Thursday, December 3, 2009

Finding Balance After Loss

Today is the 3rd anniversary of my brother Tom’s death (or Tommy as he will forever be known in my heart). Anniversaries such as these are always difficult. They serve as painful reminders of the loss we’ve suffered. Intrusive memories flash through our mind, like videos we can’t turn off. Seemingly against our will, the scenes from that horrid day replay in our minds as we’re flooded with physical and emotional reminders of how we felt when the loss was so painfully new.

Anyone who has sustained a brain injury knows all too well how difficult anniversaries of significant losses can be. Those of us who’ve been down that road understand that the loss we’ve suffered is one of the most painful of all – we’ve truly lost a part of ourselves. We’ve lost the person we used to be (or at least parts of that person); we’ve lost the life we used to live and the future we never will.

In fact, nearly every brain injury survivor I’ve ever met knows the exact date of his/her injury. Even those of us who have problems with memory can recite that date. That’s something we can’t seem to forget.

I too know the date my life completely changed – June 26, 1995. After several years of painful June 26’es, I decided to “take back” my anniversary. I decided that each June 26th I would spend at least part of the day doing something I couldn’t do in the early years following my brain injury. It can be simple tasks like taking a bus or going to the grocery by myself or even doing the laundry or it can be something intrinsically wonderful like hiking on difficult terrain with the help of my ever faithful service dog, Stone. Whatever it is I choose to do on June 26th, I make sure I’m mindful of how spectacular it is and how grateful I am that I can now do so much more than I could do in the evening of June 26th, 1995.

In recent years my wonderful friend Mikki has also “taken back” the anniversary of her injury. Now, each year on the anniversary of the stroke she suffered during brain surgery while in her 20's, she celebrates the day she lived. Her anniversary has become a second birthday for her and she spends time marveling at how grateful she is to be alive. Those of us who have the privilege of knowing and loving her, are equally grateful.

This year, my family and I are “taking back” the anniversary of my brother Tommy’s death. In life, Tom made the world a better place in a big way, on a grand scale and he loved his professional “calling” but, above all else, Tom loved his family. He was the center of our family – the keeper of family traditions, the teller of family tales (and true to our Irish heritage, over the years, the line between family history and blarney added for effect became a bit blurred).

His death left a hole that can never be filled and certainly Dec 3rd will always serve as a painful reminder of that loss BUT, his children, Leilah and Ruairi, and his wife Debbie, are ensuring that Dec 3rd is also a day we remember Tom as the devoted family man and friend. (Although in Tom’s case the phrase “family man and friend” is a bit redundant as his close friends became family, not just to him but to all of us.)

Leilah, Ruairi and Debbie have planned the first annual Tom Mooney Day party for family and friends so we can come together and celebrate his unparalleled love of life, marvel at how incredibly lucky we all are that he was a part of our lives and feel grateful for the lessons he taught us about the importance of family.

In the days that followed Tommy’s death, Leilah and Debbie shared with me a book of readings their rabbi had given them. The final reading is about finding balance after loss.

“When balance comes, the memory of our time together will once again shine.

When balance comes, the weight of our time together will be an anchor to the time ahead.

When balance comes, we will embrace tomorrow, welcome laughter, rejoice in wonder, remember with joy.

When balance comes, the glow of memory will burn brighter than this flame of loss.”

Thankfully, my family and I are moving closer to finding balance


  1. Tina, this is just beautiful. I love the quote about balance. Hugs to you on this special day.(this is Cindy Nelson Zulla)

  2. I second the previous comment - I teared up while reading! Thanks.