Happy (Re)birthday to Me

Hello, dear readers! Today is a day that always fills me with deep thoughts and gratitude. It’s the day I’ve been calling Miracle Day for years, which my husband has re-branded cutely into “Amanda Day.” Just over a week away from my actual birthday, I realize it could also be called my rebirth day.

Fourteen years ago, I was a passenger in a near-fatal car crash that left me with a traumatic brain injury, an uphill battle of relearning absolutely everything (walking, talking, eating, seeing, balancing…etc.)–and a huge sense of purpose. Three years ago, another horrific car crash (rear-ended!) left me with another head injury and a renewed sense of purpose and love.

I beg you to consider it more the literary nerd in me rather than total egomania–but part of what’s helped me piece together the puzzle of my life is realizing that many literary heroes undergo an epic quest and ultimate rebirth to become a new, leveled-up, wiser version of their still former selves–not a transformation into a different person, but a better version of themselves. These epic heroes have traded something dear to realize their destiny. There is usually an element of loss, but for a greater gain and a greater good. They don’t give up because things have changed; they move forward, realizing they are better equipped, even if it’s difficult, and even if they must get to know themselves anew.

I reflect on this often, blessed as I am to have made a “full recovery.” I put it in quotes, because a brain injury is permanent. However, the brain is FASCINATING in its ability to rebuild new connections, new workarounds for how things used to be. Just because an area of the brain was damaged does not necessarily mean that a function/skill is lost–the brain can often accommodate, especially with great rehab like I had at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital, part of Northwestern Medicine (where I proudly work!). Now, 14 years after my major trauma, I certainly think/work differently before–but I don’t (usually) think of it as a bad thing. Things that are perhaps a bit slower for me now are certainly offset by the enormous perspective, compassion, and sense of purpose I gained. I feel like I see the world completely differently now; that my unquenchable sense of carpe diem has unlocked a thousand lifetimes for me, that my equally heartbreaking and heart-filling sense of empathy is a network of a thousand souls.

I was blessed to recover as I did, in a completeness that many are not lucky enough to reach–and let me tell you, that survivor’s guilt is intense. As much as I LOVE volunteering, donating, mentoring, giving back–I will never feel equal to the love and support God, my family, friends, and strangers showed me during my recovery. Recovery for me was an enormous hug with a soft, warm blanket of love that has only grown since those hard days.

November is an interesting month for me–and again, it’s the literary nerd in me that seeks themes–but I could not think of a better series of holidays to celebrate: Rebirth Day/Miracle Day/Amanda Day; Thanksgiving (SO MUCH to be thankful for); and my actual birthday. Thank you God, family, husband, friends, coworkers, and again, strangers–for making this life so beautiful and blessed.

Today is sometimes melancholic for me, reflecting on how lucky I have been to be saved twice on November 21 and wondering what it all means. More than anything, it is a day filled with gratitude. My husband and family make sure it is also a fun day for me. Tonight, Dave and I played a word game (my favorite!) and I had pizza (also my favorite!) and am soon to partake in some dark chocolate (another favorite–see a theme?). I’m writing on my new laptop I’m already obsessed with that Dave got me as an early present for Amanda Day/birthday/Christmas (who gets presents for the anniversary of their medical events?? This lucky wife! 🙂 ) My wonderful boss made sure I was able to work from home today so I wouldn’t have to be on the roads and could stay comfortable–and she gave me many hugs and such compassion, along with several other coworkers yesterday.

I am absolutely blessed with this life. Even the dark moments led to more beauty, more growth, a deeper existence–a rebirth. 🙂

Christmas Snow Globe: A Reflection on Christmas Blessings

Good morning, dear readers! I hope you had a wonderful Christmas. I will share the details of my fabulous holiday soon (thank you loved ones for making it so), but today’s post is a reflection on my Christmas eight years ago.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Marianjoy held its annual Patient Christmas Party two weeks ago. It was lots of fun, including skits and carols. A coworker-friend of mine wrote a parody of the “Wassailing” song that we all performed; it was hilarious and went over really well. 🙂

We got to wear costumes if we wanted to, which of course means I did:

I dressed as an angel! My mom sewed the dress for me in high school, and my dad made the halo. I’ve worn the wings so many times they’re a little droopy. 😉

But the most special part of the event, for me, was the opening reflection. I asked our Spiritual Director if I could write a piece to share at the party, and she invited me to open the event.

