Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

November 21, 2012

Count The Moments Since

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 12:12 pm

My Dad died right on Thanksgiving Day.   That’s just how it is.  We woke him up from a nap in order to get him changed.  We were excited because it was time for Thanksgiving dinner and we got him up to enjoy the pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes and turkey and stuffing.

But, as soon as we woke him, we knew his condition, just from breakfast, had deteriorated so rapidly that we had to rush him right to the hospital where he died hours later.

We can’t help but count the years since.  There have been five.

I’m a dates and numbers and anniversaries kind of gal.   Every December 13th I think of that first boy I dared kiss behind the curtains after our sixth grade choir concert.   I mark the days my brother and sister-in-law headed to Russia to pick up my nephew, and then my niece.   I recall the day I stood up in Patti and Ken’s wedding, the day my Mom showed my entire family my first bra…

Handfuls and handfuls of dates.

It’s the seventeenth anniversary of this and the fifth anniversary since that.  It’s twelve years here and twenty-four years there and seven months over there.

People have found me quirky.  Ha.

But what I’ve learned from all my counting and re-counting and re-visiting and recurring….all those moments and times and dates and years and events…

It is to count the moments since.

Not just the ones before.   Those are the easy ones.  We can remember how it was better before this happened or before this dear person had to pass.   Better before I lost my parents, lost dogs and cats, lost loves, lost my house, lost abilities to brain injury, lost all my finances, lost and lost and lost and lost….

The moments since have to be counted as well.  They have to be heard.  They represent an equal voice in the challenge to balance our lives.  To balance all that came before and after each event that changed us.   Each event that has written the chapters of our lives.

To tally the gains.

The moments before loss and before horrific change are there to boost us and warm us.  Sometimes taunt and poke us, too.  But they are more easily accessible because we tend to them with such great care.  We nurture them and protect them and cherish them.  We hold pictures of them.   We tell their stories.

We have to take as great a care for the moments since.

That is where Thanksgiving waits.

In perspective, in reflection, in the ways in which we choose to count the moments since.

It’s hard.   There’s no way around that.  I think of the people on the East Coast who suffered Super Storm Sandy and how much was lost.  How many without food and water and heat and the shelter that they had called home.

People died in that storm and the moments since have been filled with tears of devastation.   Fear, desperation, hopelessness.

My heart aches for them.

I was watching a documentary the other night on the Dust Bowl and the “Dirty Thirties.”   It was about the decade of severe drought in parts of the central plains in the U.S. that saw people battle Mother Nature in a way I don’t think any of us can really imagine.

It was the Great Depression.   People were suffering in the best of circumstances, anyhow.   And then along comes this perfect storm of fluke and chance and circumstance to create a ten-year stretch of unbelievable suffering.

They lost their crops, their savings, their belongings, their food supplies.  A hundred sand storms a year would drop literally feet of sand on their properties, covering everything and killing everything.   Some have said it was like living in the Sahara desert for ten years.

People died from breathing in all that sand.  Families lost their homes when they could not make any money to keep food in their kids’ bellies.  There was one family with ten kids who ended up living in a chicken coop after losing everything.

Families would be facing the winters coming with no money and no food and no idea of how they were going to survive.

Year after year.

One personal story about that time came from a woman, so much older now, sitting in a beautiful outfit and speaking to the camera.   She told of her little brother who had eaten two dimes and their family was so desperate that her mother waited for the brother to poop out those dimes so she could reclaim them and buy bread.

I was struck by the woman herself, dressed in clothes she could not afford, could not even dream of, then.  Her hair all done up and makeup on.  Colors vibrant against the brown landscape of her youth.

The moments since.

Thanksgiving lies in one sentence.   One small, seemingly modest change to the language of our perspective.

It goes from, “It’s been sixteen years since I lost everything to brain injury….”  to, “It’s been sixteen years since I survived a brain injury that very easily could have killed me.”

And there is Thanksgiving.

The “moments since” will never be the same for those who have lost dear loved ones.  There is no “time heals all wounds” thing.

But, when we count the moments since, it gifts us a bounty.   Sometimes it inspires us to pick up again, to rejoin, to re-engage, because there have been so many moments since.   Sometimes it allows the pain to fall back, the sharpness of it to dull back in our minds and hearts.   Sometimes it allows us to move in some direction, putting time and space between us and the events which have staggered us.

They matter, the moments since.

I don’t believe, for a second, they are simply to suffer and endure and to await the end of our time here.  The end of our moments.  I think they have more in store than that.

Thanksgiving is not just a day.   It is not just a turkey dinner.   Not just a football game or a bad sweater or an afternoon with relatives or a nap after three helpings of stuffing.

Thanksgiving is the breath of life.  The music that eventually fills the quiet of desperation.  It is the colorful outfit on a woman who only knew the lifeless brown of blowing sand on everything and in everything, all during her childhood.

It is in counting the moments since we survived.  Since we made it through.  Since we started a new chapter.  Since we changed paths.  Since we learned something.  Since we experienced love or the feeling of “having.”

It has been five years on Thanksgiving since my Dad died.   Five years now and I look around and now this moment tells me it is time to finally close that chapter and leave this house.  This house where I grew up.  This house where I returned again and again, in celebration and desperation.  This house where I lost my parents, where I spent so many years trying to hang onto something I didn’t realize had already gone.

