Life After Brain Surgery

A week ago my family was all meeting up at a parking garage outside of University of Maryland Medical Center Baltimore, gathering our belongings necessary for the long day ahead, and rushing inside to get to where I needed to be by my 5:30 appt time. Sadly, the hospital sent us on a long run around until we finally landed right where we needed to be, but we got there. Tension was high among the group, of course. The nervousness in the air; palpable.

I was asked if I was ready, more times than a few. How do you answer that? How are you ever ready to risk leaving your family behind? How are you ever ready to risk not coming back to them the same as you left them? So I lied. I was ready, yes. I lied and said I was fine. I lied and said I was going to be okay. I was petrified.

Questions began, IV was started, prepping was moving at the speed of light, but I was still stuck. Lingering, waiting for my entire family to hug me all at once. What would be my last thing to say to each one of them? How do you decide that? You cannot scare the kids, Kristen. You cannot upset your sisters, Kris. And my God, don’t let my parents feel my fear.

Last night I was asked what I felt in those moments. What was it that I told myself to help me get through it and make the final decision to go through with it.

The answer is my life. I wanted my life back. The vibrant, exuberant, fly by the seat of her pants girl was gone. She was replaced long ago by a zombie of a woman that was barely surviving this world. She could no longer head out on grand adventures, planned or otherwise. She spent her days hardly able to make it up and down the stairs let alone to a school event with homemade brownies.

She couldn’t make it to concerts with her sisters anymore. She had to cancel plans with friends more times than a few. She couldn’t get outside and run around with her two sons anymore. Life as she knew it ceased to exist.

But this morning. 7 days after the scariest decision of her life, that girl woke up at 5 am without an alarm clock, went downstairs without a single creaking or aching bone (stairs are a different story), and made herself a cup of coffee. Do you realize how long it has been since that has happened? I won’t count the nights where sleep never happened and I got up at 5 to start a day after a night of no rest. I’m talking actually slept for hours, woke up, went down, and made my own damn coffee??

Let’s ask my little baristas when they wake. I bet ya it’s been a while.

Good morning, world. It’s good to be back.

Death Will Find Us All

It is truly a sad time in my life right now. I am not writing this seeking pity or condolences. I am writing this because I have so much to say on the topic of death and how we don’t ever know when it will find us. Today, we buried a 56 year old grandmother. Three months ago, my 34 year old brother-in-law. My poor children (my daughter especially as this was her grandmother today) have seen so much death in their young years. And it makes me ache from deep within my soul.

I have a special place in my heart for children. And to see so many show up to Mrs. Audrey’s funeral today really broke my heart. But it also made me happy to see just how many children she mattered to. Just how many children she helped in so many ways. But that heartache, that grief, will follow these children. As much as we like to think that children are more resilient than us adults, we must recognize that they will forever hold these memories in their hearts, aching and not understanding why they had to endure it at such a young age. They will think, 20 years from now, back on this day and remember the tears and the sobs of those around them. They will remember just how much they loved Mrs. Audrey and all that she did for our little farm family. And for some of them, it will be their first memories of death.

That is truly heartbreaking. To think of how many children will most likely cry at our first horse show of the season. Shows where normally Mrs. Audrey would show up late, barreling up the dirt lane pulling a horse trailer, stopping at the porch to drop off the cooler full of ice for our food stand. The times we will laugh remembering those times and her heart of gold will be the only thing that gets many of us through the upcoming show season.

It is times like now that we reflect back on how we interacted with others. Did we show them enough appreciation? Did we let them know they were loved? I know that I thanked her many times over the years for her love for my daughter. She showed her love in many ways, never faltering, never failing. And my daughter will hold on to those memories forever. I know that I have raised my daughter well and she never let Audrey’s good deeds go unnoticed or unappreciated.

As I sat through the service listening to all of the things said about her, I could only hope that when my time comes, those same things are said of me. I hope that people note my strength and resilience, my love for my children and my family and friends. I hope that by the time death finds me, I have achieved all of my goals and watched my children reach theirs. Death finds us all, but will we be ready?

Kristen A. Ruchalski