As soon as we arranged it, I was intimidated. My mission was pure enough: I wanted to share some inspirational insights about hope at this time of year. No one *wants* to spend Christmas in a hospital–but if you look at it in a different way, it may be the most special Christmas you’ll ever have.

When I spent Christmas as an inpatient at Marianjoy eight years ago, it was such a unique experience. (I was discharged just a few days later.) I hadn’t planned it, of course, but it wasn’t cold or clinical–it was warm, friendly, encouraging, and full of love–all the things Christmas should be.

So I, the writer, the girl who is always talking, sat frozen at my keyboard for weeks, trying to think of how to put this into words. It was so important to me to get it right. Not only would my whole audience be experts on the subject, but the gift I wanted to give them was abstract and elusive, a long-shot: hope.

I must have gotten it at least a little right, because I had a lot of applause and people coming up to me afterwards thanking me for sharing it–patients, coworkers, the CEO, former therapists, nurses, and doctors. It was a terrific experience; better than I’d hoped for. 🙂

My writer’s block finally disappeared when I thought of the central image, which you can find in the title below. I hope you enjoy my speech. 🙂

“Christmas Snow Globe”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

Christmas in a hospital is kind of like a snow globe:

Frozen Snowglobe

(then I shook this snow globe, a Christmas present to Jennifer and me)

Your whole world is turned upside-down. You feel as if you’re suspended in a schedule of personal flurry, too busy with the rituals of therapy to notice that time is passing outside of your dome. And suddenly—it’s Christmas.

And—when you pause for a moment to catch your breath—you feel it. You’re not alone. You are surrounded by love and hope.

You might expect to hear something like this out of someone from the Marketing Department. But the way I really know this is I was a patient here myself eight years ago, due to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury that gave me only a 5% chance at survival.

When I came to Marianjoy, I was out of the danger zone, but I wasn’t back to myself, or back to my life. It was a transition, between nearly dying and nearly living. And I certainly hadn’t anticipated spending Christmas here.

For me, Christmas has always been about being home with family. But while I was here, I discovered a new family. I saw it in the compassionate faces of the therapists. I felt it in the healing touch of the doctors. I even tasted it, in the peppermint bark another patient had made for me, surprisingly—candy she guarded so closely that she gave my father strict instructions not to eat it before giving it to me. I guess she had a sixth sense about my father’s sweet tooth.

And I realized—I was spending Christmas here with my family, with this place that has become a home to me. It’s a family I have been blessed with, a gift I did not anticipate receiving that Christmas along with my life. Yes, Marianjoy is like a family to me—and, much like the in-laws who suggest staying after Christmas into New Year’s—they can’t get rid of me.

And so—I know this may not be how you planned to celebrate Christmas. But take it from someone who has been on this journey before: there is beauty all around you. In this snow globe—you are loved. There is hope here. We even asked for some fresh snow today. This transition is a special time in your life—and in a funny way, it is a gift. I will never forget the Christmas I spent here, and I hope yours is just as special. Merry Christmas.


I hope you liked it, dear readers. Good luck on your New Year’s Eve preparations! If you’re not back here before then, I wish you a happy New Year full of peace, love, good health, and prosperity. ❤

Miracle Day: Eight Years After My Traumatic Brain Injury

I’ve put off writing this post until this moment, because I wanted to make sure I enjoyed every. Single. Second. of Miracle Day.

