new restaurants to try, new recipes to make. There are old friends to have lunch with and new lovers to have first dates with. There are places to travel and sunsets and sun rises to take our breath away. There are new shows to get hooked on. Flowers to plant. There are presidents to elect and rooms that need cleaning. There is sex to enjoy and hugs to be given. There are Christmas Eves to look forward to and New Year’s resolutions to cheat on. There are people to forgive and address books that need updating. There are memories to be rehashed and futures to be looked forward to. There is chocolate to be eaten. Wishes to be sent. Groceries to be picked up. Appointments to be made. Diets to give up on. Sunday papers to be read and mornings to be slept in. There are soft breezes to come through the windows and big, beautiful snow flakes to fall silently. There are kids to embarrass and mortify with hugs and kisses and dancing to their music. There are people who need help, places that need volunteers, causes that need donations.

There are people all around us who need listening to, who need compassion, who need shoulders to cry on. There are people all around us who need to see that we are OK, that awful things in life can be overcome, that people can thrive and start again and soar. There are children in our lives who need us to set an example about how to handle adversity.

There is life waiting. Mine, yours and ours. Let’s pull over to the curb and pick it up on our way to awesome. Let’s fill our years and our walls and our wallets with pictures that scream with delight. Let’s determine ourselves to make surviving worth it. To make it something that is an enticing example to those who will come behind us. Let’s pass back hope. Let’s pass back joy. Hell, let’s pass back a good bottle of wine and a plate of warm brownies and let’s enjoy this life. Toast it and share it with as much love and as many good people as we can muster.

Rock on, survivors!!!

From Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog. Used with permission. karaswanson.wordpress.com.

Posted on BrainLine March 22, 2012.

Comments (2)

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Kara, Thank you for sharing those words of encouragement. I hope you continue to "rock on" with true words of the joy of living!

Thank You, Kara! This is an excellent perspective. As my son moves further and further away from his injury, we always choose to follow the brain injury survivors that have made it through and continue to live forward to the new life that is created one positive day at time.

Tina Sullivan