Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

May 21, 2013

We Are Not There, Where We Died

Filed under: Uncategorized — karaswanson @ 7:48 pm

Today was the day.  The last day.  The only one left. 

Every year, when my Mom’s lilacs bloom, I bring some to her grave.   Usually they bloom around Mother’s Day but I’ve long since given up taking them there on that day.  Only reduces me to puddles.

So today was the last day the lilacs were alive.  I was tired and it was late in the day.  Hot.  Rush hour traffic.  Long drive with no air conditioning. 

But I went.

I found my parents’ grave marker.  Like every spring before this one, covered in dirt.  Grass and weeds creeping and climbing over the edges. 

I always cut back the weeds.  I trim the grass.  I wash the headstone down.  I tell myself that next time I will remember to bring the gold foil paint and touch up some of the spots that have faded over the years. 

I cry a little.  Memories return, ones I don’t like. Memories of their funerals, flashes and splashes that I normally don’t revisit. 

Today I realized that I talk to my parents every day.  I was looking down at that grave marker thinking to myself, “They’re not there.  They’re not there where they died.”

And neither are we.

I’ve been asked over the years why I blog when I have a book published.  Blogs don’t make money. At least mine doesn’t.  Ha.

I write now because I’m not there.  I’m not there where I died. 

And neither are you.

There is more to the story.  More pages, more chapters, more life. Hopefully a little more savvy, a little more perspective, a little more depth.

My parents aren’t there where they died.  They are more than just what happened to them. They visit me in my dreams.  They laugh and they smile and they show me things that are not of this world.   Their voices I hear in my body.  In my heart.  Their lessons and traditions and stories dance freely through my life. 

They aren’t there where they died.  I only clean up their grave markers because I can hear my Mom still in my head and my heart, getting after me to pick up my clothes.  To clean my room.  To wash the dishes.  To run the vacuum.

I clean their grave markers simply out of respect.  Because I think maybe they’d want a clean grave marker.  Not because I believe they are there, where they died.

When I visit them in that cemetery, my thoughts go back to their funerals.  To sad things and bad things.  Making awful decisions and choosing this and choosing that.  Flowers and caskets and menus and hymns and clothes for them to wear to their funerals.

I realized today that, every other day, my memories of them are alive and full of life and light and happiness.

I couldn’t go to the cemetery every day.  It would be too much to feel the feelings of such painful times every day. I’d never choose to return to the awful days again and again. Every day.  Every day. Every day. I wouldn’t bring a sleeping bag or pitch a tent.  I wouldn’t forward my mail there.

I don’t want to be there every day.

For those of us with brain injury, whose lives ended as they were.  As we lived them.  As we knew….

We can’t pitch a tent back there.  We can’t forward our mail backwards.  We can’t bring a sleeping bag.

We aren’t there anymore.  We aren’t there, where we died.

I went to my niece’s tee ball game last Saturday and I took pictures.  I will take pictures at my nephew’s game next week. 

I take pictures because….

Because Charlie has braces now.  Because they’re taller now.  Because their uniforms have changed.  Their skills have changed.  Their personalities continue to develop. They continue to learn things I enjoy them sharing.

Because things change. 

That’s why I write a blog. 

There’s a need to get it all down in pictures and words, in feelings and moments and exchanges.  

There’s a need to earmark the moments of our lives so that every day, every year, is not the same as the one before.

Like death.

We are not there, where we died.  Not where we got divorced.  Not where we got arrested.  Not where we got fired.  Not where we got broken-hearted or foreclosed upon or bullied or slighted or forgotten….

Or brain injured.

Sometimes it’s hard to move on because we’ve gotten so good at the loss.  We’ve gotten it down pat.  We have songs to play that capture that time.  We have special food to eat that warms and comforts us.  We have certain movies we watch or cigs or alcohol or pills or pot to help ease that idle. 

We are comfortable remaining there, decorating that time with the throw pillows of the familiar. 

But the whole world moves on.  With or without us. Today we pray for Moore, Oklahoma.  Already we have stopped talking about the Boston Bombing.  Or Super Storm Sandy.  Or Hurricane Katrina.

Life keeps going.

And though the price of living is, in part, suffering losses, we have to allow ourselves to move on without guilt or regret or despair. 