“Miracle Day” is what I’ve decided to call November 21, 2005. It was the day I almost died–but I didn’t. Last summer, Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare asked me to tell my story for their annual report. Please watch this short video to learn about my journey (mobile users, click here):

I feel bad for the video editors, who had to cut down 2+ hours of my speaking about my experience into two minutes. 😉 I think they did a great job, though. There’s so much I have to say about all of this; as you may recall, I’m working on my memoir of this experience now.

Words are my gift, my tool, and I had to fight hard to get them back. Initially, I couldn’t speak, except through the American Sign Language alphabet that Jennifer and I had taught each other (half-correctly) at ages 5 and 7. Even after I was no longer intubated, my throat was damaged and my words were sludgy in my mind. With the help of some amazing therapists and the encouragement of my family and friends, along with a lot of hard (rewarding) work, I was able to make a tremendous recovery. It was this experience that taught me just how crucial communication is, and that my gift with words might be a gift indeed. It gave me the courage to be a writer, because I finally saw a way to make a difference through my writing. And I’ve never stopped.

I feel like God gave me back my life for a reason, and I have a huge sense of destiny and duty to give back and help other people. I never feel like I can do enough, and sometimes I worry I’m not working hard enough or being good enough. I know that my memoir is part of that destiny, and that’s part of what intimidates me–but also excites me–about it.

Although I only had <5% chance of surviving that injury, and even less chance of recovering to any great extent, I did. I am incredibly grateful to God and every person who helped me to come back. Each day since then has been a gift, even the bad ones, because they are days I almost didn’t have. I don’t feel like I’m living on borrowed time, but rather gifted time. My loved ones are a huge part of that gift, and I’m going to love them as hard as I can (and tell them so) to thank them for making my life so worthwhile and for all they do to keep me alive–not just when I was in the hospital bed, but also in the way they nourish my spirit and give my life purpose.

Today, Jennifer voted to wrap me in a comforter and hold me in a rocking chair by the fireplace. While I appreciated the loving thought, we deemed this too sweaty and bulky an option. Kidding aside, I feel overwhelmed by the love, congratulations, and protectiveness that surge forth on this day from loved ones. I was surprised I actually managed to convince my dad to go shopping with me today–not the shopping itself (he has always gone shopping with us and has personally found many of our best pieces), but the leaving the house on the day. But, we did have a miracle to celebrate, after all.

In retrospect, a day that might have seemed mundane was actually quite symbolic–almost eerily so. This morning, my dad picked up a collared shirt for me from Wal-Mart for my country-themed birthday celebration coming up. Eight years ago, he also picked up a couple of collared shirts for me from Wal-Mart to wear during therapy at Marianjoy. When he got back today, we left to buy a ball gown I’ve been pining over for two years, which I plan to wear (spoiler alert!) to the next Marianjoy gala. It was a far cry from the hospital gowns I was wearing as a Marianjoy patient eight years ago. To go with those hospital gowns, eight years ago, my dad had to buy me high-top gym shoes to wear in the hospital so my feet stayed upright while I slept/the muscles didn’t pronate. Today, we went shopping for shoes for my job at that hospital. We even took a picture today in our nearby downtown area, with all the Christmas lights in the background wrapped around trees and poles–pretty different than pole lights and X-rays in my hospital room. Then we ended the night with pizza, which was my #1 requested food item at Marianjoy, which they were so sweet to accommodate. So maybe I’m just reading too much YA literature, or maybe I’m just trying to justify making my dad go shopping with me, but I thought the day was awesomely symbolic.

I never feel more grateful, blessed, or awe-struck than this day, each year. It’s a nice feeling to have–it makes me feel simultaneously small in the universe and hugely impactful, predestined but powerful, loved and loving. Thank you to my family, friends, doctors, nurses, therapists, and firemen who rescued me not just from death, but from a darkness I might have entered, too. And thank you to you, my dear readers, for following my journey. ❤

Celebrating My Sister: Why She is My Hero + Her Birthday

Hello readers, I hope you’ve been having a good week. It’s cooled off quite a bit here, which has made for a nice reprieve with humidity.