The moments before cannot be changed.   They cannot be fixed or bettered or replaced.  They are frozen in the past.  They are unmoving and still.

But the moments since are full of life.  They are the ones with the chance.  The possibilities.  The fluidity of option and choice.   They are the ones that still breathe, still affect, still imprint.  They are not locked down with unchangeable sadness or guilt or regret.   They are the moments that we can use to embrace new, to appreciate the time we had with those lost, to recall starts and turns, to remember our lives before.

They are the pen in our hand.  They are the open door.  They are the keys to the locks.

Thanksgiving is a whole year.   A life time.   It is a language.  A choice.   A style.  A path.   A salve.

I wish us all Thanksgiving. Not because it comes every year anyway.  But because we invited it.  Because we sought it.  Because we chose it.

Because we made it come.


  1. This is the first anniversary I didn’t remember until it had passed. On Nov. 4th, I realized the day before was four years since my TBI. I’ve always been a person who remembers the date and details. Of course, that’s changed since my injury, but some dates still stick out. I know 11/3/2008 will always stand out for me, but I’m kind of glad 11/3/2012 came and went without the anxiety, anger and frustration it could have ushered in. I hope this is the beginning of me not dwelling on the day I could have died, and instead, celebrating the days since that I didn’t. As always, thank you so much for sharing. I’ll be thinking of you when I count my blessings at the table tomorrow, the same way I do most days, when I remember. 🙂

    Comment by vanessaaleji2958 — November 21, 2012 @ 3:26 pm | Reply

    • Hey Vanessa! Congratulations on what sounds like great steps in your new journey. I’m glad you are moving past the actual day and it is getting lost in all the new things you are creating for your life. Well done!!! And thank you for your kind words. Much appreciated here. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — November 21, 2012 @ 7:57 pm | Reply

  2. I don’t remember the day I started your book… and I don’t remember the day that very first email came from YOU… I remember (sort of) the day your dad passed… I remember… I remember it put me back to my own fathers passing… more my mom’s, as I was closer to her… My friendship with you, grew thru commonality.

    I am so proud for you… Proud for how HARD YOU WORK. You encourage everyone… including me… I am thankful for YOU. Glad I have you for a friend…
    Wishing you a happy happy Thanksgiving.

    Blessings for the coming adventures.

    Comment by Barb — November 21, 2012 @ 6:21 pm | Reply

    • You are so dear. Always sending such warm and wonderful notes. They always keep right here in my heart. Thank you, Barb.

      Comment by karaswanson — November 21, 2012 @ 7:58 pm | Reply

  3. My body remembers anniversaries better than I do. I will be searching my brain for why I am having a hard day–then look at the calendar. I try to explain/remind others that they may go through this…some have paid attention. Many looked at me like I was delusional, but I know it will probably happen for them, too.

    You bring up excellent points–switching thinking from “this bad thing happened” to “it is wonderful I survived and every day is a gift” is amazingly important.
    Thank you for the wonderful ways you have encouraged all of us who have encountered brain injury as survivor or friend and family of the survivor. Your book is a joy.

    I count you as a blessing. Have a fabulous Thanksgiving.

    Comment by Sue Morrow — November 21, 2012 @ 6:56 pm | Reply

    • Hey Sue!!! You’re not crazy or I’m crazy too but my body remembers things as well. I know exactly what you mean. I really think our bodies truly reflect our circumstance and our experience. Not just what we put into them or how we neglect them but, too, like you said, what we’ve been through and what we hold inside us. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — November 21, 2012 @ 8:45 pm | Reply

  4. As always your words make perfect sense Kara…and although we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here in the UK, I am so grateful that this was the year when I finally switched from being the person who lost everything to brain injury to being the new person facing a new life filled with possibilities – and the funny thing is I didn’t notice the switch. I was writing a reply to someone on a brain injury message board and as I read back what I had typed, there it was…

    and I have to say that I don’t think I ever would have got there if it wasn’t for the unconditional love of my family and the support of my fellow survivors who have held out a hand at times when I needed it most and who have become friends. I am grateful for each and every one and to finally be able to extend my hand to others,..

    Comment by Christa — December 9, 2012 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

    • I’m a fan of yours, Christa 🙂 Loved your post. Thanks. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — December 10, 2012 @ 2:47 am | Reply

  5. Great and inspirational post, like always. I think that if you are forgetting the anniversary of your TBI its a good thing. You are starting to forget about the horrible tragedy in your life. Good luck to all you TBI survives out there.

    Comment by Parker Law — December 12, 2012 @ 7:59 pm | Reply

    • Thanks for stopping by and writiing. :)) We appreciate the good wishes and best holiday wishes to you and yours.

      Comment by karaswanson — December 13, 2012 @ 12:45 am | Reply

  6. Hi Kara, Just reading your Blog about when your father passed. What was his name? Did your mom remarry after?

    Comment by Robin L. Smith — November 1, 2013 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

    • No. She had died six months before his first stroke. She had been suffering the effects of her own strokes for seven years and then, after she died, he started having his six months later.

      Comment by karaswanson — December 15, 2013 @ 10:42 am | Reply

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