Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

June 14, 2012

Make It A Bow Tie

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 1:46 am

I was watching Rachel and Terry Bradshaw tonight on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.  They were singing a song Rachel co-wrote about fathers and it was so sweet I found myself crying over my own Dad.  I guess the upcoming Father’s Day and the bazillion commercials for ties and golf shirt sales has planted it in the back of my mind for weeks.  Just under the surface.  Just close enough to where the memories go and where the tears come.

I was thinking about all those years I got my dad another tie or a golf shirt.   Some goofy card about laying in a hammock or going fishing or watching TV or golfing.

I was a busy gal, working all those Sundays.  I’d come flying by my folks’ house after work and spend a little time with my Dad.  Have something my Mom cooked on the grill.   Maybe sit in the backyard near his favorite water fountain while he had a cold Stroh’s.  I can still hear the Tigers’ game on the old radio in the garage.

I never asked him a thing.  Not about his Father dying when he was seven.  Not about his Mother taking off and leaving him and his brother to foster homes where they were taunted and abused.   I never asked him about what it was like to serve our country in World War II.   I never asked about the boy who danced the Jitter Bug or the young man who played semi-pro baseball.

I was young and self-absorbed, full of my own life and my own goings-on.  I imagined our time endless.

It wasn’t until his strokes that I was forced to realize how much time had been spent.  How many opportunities wasted.  All those years running in and out with that tie or that golf shirt.  A card and a quick kiss and barely any time spent telling him all about what I weep for tonight.  What I loved and what I miss.

A girl only loses her Daddy once in his life.  But she loses him every day in hers once he’s gone.

I have countless memories to keep.  Silly little things that almost got forgotten in the madness of the every day.   Little moments I cherish now.   Gifts he gave me that had no wrapping, no bow, no box.   Just moments.  Precious moments.

Perhaps his most incredible gift to me was the one most brilliantly disguised as a heartbreak.   A devastation.  A tragedy.

In ways too many to count, his strokes were gifts that he suffered to give.   Endured to offer.

After a lifetime of rushing in and rushing out and short phone conversations and quick cards, there we were.  The two of us.   Every day for more than eight years we sat at our kitchen table.  For hours together.   My Dad and me.

Often we held hands.  We’d drink coffee and enjoy some afternoon cookies.  He loved those Old Fashioned Windmills.  Good for dunkin’, he’d say.   We talked until one of those strokes took our conversations.   He would tap then and, often, he’d tap on my arm.   Tap to the music I was playing for him.  I made CDs of old hits that I knew he had once enjoyed.  Friends gave me CDs filled with songs from the eras of his youth.

More strokes took the tapping and made it cawing and growling.   He all but ceased to speak and I missed hearing his voice.  Desperately.  Like tonight.

He smiled when I sang to him.  But I realized that not even those songs were reaching a place I needed them to find.  I started singing everything I could think of.   And, after not having heard his words for months, maybe years by then, one day he just joined in and started singing Take Me Out To The Ballgame with me.   I was jubilant.

From there we sang together every day.  I can’t tell you how many times we sang Happy Birthday.   Or Camptown Races.  And yes, Take Me Out To The Ballgame.   I had found my Dad again.   I can still hear him singing inside me.   Inside me in a place that does not cry.   A place that sings Happy Birthday when it’s no one’s birthday.  A place that dances on the tops of wing tipped shoes in the livingroom to Lawrence Welk.

When you sit at the kitchen table with your father every day for hours, the world stands still.   Excruciatingly and beautifully, together.   Just as we were.

I held those hands, now thin and full of thick veins.  Held them softly as he had held mine a thousand times as a little girl.  Keeping me safe.  Keeping me close.  It was my turn now to keep him safe.  To keep him close.

I looked at his face.  Slowly.   He had beautiful skin and perfect blue eyes that sparkled and came to life at times still.

When you sit at the kitchen table with someone, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, before you awaits the opportunity of a lifetime:  To ask questions.  To learn about the man.  Who he had been.  Who he wanted to be.

You have the opportunity to tell him all the things that a child does not consider, a teen has no time for, a young adult has no perspective to conceive….

You tell him what he has meant to you.

It is the very curse of brain injury which made that golden opportunity an unusually cruel and twisted one.  For though his strokes gave me the opportunity to sit with my Dad and to cherish him and to hold his hands and to sing to him….to love him….