Today (Thursday) is National Girlfriends Day, which has unknown origins, but it’s a day to celebrate our female friendships. I woke up today to this adorable collage Jennifer texted me. I just had to share:

BFF Collage, by Jennifer. On the left, we (I'm on the very left) are enjoying smoothies at our favorite organic food cafe, Freshii.

BFF Collage, by Jennifer. On the left, we (I’m on the very left) are enjoying smoothies at our favorite organic food cafe, Freshii.

What a sweet way to start the day! ❤

It was the second holiday for us in a week. Last weekend, we had a low-key but fun celebration for Jennifer’s birthday. We went out to our favorite soup-and-salad buffet, Sweet Tomatoes.

Never too old to be a princess. A collage of various gifts she received for her birthday.

Never too old to be a princess. A collage of some of the gifts Jennifer received for her birthday.

She was really touched at the thoughtfulness of her gifts this year, both from family and friends. Can you tell she likes pink? And yes, you can see I am not the only one in the family to have a fancy for most things British.

Keeping with the princess and British theme, I couldn’t resist this royal candle set for Jennifer’s cake. I was initially worried, but ultimately impressed; the flames created a majestic glow, more royal celebration than horrific London Fire. One can never be sure when melting wax shapes, but Hobby Lobby came through, as usual.

A cake worthy of a princess

A cake worthy of a princess

Besides a duo of no-chip manicure vouchers (another of our girly obsessions), a gift not pictured here from me was an essay I wrote about Jennifer. Last week, I participated in David Litwack‘s whirlwind blog tour for Novel Publicity. (Check out the recent posts/archives if you missed the review, interview, etc.). Litwack’s culminating event was asking people to share their stories about everyday heroes. I immediately thought of my sister, who was crucial in my recovery from my traumatic brain injury. This is the story of a teenager who became a woman in a matter of days, sacrificing everything to save someone she loved more than life itself. Because of her efforts, I’m able to write this and everything else I want, hopefully helping other people someday, if I haven’t already. We’re able to pursue our dreams together, and we’re closer than ever. So in honor of Jennifer’s birthday, National Girlfriends Day, and my hero, I’d like to share this piece with you.

Why My Sister is My Hero
By: Amanda K. Fowler

When I was 19, I almost died in a car accident that left me with a traumatic brain injury. But this story isn’t about me: it’s about my sister, who saved me in more ways than she’ll ever know.

Even though the brain surgeon did a great job, he was honest when he told my family I had a less than 5 percent chance at survival. My family was devastated, but they pulled together and gave me all their love and strength.

My younger sister, Jennifer, and I have been best friends since the day she was born—practically identical twins, finishing each other’s sentences, dressing and looking the same without meaning to. We shared everything, but I was slipping away from this world. The only thing I responded to in my coma before surgery was her singing to me: I squeezed her hand.

To this day, I can’t imagine what it was like for her, at 17 years old, to almost lose the person who’d shared every moment of her life, one of the people she loved most in the world. It would have been easy to take a back seat, to leave responsibility for my needs to the doctors and nurses, to focus on school and other things normal seventeen-year-olds care about. But that’s not what heroes do, is it?

Instead, she spent every moment outside of school at the hospital, barely sleeping. She rushed to my side when she got the call I was out of the coma, translating my rapid half–made-up sign language from our childhood to everyone else. She was my only line of communication with the world until I could begin speaking again, weeks later. And because I couldn’t move or see, she did everything for me, including climbing into the hospital bed to tweeze my eyebrows when I was feeling unkempt.

She ate dinner out of a Ziploc bag on the floor in the kitchen by herself after visiting hours ended, on nights when my parents stayed overnight with me. When it came to my food, she asked the nurses to teach her how to use the feeding tube so she could reconnect it when I needed it, as well as how to feed me ice chips when I was allowed. She wore neon shirts to the hospital to try to help me remember things day-to-day. She flapped her hand like a butterfly around me to help my eyes focus again.

