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“The shortest distance between two people is a story." Patti Digh. “Strokes supersize you...

Schurig Center BAM GalaDr Stephen Weiss, Patricia Gill, MS, Dr. Richard Delmonico, Dr. Diane Barnes

L to R: Dr Stephen Weiss, Patricia Gill, MS, Dr. Richard Delmonico, me with new curly do

Whatever you loved before, like a tree, you really appreciate.” A Schurig Center for Brain Injury Recovery client.

The supersize quote was shared by Patricia Gill, MS, Executive Director of the Schurig Center, as she addressed the gathered swells last weekend at the 8th Annual Brain Art and Music Gala, Celebrating Connections. The gala benefited the Karen G. Schurig Scholarship Fund, which enables the Center to offer life changing services to those affected by brain injury for as long as needed (in stark contrast to insurance rehab guidelines.)

BAM Gala Celebrating Connections Poster

Schurig Center 8th Annual Brain Art and Music Gala Program

Of course, their “connections” is a double entendre. The Gala celebrates the work of rehab - rebuilding connections in the brain, or synapses, and creating new personal and social connections after stroke, both key to recovery.

Loss of community is one of the most difficult and painful aspects of brain injury. Think about it- if you can no longer do your regular job, have lost the ability to express yourself, have significant physical impairments, altered senses such as sound hypersensitivity, lost proprioception or vision, how easily could you fit in your present world? Who surrounding you would remain? For how long? Who would walk the marathon to recovery with you?

Everyone I know who has had a major illness, loss or injury describes dismay at the number of “friends” who disappeared, the lost relationships, the job that kicked them to the curb, their sense of isolation. (Though, on the upside, they are often surprised and heartened by who does step up to help.) For those with brain injury in particular, mounting losses can leave us in very dark places, eroding both the will and faith needed to scale the steep mountain of rehab in the early, critical years.

One brain injury survivor summed up his experience of loss: “I miss someone looking me in the eye.” That stopped me in my tracks. How easily do you look a visibly impaired person in the eye? How carefully or patiently can you listen to decode garbled speech? No finger pointing here. Those of you who know my story know it took my stroke to open my eyes to how intellectually impatient and intolerant I had been.

One Gala speaker reminded us, the concept of heaven in every religion all over the earth is being reunited with loved ones. Connections matter! Relationships are what brings us through. And non profits like the Center, Pacific Stroke Association in the South Bay, Stroke Awareness Oregon or national groups like The American Stroke Association (a division of the America Heart Association) are critical in filling the community /connections void. Through support groups, art and music activities, education, therapies and referrals, they become the foundation of new community for both survivors of brain injury and their families.

So imagine my surprise and gratitude, to learn I was named the Creating Connection Honoree for this year! What an honor! A stone introvert, I am not a person who would ever be near the center of any of those sociograms- you know, the tool that maps relationships in groups, and identifies stars, cliques and isolates by the patterns of interaction. I’m usually on the periphery. And yet, through surviving stroke, climbing the mountain of rehab and then sharing my story, I have touched more people than I would have dared to hope.

That is the power of story. And the power of art: the highly personal shared becomes universal, one person’s revealed humanity connects with and unleashes the humanity in each and every one of us. It is no accident that art and music are often key parts of recovery (more on that another time).

Schurig Scholarship Fund poster

Hope. Healing. Recovery.

Schurig Center Gala Message

So with great humility, great gratitude (and I confess) some pride, I accepted the award, which came with a beautiful glass sculpture. Now, the icing? Captured in that photograph at the top. A complete surprise (engineered by Patricia Gill)! When I find my table, who is seated beside me? Dr. Stephen Weiss, the colleague who reached out to me, who came to share his experience of brain injury, outlined the steps to recovery and gave me the words that became my mantra: "Be the miracle you need." And who presented the award, Dr. Richard Delmonico, head of Kaiser neuropsychology services! Talk about honoring relationship. With great gratitude. Thank you, Patricia, thank you, Stephen, thank you, Richard!!!

And how does that supersize comment apply to me? I have always loved words, always been a reader, and always written for myself (journaling). But it took my stroke to find my voice, to allow this introvert to crack open wide enough to find the spaces to share my experience and craft it into a story. To fully grok the power of story. To understand how profoundly story impacts each and every one of us our entire lives, whether it be stories we tell ourselves or others. And the power of crafting those stories for good. For that, I will forever be indebted to David Ford with whom My Stroke of Luck script was developed and the solo community of the greater Bay Area (you know who you are).

So as we and the world around us blossom into spring, with all the possibilities for rejuvenation and rebirth, wishing you all the best, with time to smell the flowers.

Bearded Collie enjoying tulips

And all the best for the remainder of the Holiday Weekend!

My Stroke of Luck plays The Tower Theater in Bend Oregon,

7:30 PM Tuesday April 30th, a benefit for Stroke Awareness Oregon More Info and Tickets

My Stroke of Luck opens at The Marsh, Berkeley, 2120 Allston Way (just off Shattuck) Thursday May 2nd 8 PM.

Plays Thurs @ 8 PM, Sat @ 5 PM through June 1.

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