It was also those strokes which took from him the ability to remember anything about those moments.

So every day we repeated them.  Every day, to be sure.

I don’t know what he kept in his mind.  I pray that those moments, instead, he kept in his heart.   As I did.

I pray that each of you who still has a Dad gives him that ridiculous tie this Father’s Day.  Just as you have every year before this.  But I pray that it is a BOW tie, atop the real gift.  The gift of sitting at the kitchen table with him.  Holding his hands.   Holding them as you did when you were little.  When he was all that meant safe and protected to you.

Take those hands in yours.  Before it is too late.  Before it is the last time.

And tell him, finally tell him this Father’s Day, what he has meant to you.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad.  I miss you. I love you.

June 7, 2012

One Egg Please, Sunny Side Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 2:27 am

Nicklas Lidstrom retired from the Detroit Red Wings this week.   He is one of the greatest hockey players of all time.  Certainly, one of the greatest defensemen to ever don a sweater and lace up skates.

When he retired, they recounted his accolades by the page.   From his time hoisting a Gold Medal for Sweden to hoisting four Stanley Cups for Detroit, Nick has meant an awful lot to a lot of people around the world.

As I listened to people speak about him after his press conference,  I found it so interesting and heart-warming that many, while gushing over his list of awards and personal accomplishments, couldn’t say enough about his character and his personality:  classy, loyal, hard-working, consistent,  detailed, selfless…

THAT list went on and on, too.

A friend and I were out to breakfast this past weekend when we  met a waitress in a little cafe who absolutely wowed.   She was genuinely welcoming and engaged.  We were talking about how people make breakfast potatoes in her home state down south the way our mothers used to.   You slice up leftover baked potatoes and fry them up with butter and onions.   Too many restaurants promise such heavenly delights, only to serve up frozen stringy hash browns with no flavor instead.

Her personality, her smile, her “being”…was as warm as that summer morning.  She went back in the kitchen and asked the chef to make those special potatoes for us.   We never asked her to do that.  Didn’t know her.  Had never been there before.  In three minutes we felt like her favorite old friends that she was having over for her mom’s potatoes.

We won’t forget her.

It’s summertime in Detroit.  We have arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now pitching for the Tigers.  Justin Verlander is entering his prime and already he has two no-hitters to his credit.   At times he is literally remarkable.   Fans go online to buy up the game bases BEFORE the games he is scheduled to pitch in because they anticipate another historic outing.

I was thinking the other day that, even if you are the best hitter or pitcher in your league…in your generation…in the history of the game…how much time is that?  Ten years?  Fifteen?  I found myself wondering what will his legacy be outside of those white chalk lines.  Like any one of us, when he is done with his job, how will he be remembered?

Fame is fleeting.  Rocket-powered fastballs slow.  Golden arms tire.  Phenomenal pitchers start getting their pitches hit later in their careers and, one day, teams stop calling for their services.

Even the best defensemen in the history of hockey will  feel twinges and facets of their supreme talents starting to soften.  Their once-sinewy bodies just don’t heal up quite as quickly after a long season like they  did at 20, at 25, at 30….

I guess my point is that few things last.  We suffer these losses, all of us, and, at some point, we have to realize that it happens to everyone in some form or fashion.   We all end up losing the parts of our lives that were not intended to last forever.

The good news is that, the characteristics that DON’T fade…The parts about us that DON’T succumb to age and time and injury…are the ones people will most measure us by after a lifetime anyway.

Thank God.

We can all strive for glory, sure.  For fame and for riches and for promotions and impressive titles bestowed upon us.

But for those who love us and for the people we love, it’s never going to matter much what we did or what jobs we held.   They want us to be happy regardless of what we choose to pursue.   They want us to be good people.   Willing, interested, reliable, loving…. They don’t care if we’re a teacher in Wisconsin, a builder in Florida, a policeman in Texas, a welder in Pennsylvania.   We know better than to imagine those bitties too important in the grand scheme of things.

For me, well….I’m just hoping that, by the end of my life, some will manage to say, “She was a good egg.”

Simple as that.