But she didn’t stop helping me after I got done with the hospital. It was miraculous how much I had recovered—I could walk a little, eat on my own, speak—but there was so much more that I needed, things a hospital couldn’t fix. Things only a sister could do.

She told me I was beautiful when half of my head was shaved, my eyes were crossed, and my body was emaciated. She proved it to me when she styled my hair, picked out my clothes, gave me her cool sunglasses, and took pictures of me the way she saw me. She put a napkin in her own glasses so I wouldn’t feel alone when people stared at my eye patch, right after she yelled at them for being insensitive. She taught me to laugh when I got food in her hair, when I said something the wrong way; she taught me not to be ashamed, only proud of how hard I was trying and how truly lovable I was.

Jennifer went with me to college; it was her first year and my restart of my second. She kept helping me and encouraging me to blossom. And blossom we both did.

Now, seven years later, I’m pretty much fully recovered, and I’m following my dreams as a writer. We both graduated, and I now have my M.A. in Writing & Publishing, too. But most importantly, I still have my sister, my best friend. We are back to finishing each other’s sentences and being equally helpful to each other (or so I like to think). I couldn’t have recovered without her. My sister wasn’t a normal seventeen-year-old when I had my traumatic brain injury; she was my hero, and she always will be.

I love you, Jennifer. ❤

Jennifer and me at a Japanese restaurant, at a belated celebration of my 20th birthday just after coming home from the hospital.

Jennifer and me at a Japanese restaurant, at a belated celebration of my 20th birthday just after coming home from the hospital.

Happy Father’s Day

My first Easter, with my dad. ❤ The gown and bonnet were custom-made as a gift for me.


Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers out there–biological, adoptive, mentor, and otherwise. 🙂 It’s been a nice, relaxing day for us so far. My mom and sister made a tremendous breakfast of omelettes, potatoes, and pancakes from scratch. My sister and I bought our dad baseball tickets and mini-golf/batting cage passes, but my dad elected for us to use those on a not-as-crowded weekend. 😉

I am so lucky to have such a great relationship with my dad, and we’ve only grown closer over the years. He has always been a wonderful mentor, role model, and protector, but now that Jennifer and I are older, he is also one of our best friends. He is one of my favorite people to have deep conversations with about philosophy, religion, government, and classical music, and I so appreciate that he and our mom have always taken our opinions seriously, no matter what age we were–I think that really helps children develop into confident individuals. 🙂 As I mentioned in this post (which is actually my most-viewed day of all time!), I also love how he will take Jennifer and me out on daddy-daughter dates, one-on-one. My lovely fellow-blogger friend Misty made this comment on that blog post, which I totally agree with and didn’t even think of till she mentioned it: “It is SO important for fathers to take their girls out to show them how their future husband should treat them!” Well-said, Misty! Since we were little girls, Jennifer and I have always imagined our future husbands to have many of the qualities our dad has: dependable, supportive, honorable, loving, hard-working, thoughtful, and more. Potential suitors can tell immediately that they have a lot to live up to, and like Misty said, I think that’s a good thing. After all, for most little girls, their fathers were the first men they ever loved.

It’s one thing for a dad to be there during happy times, but it’s another for him also to be there during the hard times. A lot of men can be intimidated or overwhelmed when “the going gets tough,” but not my dad. He has always been our hero, and he argues that we put him on too high of a pedestal, but the truth is that there isn’t a pedestal in existence that’s high enough for him. And that’s OK, because my sister sewed him a superhero cape a number of years ago, so he doesn’t need to stand when he could fly in the stratosphere, anyway. 😉

I think the hardest thing a parent could go through is losing a child–and the next-hardest thing would be almost losing one. That’s why I always say that my traumatic brain injury experience was harder for my family than for me. When you boil it down, for me, my experience was mostly positive: I survived, I was getting better every day, I was surrounded by people who loved and supported me no matter what. It’s hard for me to imagine what my parents felt, and that’s one of the hardest aspects of writing my memoir–but I know it couldn’t have been easy, squelching negative “what-ifs” and replacing them with unconditional smiles and positivity. I don’t remember a lot of things about my TBI recovery, but one thing that resounds through all my memories is my father saying “she can do it”–no matter how bleak a medical prediction was pronounced. And that’s what I always held onto, because I’ve always trusted my father so much–so I knew that if he thought I could do it, I must be able to. 🙂

