Posted by: Kate | November 25, 2010


There are probably less creative topics I could have selected for the first week back in Madhouse action, but not many. But it is Thanksgiving week, and it is a return to a fun little activity that engenders a certain level of gratitude in me all by itself, so I’m going with it.

(OK, you have to admit, it’s kind of funny that it’s my idea, my carnival, my blog… and I didn’t manage to get a post up in time for the first week back. Just a little extra proof, in case anyone needed it, that I’m still not quite operating at – or, really, anywhere near – my previous baseline.)

I value the concept of thank-you notes, even when I’m not especially reliable in the act of writing and sending them out. I love stationery, and I keep a healthy supply on-hand at all times, blank so as not to limit myself to any particular sort of event or sentiment – because Hallmark really does not publish items that could handle the level of complication engendered by my long-ago interactions with Willem’s family. Things have been simpler now, since I have been the lucky recipient of well over a year’s worth of silent treatment, but in the early years, I just never found a card that said, “Merry Christmas, thank you for not spending it with us, as we are still recovering from the psychological wounds inflicted at Thanksgiving.” My father’s family was just as complicated: “Happy birthday! I deeply appreciate the old memories I have of the times we spent together, and continue to be shocked and appalled at the discrepancies between your behavior then and now.”

I also have a sort of mental block around a certain aspect of most preprinted cards: once you reach a certain level of intensity of feeling — somewhere in-between the strength of emotion behind “Happy Mother’s Day, Grandma!” and “Happy Anniversary, to my beloved husband, what a wonderful year we have had as a newly-married couple,” though I’m not sure exactly where to draw the line — there just reaches a point where the mass-produced card stops being appropriate. What you’re trying to express is just too personal and important to pick up at Walmart, even if you’re willing to fork over the extra couple dollars to get an extra-touchy-feely Blue Mountain Arts card or some such. There are some people who are fundamentally unable to come up with the words on their own, I understand that; through some shortfall in expressive or graphomotor or relational ability, there are any number of people who hold these deep, abiding emotions, but aren’t able to put words to them. (Hey, look, it’s another multimillion-dollar activity that I’ll never actually act on, but I’ll sulk and claim intellectual first dibs, once someone with a little bit more oomph gets the idea off the ground: a card-writing service, either in the form of a do-it-yourself kit sold in stores or an online service, wherein you respond to a series of questions that helps define the card-writing event, and then you’re given a script. You write out whatever you’re told, et viola! A personalized card, in your own handwriting, that expresses all of those deep thoughts you just relied on Hallmark to cover, back in the day when you had to settle for second-best or no cards at all.)

Myself, though, I’m usually able to get my thoughts onto paper. Ever since March, the coma has left me with unpredictable holes in my memory, both short- and long-term, and with a frustrating-to-infuriating problem with word retrieval, which means my speech is less fluid than it once was, and my writing is a grinding, aching, halting process (hence, blog posts once a week instead of once a day). But if I write enough drafts, and remember to work on it when I’m not tired or stressed out, I am eventually able to dredge the words out of my brain and scrawl, in handwriting that bears resemblance but is not identical to the pre-March samples, things that are at least good-enough, if not perfect, inside my pretty little stationery sets.

And so I have been wanting to write certain things, and little by little I’m getting there. I went out the other week and bought a notebook that is specifically devoted to my seemingly infinite to-do lists, and a full page of it is devoted to “letters to write and people to call.” I’ve been chugging away there, but have noticed that there is a group of them that I have not yet been able to write. Maybe if I get the gist of it out here, that will free up enough mental space to be able to actually attempt the real thing…

They’re all thank-you notes, intended for people who helped me or my family during the illness and terror and stress of March. The sheer need and raw ache associated with that time of my life makes it difficult for me to put words to the depth of my gratitude, plus I was unconscious for a big chunk of it and cognitively compromised for an even bigger chunk: I know that I am forgetting many of the acts of support and kindness and love that we received, and I’m sure there were even more that I was never even aware of. I still get upset just thinking about that period of time, much less trying to compress it into words. But, as a start…