I decided to leave the bad memories at the cemetery and return, not there every day, but back to the great life that I’m living. The sadness will always be there when I visit. 

But I’m not going to pitch a tent.

By its very definition, life is not death.  Life is life. Life is for the living.

We are not there, where we died.  

We are here.  We are here.  We here.



  1. Kara,
    thank you! I work everyday to wake up with a smile, and your nice post made me both tear up a bit, and then smile at the end.
    keep smiling everyday!
    Bob E Ruddy

    Comment by Bob E Ruddy — May 21, 2013 @ 7:56 pm | Reply

    • You just made my day, Bob. Thanks. :))0

      Comment by karaswanson — May 21, 2013 @ 9:15 pm | Reply

  2. As I read your entry, I realized that I’ve been sitting in my sleeping bag back when things used to be. When I used to be a social worker helping people, when the ptsd was almost gone, when they were gonna take me off my meds, when everything was different. I’ve been waiting for my own return. As I look forward, I can barely breath because I don’t know how to be the same me anymore. I don’t even have a favorite color that I know of. I think about my student loans left to pay for a graduate education I barely got to make use of. I cried and then I stopped. Because I trust in God to take me where I need to go, where I’m meant to be. Through the criminal and legal trials of the assault, to a conclusion of a safe life for me and my daughter. I’m scared to death, but I thank you for the awareness. I’m rolling up my sleeping bag now and moving forward.

    Comment by Christene Waldman — May 21, 2013 @ 8:13 pm | Reply

    • Hey, Christene: You’ve had a rough go. It made me smile to read you say you are rolling up your sleeping bag….The sentence you wrote that caught me most was, “I don’t know how to be the same me anymore….” That’s a powerful sentence. You will never be the same me as you were. But you can be better. You can choose to be better. We all lose so much. So much that we thought we were supposed to be doing. Apparently you are supposed to be on a different path and so here you are. You get to choose a new favorite color. You get to make new things your own. You get to teach your daughter a lesson you could not teach her if everything was swimming along. You get to teach her how to overcome disaster. You get to teach her resilience and inner strength. You get to show her what character means and what it looks like when someone refuses to be beaten. We’re all cheering for you. Roll up that sleeping bag and get busy living a better life than the one you’re walking away from. You can do this!!! 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — May 21, 2013 @ 9:24 pm | Reply

  3. Some days I wish there was a place to ‘go’ to say hello. My parents both wanted cremation. They wanted that… I don’t know what I would want for them, but had to respect what they wanted. Some days…

    So grateful for tears… March-May are hard for me… My dad’s death, their anniversary… Mom’s day which is somewhere near his birthday… Like you, I talk to them and wish for all the same things I wished for when they were here.

    Thanks Kara. You always make me think.

    Comment by Barb — May 21, 2013 @ 8:22 pm | Reply

    • I think it’s hard sometimes where there is no “place” to go. I get that. I felt some of that when I was moving out of our family home and packing up their things. Erasing them, in some ways. So I made a time capsule for both of them. It’s the essence of them. What reminds me most of them. Eyeglasses, a piece of jewelry…..I visit that box, time capsule, any time I need to hold something concrete of them. Maybe that would work for you. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — May 21, 2013 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

    • Barb-You might create a memory garden at your home. It would need to be a small lovely place to sit and reflect on your parents.Perhaps you could put a bench,some small stonework- an angel,butterfly or whatever brings you peace. Go there to reflect and remember your parents. Try not to make it a sad place.Don’t go there to mourn them.Go there to celebrate the fact that you had them.I lost my son at age 32. I think of him with a mother’s heart. I miss him and wonder what his life would have been like had he lived. But, he was handicapped and his life was difficult. He lived it to the fullest,leaving behind many friends and many happy memories. We speak of him often and share laughter over the humerous stories. He passed in 2005. He will live and be loved as long as even one of us remembers him.Go to your garden to celebrate the fact that you had a chance to share your life with your parents.

      Comment by Sylvia Smothers Lawing — October 13, 2013 @ 7:49 am | Reply

      • I celebrate them all the time, through my every day. They are everywhere in my life. That’s why I don’t need to find them at the cemetery. I have them in and around me always. I talk to them all the time. I don’t feel I need to “go” to a place to find them when they are always inside me. I’m sorry for the loss of your son. That’s got to be a great one. I’m sorry to hear you have to carry that loss.