When I was in the secondary education (teaching) program at UIUC, one of our assignments was to write a thank-you note to someone who has inspired us. I knew immediately who that would be, and for what. Here is the letter I wrote on 8/31/07, less than two years after my TBI.

Dear Dad,

            The simplest words we’ve heard so many times are sometimes the most effective; the repetition makes them especially powerful, so that when they are said at more poignant times, we remember them especially well.

            “She can do it”—not even spoken to me, but about me. Hearing you tell someone else that I could do it meant knowing that the sentiment wasn’t a term reserved simply to comfort me with perhaps exaggerated situational confidence.

            Never was this more critical than when you said it, while I was in the hospital, in response to several doctors’ doubts about my ability to walk, write, etc.—let alone return to college—again. At a time where I was less certain than ever of my abilities and potential, the person whose judgment I had always considered the soundest (well, along with Mom’s and Jennifer’s), just voiced firmly that I would be able to do potentially everything I wished—just as you had always told us.

            Maybe I wasn’t so different then than the little girl who looks to her hero (her father, of course) for identification, encouragement and guidance for her potential. I know for certain that I would not be the person I am today without that invaluable, unconditional support and faith you bestowed upon me; I know I would not have returned to that person without that very similar faith.

            Dad, thank you not only for telling me that “I can do it,” but telling others “she [I] can do it,” too. This very simple act of publicizing your faith reinforces that belief in me.

            Just as this now-big girl will always be your little girl, so will you always be her hero; and she hopes to continue to hear that simple phrase from you that means so much to her.


I mailed that letter to my dad, and he’s kept it ever since–and he has indeed continued to tell me “she can do it” through every endeavor I try.

Thank you, Dad, for all your support and guidance of shaping me into who I am today. I love you forever. ❤

Memoir Preview Event, and Why I’m Writing It in the First Place

Happy Tuesday! I hope people aren’t too tired from busy Mother’s Day weekends; the beginnings of the week are hard enough, right? 😉 One coworker of mine told me she was tired from helping her mom plant 50 new flowers Sunday, buying and spreading 35 bags of mulch! And I guess 50 and 35 must have been magic numbers, because Jeremiah had to tote 35 50-lb. bags of rocks to cover a sinkhole on their farm Sunday. Holy cow!  My Sunday was comparatively laid-back–well, I suppose, laid-back, period. 😉

Thank you again to all of you who supported my memoir preview event, either with your presence or your encouragement. Jennifer and I had been invited by Marianjoy’s Auxiliary to speak at their Spring Luncheon this year. (Click here to see my initial announcement and the invitation.)

The whole event was fabulous, from the location, to the food, to the presentation itself. College of DuPage’s Waterleaf Restaurant was a gorgeous venue to choose for a spring luncheon, and apparently, this was the Marianjoy Auxiliary’s second luncheon there (the restaurant opened only a couple of years ago). With spring finally arriving here in the last few weeks, the buds around facility were in full bloom–a lovely site with the venue’s glass walls. I don’t have the photos from our event yet, but I will post some at a later time, and here is a photo from Waterleaf’s Facebook page:

The Waterleaf Restaurant at College of DuPage (courtesy of their Facebook page)

It was hard to count exactly how many people attended, but it sure seemed crowded, especially from our little spot up front. (Jennifer and I rather comically figured out how to maneuver to share the microphone meant for one.) I think there were at least 70 people there.