To Jenny: Thank you so much for being there during Isaac’s birth. It was such a special, terrifying, wonderful event, and I am honored that you were there to share it with us. After that night, the next time I am able to recall seeing you was a day or two after I awoke from the coma; I know that the worry and fear of my illness served as a major distraction from the wonder of childbirth, but I am still so grateful that you were there. Thank you, as well, for the innumerable ways that you helped Willem and the kids during my hospitalization, and for the innumerable hours you spent at my bedside. Thank you for washing my hair when I was too weak to do so myself, and for finding ways to laugh with me about stripper names in the midst of an SICU stay. Thank you for allowing me to grieve, sometimes interminably and incoherently, during the intervening months. Thank you for continuing to stubbornly believe that I will get better – that I already am good enough – that life will go on.

To Carolyn: Thank you for setting aside your own intense discomfort in health-care settings in order to come sit at my bedside while I was so very sick. Thank you for preparing meals, and caring for the children, and helping Willem maintain just a little extra equilibrium during that time. Thank you for expecting me to recover, and for involving me in your life in so many ways, large and small, before and since March. I recognize that it is a special, true privilege, to hold a place of honor in your life, and I hope you know that you hold the same deep, vital sort of importance for my own life.

To Gretchen: Read the above paragraph, because it all applies to you, too.

To Lauren, and Jordanna: Apparently I could make use of a mass-produced card, because a lot of the above applies to you, too. But, for all of you, even though the words are the same, the circumstances and details are preciously, uniquely different. There have been days during which I have been unable to confidently list my own name and date of birth, but I am able to remember and treasure the ways that you have each brought such strength and worth to my life.

To Willem: Words fail. There is no one on Earth that I trust more deeply, or believe in more implicitly. No relationship should ever be tested and stressed as hard as ours has been, but through it all we have found ways to smile, and kiss, and get through another day. I am so incredibly proud of your simple strength and goodness, and can only congratulate myself for having held onto you when I had the chance. Knowing that our bond has only grown truer and stronger since March allows me to take the permanency and stability of our relationship for granted… but, then, that very fact makes it so that I know never to take what we have for granted, because it’s too special and important. And knowing that you’ll understand what I’m trying to say, when I’m not even sure that I completely get it, is just one more thing to be grateful for.

To my mom: I know that, if one of my children ever faced anything remotely as dangerous and terrifying as what I experienced in March, I would be at their side before they even needed to ask. I know this because I learned everything that is best about myself, as a mother and as a person, from you. You have provided me with such a terrifyingly admirable model of motherhood and personhood, and I am so full of gratitude and love. Words are simply insufficient, and it’s all just that much more precious because I know you don’t expect or need the words. You did what you did because it was the right thing to do, because you could not imagine reacting any differently, as a mother. This is because you meet such high standards, yourself… sadly, there are many other people whose approach to family is far, far less reliable or thoughtful. Thank you for providing me with a role model, an example of motherhood to strive toward, myself.

To Dad and Wanda: Thank you for your simple, constant, loving presence and support, both toward me and toward Willem and the kids. You have proven what I already knew: it doesn’t take big, grand gestures, or complicated, detailed words to make a family. Just a constant, reliable bond, and the willingness to get in the car even when it’s not easy or convenient to do so.

To Emily, Jacob and Isaac: Thank you for continuing to see me as beautiful, smart, capable, and strong, even on my ugliest, most befuddled, incompetent, weakest days. Thank you for giving me a simple, vital reason to get out of bed every morning, to paste a smile on my face, and to limp through the worst of times. Because, with children, the very best of times can always be right around the corner, just a simple kiss or smile away, at any given moment. You are all such perfect, wonderful children, and I will continue to try every day to be the Mama you see when you look at me.

