{Life Lessons} “I Am So Pretty!” 


Shopping with a four year old is to much fun. I taught Sophia that her size is 5T and if she likes something she needs to find a 5T. It took her only a few minutes to find two dresses and then Auntie helped her find a coordinating pair of leggings for each dress. 

Like all big girls do we tried them on. Seeing her little face light up was magical. What was even more magical is that she twirled and looked in the mirror at herself and said “I am so pretty! This is so pretty on me.” I then realized that from the moment we are born we love our bodies, we have no idea that our body is different than the next one, we love who we are until someone tells us that our body is not perfect or pretty. When that moment happens our self confidence is snatched away from us and we rarely find it again. 

In watching my niece twirl I realized that all of us were once that little girl dancing in the mirror and that we loved ourselves. We loved ourselves until someone told us we were to thin, to tall, to fat, to dark, or to light. We had no idea that we were not beautiful until someone said “you are ugly.” Once you lose your zest it’s hard to get it back. My ex husband once told me “you are ugly, you are to fat for me.” With those words my zest left and I had to start over and relearn how to love myself. After I left my exhusband I remember the first time someone told me I was beautiful. It was in the grocery store, I said thank you and started crying as I walked away from him. That was the day my zest came back, it felt good to look at the girl in the mirror and she smiled back. 

I never want Sophia to lose herself, I want her to always love every fiber of her being. As she twirled in each dress I said “Sophia you are more than pretty, you are beautiful, you are unique. The dress doesn’t make you pretty, you are what makes that dress beautiful and never forget that.” I want my niece to grow up loving her body and feeling confident in her own skin. Those lessons start now, she is only 4, but my words will one day remind her that she is beautiful and she is unique.” 

Sophia has no idea that she taught her Auntie tonight. Her love and self confidence reminded me that I need to twirl in the mirror and say “I am so pretty.” 

{Chasing Rainbows} You Were Always Meant to be an Auntie 

Children are something I have always wanted. Motherhood is an unattainable dream I have actively been chasing.

Sometimes I look up and wonder “why me?” In those moments a quiet voice whispers “why not you” and I realize that God chooses the strongest of the strong to be a mother to Angels. 

You see my children will never touch the earth, they were born to fly. My fridge does not have any artwork on display, instead my children finger paint in the sunset skies. A picture that I can only view one time before it dips into the edges of darkness. My children died before their lives even got started. My children were never meant to be mine, for an angel closed the book of life and said “to beautiful for earth.”

“During the chase for rainbows I became an Auntie” 


Auntie is a job title that I proudly hold, it’s a job that allows me to spoil and love on two very incredible little souls. Sophia came first, followed three years later by Jack. Sophia looks at me bright eyed and asks “auntie when will you have a baby in your tummy?” The answer to the question is more complicated than the question itself, so I simply say “one day Sophs, one day.” She says “ok,” and runs off to play. 

Watching her grow has been a blessing. I see a lot of myself in her, she is motherly, fearless, and kind just like her Auntie. Jack just adores her and wants to do whatever Sophia is doing. Jack is a gift, I can’t help but look at him and wonder “what would my son have looked like.” His big blue eyes meet mine, a smile breaks out followed by a shriek, I think that means he likes me. Jack has yet to mutter Auntie, right now he is just shrieks, we’ll get there one day, however today is not that day. 

Sophia is curious and often asks “Auntie why do you have paws on your foot!?” I lovingly tell her “Auntie will tell you when you are older,” for Sophia is to little to learn about her cousins in heaven. One day she will be old enough to know about Lucia and Baby E, today is not that day so we continue on our way.

My heart will always be broken, for a piece of my soul lies in heaven. Yet Sophia and Jack with there love, brought light into the darkness and gave this auntie purpose. I love on them a little bit more because I know how precious life is and that children are truly a gift that only God can grant. Rainbows have eluded me, yet I’ve found my pot of gold. For I was always meant to be an Auntie. 

{Go Red for Women} Being an Auntie Is Why 

 One out of three women will die of heart disease. One out of five women will be impacted by heart disease in their lifetimes. If you ask me one, is one woman to many. Many believe that heart disease and stroke only affect the elderly, sadly this isn’t the case. The thing about Storkes is this: “they are a thing, they have no idea how old you are, or the color of your skin or your weight, they strike when you least expect it.” Stroke is not an elderly thing, it’s an every woman thing and they are 80% preventable. 

My stroke was the direct result of a hormonal contraceptive. I had gone to my annual exam and displayed all the signs and symptoms of a blood clot and my doctor ignored me…….. Yes you read that right, she ignored the signs and told me to drink some water and walk more. Her medical advice seemed half hearted and rushed. Something in my gut told me to get a second opinion, I never sought that second opinion, instead one week to the day I drove myself to the ER. 

I drove myself through rush hour traffic to the ER and that is where my second story began. I was fighting for every breath I could muster and fading fast. The CT scan revealed a clot the size of a 10cent gumball blocking the main valve that connects the left lung to my heart. Blood was barely getting past the clot, my heart was in sinus tachycardia, and my blood pressure was rising, all ingredients for a perfect storm. A storm that lead me to have a stroke right in the ER, clot busters were given to me and blood thinners were started, and I walked out of the hospital four days later.

I survived the unthinkable, only 1 out of 5 survive a pulmonary embolism and walking away unscathed from a stroke is a miracle in itself. What hurts the most is that all of this could have been prevented, there was no need for me to die almost five days before my 27th birthday. My pulmonary embolism and stroke were 100% preventable. All the doctor had to do that day was listen to me, a simple test called d-dimer could have identified the clot before it reached my lungs and my stroke would never have happened. Yet, I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world, in a moment of disaster my purpose was born.