After raffles and a delicious lunch, Jennifer and I were up! We were incredibly nervous; no matter how many times we tell my family’s story of my TBI, it is emotional and nerve-wracking. Part of it was that “performance high” feeling I’ve gotten from being onstage since the age of five. (Having no other high to compare this to, it is an imaginary allusion. 😉 ) It’s the rush that comes from working really hard on something and imagining the best case scenario, and it feels like you’re flying–but the giddiness, too, that comes from not wanting to look down and see how far away the ground is. You’re flying, this is the moment you’ve been waiting for, and the only thing to do is focus on the act, to look ahead at where you’re going; focusing on the ground will only make you crash. There I go, inserting poetry into an entry that’s meant to be narration… 😉 Anyway, I love that feeling right before performances or speeches I’ve worked hard on, and I’m so lucky I get the opportunity to do public speaking all the time for my job at Marianjoy.

However, with this type of speech, there is always an inherent fear that people won’t “get” it. It’s one thing for someone to dismiss a poem you’ve written about a butterfly or an ancient Greek goddess, maybe both beautiful, but neither directly related to you. It’s another thing to pour out your entire soul, bare yourself completely naked and worry that people won’t respond well. Of course, this is a metaphorical  baring; I was, in fact, wearing a gray shift dress, black blazer, and gray pearls that I remember vividly because I spent hours agonizing over what to wear. 😉

It’s a nakedness that’s taken me years to be comfortable with. The more you can refer to something in the “past tense,” the easier it is to separate yourself from a painful memory, right? Well, that may be true in general, but the fact is, a brain injury is a permanent badge–it stays with you for life. There is great potential for recovery (like I was blessed to undergo–from <5% chance of survival to having two degrees and a great job), but it is something that will always be part of you. I’ve learned that the secret to true peace and “wholeness” comes when you embrace the very thing you’ve been trying to overcome. Always strive to surpass limitations and be the best you can be; it’s not about accepting limitations, it’s about admiring how far you’ve come and how those triumphs have defined your character.

This can be a hard place to get to when you’ve been through a traumatic event. While I’ll never remember the car accident (it happened too quickly for my brain to process it), remembering and learning anew what my family went through when they supported me is a humbling and somber process. I’ve been so blessed to have their support all along, and it felt so reassuring to have my sister by my side at this memoir event.

I’ve never ignored the TBI or recovery process, but it’s not something I really pondered over at enormous length until my graduate memoir class at DePaul with Michele Morano. That very class was the whole reason I signed up for the Writing & Publishing program there; I knew I would need help putting the muddied emotions into words. I love to write, but ironically, it had always been hard to write about myself (still is, at times). It’s much easier to imagine how a fictional character might react to a situation than to dissect how you, yourself feel–and then, you have to turn it into art! My professor was wonderfully understanding, giving me the advice and push I needed to start the process of writing my memoir about the event. Ever since the TBI happened, everyone who’s heard about what happened to me urged me to write a book about it, even before knowing I was actually a writer. I realized that while people sadly get injured all the time, the perspective, support, and beauty of what I went through was something special that needed to be shared so it could help other people going through a dark time.

When the President of the Marianjoy Auxiliary, Mimi Rose, asked Jennifer and me to share our story at the annual Spring Luncheon, we were flattered and agreed immediately. When Mimi found out I was writing a memoir about it, she encouraged me to share selections from it as part of the presentation.

Although we were excited for our presentation, it was a pretty daunting feat. I have spoken at several events for Marianjoy in the past, but this would be much longer and more comprehensive. I chose what I thought was a good array of pieces reflecting different aspects of the experience, and Jennifer helped me form an outline for the presentation. It was our mom’s idea to intersperse verbal anecdotes in between the stories, mostly from Jennifer, and we thought the idea was brilliant and went with it.

In the end, I didn’t get to read everything I’d planned within the time constraints–but that was OK. The audience was so kind and empathetic; my boss says “there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.” There was a lot of laughter, too, because so many absurd things happen when things are supposed to go a certain way in recovery–they never do, right? I think the more serious an event is, the more potential there is for little things you’d never expect to sneak in and be funny at the same time. I was so happy for the balance of reaction, because that’s the very message I want to get across, the very reason I’m writing my memoir and even this blog: when things seem sad or dark, have faith, because they just may turn out for the best. They may change your path and give you purpose; I know they did for me.