I’m nowhere near done, of course. My grandparents, and the rest of my family… my friends… my children’s teachers and other caregivers… my therapist… the list just goes on and on. I have so many people to appreciate, so much thanks to give, on any given day. I can only hope to have the time, and strength, to scratch the surface of an ocean full of gratitude and love.

Which is rather a muddled metaphor, I know… and I’m grateful, too, to know that I’ll have the chance to try and explain it all a little better, some other time. For now, I’m going to drag my thankful ass off to bed, and try to soak in a pile of gratitude-laden sleep. Tomorrow, I can be grateful to have woken up, once more, and that means I’ll have another chance to look for the right words, some other time.

Every Wednesday, there’s a carnival going on, in this little corner of the Internet… a little gathering of similarly-titled posts called The Madhouse. Not everyone plays along every week, but they’re all pretty fabulous anyway…

Sara – yoyu mama
JMLC – Daydreams and Ruminations
Batty – Batty’s Adventures in Spooky Knitting
Barb – Spencer Hill Spinning & Dyeing
G – Not-A-Box
Evil Twin’s Wife – The Glamorous Life of a Hausfrau
Louise – Child of Grace
Allison – Allimonster Speaks
Heather – She Flies With Her Own Wings
Melanie – usually, things happen
Jennifer – Ask Poops, Please
Marcy – Mittentime

And, not yet or not currently on blogs, but perhaps they’ll get there if I ask nicely enough…



  1. “Audrey” as in, me? You really think I could? I’ve flirted with the idea, but oh! the commitment!

    And, Kate, it hasn’t even been a year yet. Although intellectually I know you know how far you have come, I’m sure you feel like all you can see is how far you have yet to go. I had a horrendous pregnancy with cerebral edema, and it took a good year for me and my daughter to recover…a few years after that before I stopped crying on her birthday for the loss of that “perfect birth” dream. But mostly I did get “me” back, including the words. Sometimes I still have trouble remembering the reply to a question I asked not ten minutes prior, and have to ask again. But give yourself that whole year…and maybe then some…and I wouldn’t be surprised if these current cognitive hiccups become a dim, long-term memory.

    Hugs, and if it was me you meant, I am getting there. Someday…;)

    • Of course, you. And if you wanted to play along in a sort of half-committed way for a bit, you could email me something to post here, or post a comment, or post a “Note” on Facebook, or I could get a blog set up and running for you…. ever so many options…

      • Hmmm, I did set up a WordPress account, just haven’t published anything in there yet. It’s so hard with work to find the mental/physical energy to write, but I’ll think about it. You honor me!

        Your particular point of view, especially now, is very very special. I know it’s a struggle for you, in a way it wasn’t before, and I remember those days well. It’s still a struggle for me too in a lot of ways. But I am a dedicated stalker of this blog, and so part of my “grateful” is that your voice is very much intact, even if it takes a bit or a lot more effort to express it.

  2. I think that there aren’t words for us to express the “you’re welcome” sentiment. Because I think that we all did what we thought was correct (as a friend of mine would say) and we did it because it was the right the to do but more importantly, because it was you. We’d all be at a loss without you in our lives and you deserve our help and so much more. xo

  3. I might want to play along too.

  4. Such powerful words. It may take you longer than most to get your thoughts “on paper,” but you are still far more articulate than the average person. I can see why you don’t need Hallmark cards — not even the good ones, the ones that don’t contain embarrassing attempts at poetry. You wouldn’t need them even if they existed with statements like, “I almost died, thanks for being there for me” — you say it way better.

  5. It is amazing, the power in words, the power to heal. Sometimes being the one to say thank-you is as wonderful as being the one to hear it.

    Which one would think would be incentive enough for me to write thank-you notes once in a while …

  6. Hi Kate, I came to see what was happening with you….and I’m speechless….

    Congratulations for Isaac, OMG for the rest. I’m so glad you’re still here and still writing so wonderfully.

  7. This was simply beautiful, Kate. You are a lucky woman, and we – your friends – are lucky to still have you with us.

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