        Comment by karaswanson — October 14, 2013 @ 6:28 am

      • I was responding to Barb’s comment that she needed a place to go.Sorry-TBI, Maybe I put it in the wrong place. Thank you for your blog.It is right on target. I understand your writing, so many of us share your experiences.

        Comment by Sylvia Smothers Lawing — October 14, 2013 @ 7:59 am

      • No, ha. I think I was the one who misread it. You were right on. 🙂 Thanks for writing. We never have to apologize here. We all get it. No worries. It’s all good. Have a great day. 🙂

        Comment by karaswanson — October 14, 2013 @ 8:08 am

      • No problem-Have a great day:)

        Comment by Sylvia Smothers Lawing — October 14, 2013 @ 10:10 am

  4. You’re so inspiring Kara. Thank you for sharing your insights, your pain and success, and your heart. ❤

    Comment by Cathy (Ciagala) Gothro — May 22, 2013 @ 7:36 am | Reply

  5. Reblogged this on WHAT A HEART CAN HOLD and commented:
    Beautiful blog about life and death. I was touched by it. I think you will be too.

    Comment by What a Heart Can Hold — May 22, 2013 @ 10:38 am | Reply

    • Thanks, you guys. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — May 22, 2013 @ 4:49 pm | Reply

  6. I’ve always thought that way. I don’t go to grave sites because the person I’m wanting to visit isn’t there. Their memory lives on, but life moves on without. We have to adjust, and adapt.

    Comment by Casey Bachus — May 22, 2013 @ 1:41 pm | Reply

  7. You always manage to touch my heart, Kara. It’s rare I visit my dad’s grave anymore. But that’s not to say I don’t think of him often and miss him to this very day. This Sunday is the 47th anniversary of his passing. He was just a young man when he died. And your words made me think of the one and only time in all those years since that he visited me in my dreams. In that dream, I was walking out of a little store in my little town and I happened to look up and there he was. Handsome and healthy and happy. Downright beaming. And looking right into my eyes. I was vaguely aware of people passing by us in the parking lot but he was the one that stood out to me. When my eyes connected with his, he smiled. He never waved or stepped closer or said a single word. Just smiled. And in that moment, I knew he was pain free and at peace and he knew he was where he was supposed to be. I woke up feeling drenched in peace myself. He had seen to that with just one smile. Keep writing, Kara. You always reach the little places in my brain and in my heart where I feel most comfortable. I love knowing you resolved not to stay where you died. So glad you are here!

    Comment by Jean Lambert — May 24, 2013 @ 8:34 pm | Reply

    • Hey Jean, I love that your dad visited you. I could tell you stories of the many times I’ve been visited and have been, to use your words, “drenched in peace.” It makes me happy that you have this gift from your dad. I’m so happy you shared this. Thank you. We are here to help each other reach little places of our brains that yearn to be awakened. :)))

      Comment by karaswanson — May 24, 2013 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  8. Interesting post Kara, but I have to ask why did you use the phase “where we died.” I didn’t die, you didn’t die, and nobody in my local support group has died. We are survivors. Sure my lives has changed, but my birthday hasn’t changed. I now have a new hobby since physically I’m unable to do older one but not all of my old hobbies. Should I think of my pre-injury life as dead weigh? Or maybe the new me as a ghost? Sorry if I missed your point, but where I died?

    Comment by Ric Johnson — June 17, 2013 @ 1:14 pm | Reply

    • Hi Ric: Glad you wrote. I chose the phrase “where we died” because so many of us have so much trouble embracing our new lives. Our old lives did die as they were. It’s important that we allow them to go and not further torture ourselves with what we can no longer do. Our new lives, these second changes, second starts, second gifts….they keep the promise of wonderful lives, no matter how different than the ones we no longer can live. I don’t spend any time trying to live a life that doesn’t exist anymore. My old abilities, my old career, my old everything….The sooner we stop failing at those old lives, the sooner we can start succeeding at these new ones. :))

      Comment by karaswanson — June 17, 2013 @ 7:09 pm | Reply

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