Many people came up to Jennifer and me afterwards and complimented us, thanking us for sharing our stories. We both really appreciated this, because as I said, it can be nerve-wracking being so completely candid about something so personal and deep. To top off the loveliness of the whole day, our mom won a donated raffle for a bottle of wine and a restaurant gift certificate, and each of us got to take home a transferable flower pot. While I’m not sure exactly how many people attended the event, I know each ticket was $40, so I’m sure we raised a nice amount of money for the Marianjoy Auxiliary. 🙂

I’d like to end this post with a thank-you again to everyone who made the event possible. Thank you to the Marianjoy Auxiliary for the invitation; to my sister, Jennifer, for speaking with me; to our mom as well as our family friend, Sue Ann, for attending and supporting us; to everyone who attended the event; to the doctors, nurses, firemen, therapists, friends, and family who assisted in my recovery; to my memoir teacher, Professor Morano; and to you, dear readers, for reading this post and your constant support. ❤

Memoir and Letting Go–“The Stone”

Sadly, the weekend is coming to an end, so I’m going to make tonight’s post a little shorter so we can both soak up the remaining drops of Sunday!

I’ve been thinking a lot about memoir lately, especially because of my upcoming presentation on May 9th (you can view the event in the calendar on the right side bar). My sister and I are going to be telling the story of the incredible journey that my traumatic brain injury took my family on. I will be reading excerpts from my upcoming memoir, Afterglow. The event will include an elegant luncheon at the Waterleaf Restaurant at College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn. There will also be fabulous gift baskets available for raffle!  All proceeds go to Marianjoy. Tickets are $40, and you can pay by mail or at the door, but RSVP is required by April 30th. To register, just email me at jellysideupblog@gmail.com or leave a comment with your info and I will contact you!

Anyway, I’ve been working a lot on shaping some memoir pieces for my presentation. This process is pretty complicated and emotional, but it is so important. To build off of last night’s post, there is so much healing that can take place when you write out your pain. The unique situation for my memoir is I’m writing about a time where my memory is pretty shaky–that part of my brain was damaged at that time, and therefore, so is my memory. Luckily, my family kept really good records, both on paper and in their own memories, so those are rich resources for me to tap into. Reaching back into the past of that painful time for my family has been rewarding and shocking for me. The whole experience was packed full of emotion from everyone, and the presiding emotion that bound together all the fragments of pain was love. The discovery of that pain itself is a fresh shock to me–an aftershock–because my family (and friends and boyfriend) were so brave to hide anything but happiness and encouragement around me, and that is why I healed so well. The writing of the memoir itself is almost a new experience for me, and it carries its pain with it, but there is a beauty in the retrospect of how there was so much good during such a dark time.

I recently wrote this poem, describing the burden of this new knowledge, and the impulse to be selfish with it–not to want anyone to share the pain with you, not only because you don’t want to hurt them, but also because there is a pride in owning something so enormous and deep. At the AWP conference this year, I attended a panel about memoir, and one of the panelists said something that really stuck with me. This poem is also a response to that statement.  I’m sharing this with you now because it builds so well off of last night’s post, and it also matches NaPoWriMo‘s prompt for today:

I challenge you to write a poem in which each line except the last takes the form of a single, declarative sentence. Then, the final line should take the form of a question. With any luck, this will result in poems that have a sort of driving, reportorial tone, but with a powerful rhetorical finish.

“The Stone”
By: Amanda K. Fowler

A memoirist professed—
“This story,
It is a stone fastened to the heart.”
Yes, I said,
“Once you tell the story,
The stone is loosened
And falls away.
You will be free.”
I’m not sure
I’m ready
To let it go,
For this stone
Has crept into my heart.
Once I let it go,
What part of me
Will leave with it?