2019 marked Kitti and I’s second holiday season together. In 2018, Kitti had just transferred to the acute rehabilitation hospital a few days before Christmas. Christmas Eve was spent with the possibility of having to return to the original hospital, as Kitti's sodium levels were steadily dropping as her brain and endocrine system learned to work together again. Luckily, Kitti stabilized with the help of some medicine, fluid reductions, and loads of salty meals, and she was able to stay and continue to settle in. She does not have much memory from that time, but pictures surrounded by gifts, family and friends help to illustrate the holiday and love surrounding her.
With the uncertainty if this will be Kitti’s last Christmas in the USA, we made the most of the season while testing her limits once again. Highlights included SCC’s fabulous holiday party (Kitti was a “braindeer” since she does not own any “ugly holiday sweaters”), making hand crafted ornaments for the tree at home, celebrating with her USA family by personally cooking several of the dinner dishes, and volunteering at Upcycle’s gingerbread house decorating party. And like the two little old ladies we sometimes are, we embarked on not one, not two, but three nights of driving around looking for the tackiest of holiday light displays in the DC area. More about our elderly alter ego adventures, Joan and Jean-Jean, in a future post.
Amidst the re-learning of activities and the joy of the season, Kitti’s brain injury continues to remind that challenges and healing is a long road. Brain fatigue is very real and prohibited her from partaking in day 2 of a watercolor painting workshop, as day 1’s stimulation debilitated her, resulting in a day in bed to recuperate. Her brain has to work extra hard to think, process and concentrate, and the new sounds, sights, and words took its toll.
Just before Christmas, Kitti endured another seizure, this time in the shower. She was able to chant my name softly to alert me and we avoided any additional injuries. Despite the scariness and sadness that envelop her after a seizure, Kitti didn’t let this dampen her holiday spirit and a few days later was back peeking at the presents under the tree.
In 2018, I had left work at 3PM as we were excused early for New Year’s Eve. After picking up some sparkling grape juice, plastic champagne flutes and Hello Kitty 2019 tiaras, our night was spent watching the festivities on tv – Kitti laying in her hospital bed as she was not walking yet, and me in her armchair, side by side. We set up salty chips on her rolling hospital tray (sodium issues are a great excuse for junk food), and Kitti gave glow-in-the-dark necklaces to the nurses on duty that night. Kitti tried to stay up until midnight, but was asleep by 10:00 PM (she usually went to sleep around 7:30 PM, worn out from 6 back-to-back therapy sessions daily).
This year, we decided to stay inside and work on 2020 intentions and goals. Kitti has always been a goal setter. When I was clearing out her desk at work, she had her goals and objectives for the year hung right above her phone so they were always front and center.
It’s been no different in her journey thus far. However, the new year presents its challenges with the uncertainty of whether the USA will allow Kitti to stay to continue healing.
Kitti selected a guiding word instead. Without hesitation, she spelled out “Forward”. At some point along Kitti’s journey, Mike, her dear mentor and consistent force in her life shared some advice his mother had given him. “Always forward. Never backward.”. The way Kitti shakes her finger during the word “never” is likely how she imagines Mike’s mother shaking her finger at him. Many times during silence, I will suddenly hear her verbalize “Forward”, and I know she is working out something internally that she hasn't yet been able to process the words for.
Mine is "Fluidity". It’s not to imply going with the flow more, as I’m not very good at choosing the path of least resistance. To me, Fluidity is knowing the tide will ebb and flow, but to handle each wave – whether a ripple or a surge - with ease and grace.
It’s coincidence Kitti and I both picked “F” words.
Faith. Focus. Friends. Family. Future. Fire. Fight. Feel. Figure it Out.
Cheers to the F word in 2020.
P.S. Kitti insists I add Food as an F word. Because…well, it’s Kitti and she loves Food.