I look at the qualities that I wish to be measured by one day, maybe every day.  I find that they are not ruined or left unattainable because of any of the things I struggle with.  Not my brain injury, not my weight, not my meager income.  Not where I grew up or what my parents did or did not do.  Not what any of my exes did or what school I went to or what I wear or how I look.   Not even my addiction to Michigan football or my many Showtime series.

Regardless of these, I tell myself….In spite of these, I remind myself….No matter these, I propel myself….

I can be a good person.  I can be kind.  I can be thoughtful.  I can be warm and loving and classy and courteous and loyal and helpful and hard-working.  I can be someone who tries to understand.  Who is not a complete downer all the time to be with.  Who doesn’t constantly lament all the awful wrongs cast unfairly upon her by the fates of the world.  Blah blah blah.

I can be a good egg.

I can be a willing listener.  I can be willing to try and help.   Not even brain injury has the power to overcome these.  To wipe out these.  To ruin these.

Some of the great things my journey has taught me are that we don’t have to be rich to be generous.  We don’t have to have a lot to give away to be giving.  We don’t have to have our brains working perfectly to be thoughtful, to be smart, to be mindful…We don’t have to have famous jobs, or even jobs at all, to be hard-working and productive and memorable.   Just ask Kathy at the Golden Grille in Paw Paw about her mama’s breakfast potatoes.

Memorable.  Fabulously, gloriously memorable.

Off the top of my head, right now, I can recall the man who wouldn’t take any money for diagnosing the nail in my tire yesterday and who directed me to an inexpensive tire repair shop, a hidden gem, not too far for me to drive.   I can think of the kind souls at work who sometimes give me my coffee for free even when they don’t know that’s my last dollar I’m laying on the counter.   I think of the people at the corner gas station who, when my dad was struggling to take care of my mom many years ago,  sometimes gave him a few dollars when he would forget to bring money or forget, later, to come back to repay them.   I think of the neighbor who took the time to take apart the weed whacker I couldn’t start and got it going for me.  I think of the vet who got right down on the floor and spoke German to my German Shepherds.   I think of the boss who subtly and quietly creates situations I can succeed in despite my injury.  I think of my brother taking time out from his uber-busy life to go and explain eye exams to six-year-olds so that they won’t be so scared if they have to get glasses.  I think about the people who have made me homemade soup when I was sick or dropped off bags of cough syrup and aspirin and goodies.   I think of the man who allowed me to pay him the rest of my car’s repair bill after he gave me the car back and after I realized he had done extra work on it for me that I didn’t realize I needed and that he didn’t charge me for.  I think of the woman who patiently taught me to play the piano using crazy strategies and made-up words and out-of-the-box ways to plunk out My Country Tis Of Thee.   I think about the woman who bought me an outfit I couldn’t afford so that I would look nice for my father’s funeral.  Or the one that sent me a winter coat when I didn’t have one.

Memorable.  Wonderfully, beautifully memorable.  The kind of people who crawl into your heart and fill it with a warmth that never leaves.

I will admit that, after all these years, there are jobs and positions that some of my friends do or did that I cannot recall.   I should know but I don’t.   Maybe it’s my brain injury.  Maybe it’s menopause hiding around the corner.  Maybe it’s simply that I don’t measure them by those parameters.

But I can tell you they are kind.  I can tell you they are thoughtful and funny and generous and helpful and loyal and classy.   I can tell you a hundred things each one has done to make me laugh, to help me out, to support me, to think of me.  I can tell you the many, many instances when they have reached out, helped out, given, gotten their hands dirty for people they love and, often, for those they don’t even know.   Examples, small and large, too many to count, when they made better the lives of those around them.

They are good eggs.  They set a standard that I will spend my life trying to reach up to.

As much as I believe anything, I believe that we, with few exceptions, have the power to be good eggs.  To be simply decent.  To be reliable.  To be helpful.  To be empathetic.  To be good friends, good neighbors, good souls.   I surround myself with those people who inspire my own sense of right and decent.  They are the memorable.   And too, they will remember.  In my life and yours.

Some will remember the things that brain injury now keeps from us.  Some will remember what age will take.   Some will remember after we have gone, enough to tell those who are sure to follow.

It’s up to us  today what they will remember tomorrow.

Our choice.  Our power.  Our priority.

For me, hopefully one day they’ll say, “Yeah, that Kara, she was a good egg.”

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