I fight for all of the women who were asked to leave the table. For those women who never got a chance to say I do. For those women who never got to watch their children grow up. For those women who never got to become mothers and for the survivors who will never hold a baby of their own. For those who never got to hold their nieces and nephews. 

Thousands of women’s lives are being cut to short. Thousands of children are being cheated out of there mothers, aunties and grandmas. Not to mention think of all the men who never got a chance to meet their soulmate. We can change this! You and I can change this, by simply going Red. When we go Red we raise awareness of heart disease and stroke in women. When we go red we raise funds for life saving research. Mostly when we go red we save lives. Life is why and no woman deserves to fight alone.

If you need proof that “Go Red” matters, look at Sophia and Jack, they will tell you “it matters.” My family will tell you “it matters!” My story could have ended diffrently, Sharon would have picked out an urn instead of a 27th themed Halloween birthday cake for her daughter. Jammie’s children would be learning about their auntie through photographs and stories. Because of the American Heart Association’s life saving mission I got that 27th themed birthday cake and I get to be Super Auntie! 

So yes Go Red does matter and it does make a difference! Please join us and go red for the women in your lives on Friday February 5, 2016. 

Being an Auntie is Why I Go Red 

{Happy Birthday} Goodbye 32, Hello 33

  
I of all people know that with trial comes triumph. We cannot have the good moments without the bad. It’s how the world turns, no one’s life is meant to be perfect. A perfect life is a life not well lived. Mistakes are lessons and trials are our teachers, with each trial we gain strength. 

32, was a gosh darn great year. I have finally found my stride and I’ve come to terms with the fact that “life goes on.” In February I graced billboards, bus stop posters, and the TV screen raising awareness for women’s heart health. Being part of the Go Red Campaign was a privilege and an honor, I got to meet some amazing ladies that I now call my friends.

From billboard to DC, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be giving a speach on the Capital Steps next to Nancy Pelosi and other members of congress. The American Heart Asssociation, gave me the opportunity to share my health insurance journey with the nation. I got to thank members of congress for securing my healthy tomorrow.

Life, it goes on and love, it finds a way in. Never in a million years did I think year 32 would be the year I fell in love, again. I let myself fall, fall for a man who loves me for me and accepts that our life isn’t meant to be perfect. 

On Mother’s Day Jay and I found out that we were expecting. I was terrified the impossible just became possible. Jay was excited, he spent time looking up baby items online, we started to plan out our nursery, picked out named, and I slowly let myself love our baby. Only to have my dream dashed. 

Our baby, baby E was not meant to be. Right now I should be 6.5 month pregnant, I’m not, our little sac never formed a fetal pole. Two sperms, they said fertilized the egg and a pathology report said it was a partial molar pregnancy. It just wasn’t meant to be, someone needed a baby more than we did, motherhood was so close yet eluded me in year 32. I have faith that my 3rd and Jay’s second pregnancy will be the charm, mother is a job that I desperately want. 

In July it became official I was no longer a single girl, I was engaged, I belonged to someone and that is what I’ve always dreamed of, I wanted to belong and not be alone.

My nephew Jack arrived in July and I fell in love all over again, he has his auntie wrapped around his little finger. Sophia is getting bigger by the day, she is turning into a sassy little lady. I love those two littles with all of my heart, the greatest title I have is Auntie, there is no better job than that. 

32, was my teacher, it taught me to never lose faith and that if I believe in myself anything is possible. I will walk away from 32 knowing that my body is still capable of creating life, my heart she may be weak, but she beats on, and that I am more than a dollar sign. Merck will always be apart of me, year 32 is the end of the Nuvaring’s chapter, life it goes on.

With my muppet like dog by my side, my life quietly fell into place. I have a man that I adore,  I got a new job that I love, and I’ve got hope for a very bright 33.   

{Heart Walk} Being an Auntie Is Why I Walk 

 

 Every day little girls are born into families where there Auntie lost her life to a Stroke or Pulmonary Embolism. They are growing up in a world where they only know her through stories and photos. They go their entire life without her, longing for the Auntie that was taken away all to soon.

This would have been Sophia’s world, but because of research my life was saved. Because people just like you are donating to the cause, research is funded and women like me get to walk away. We get to walk away on borrowed time, hold our nieces, and make memories with our families. 

I am greatful for this life I get to lead. For this little girl, and the memories I create with her. One day she will realize just how hard her Auntie fights for her healthy tomorrow. 

So please join us in this fight, together we can make a stand, together we can WIN this war. Join us at the Twin Cities Heart Walk on Saturday April 25, 2015. 

Twin Cities Heart Walk 2015

Life is why 

{Thankful} 1 day out of 365

Giving thanks for one day out of three-sixty-five just seems plain old silly to me. I wake up each morning with a thankful surviving heart and give props when they are due.

I am thankful for:

The American Heart Association – Minnesota
Heart
Without the American Heart Association my Father and I would not be standing. Because of their dedication to a world without heart disease and stroke, we were saved. The AHA is lobbying for heart healthy policies, raising funds for life saving research, and giving all of us a chance at tomorrow. The American Heart Association #IsWhy. The AHA gave me a platform to share my story and by using my voice I am changing our tomorrow for the better.

Earlier in the year I was diagnosed with an autoimmune/auto inflammatory disease. I am sick with a disease that doesn’t even have a name. My immune system no longer has an off switch and my body has declared war on itself. Test showed that I had high C-Reactive Protein and with my family history I am destined for Congestive Heart Failure. I have a 95% chance of following in my Daddy’s footsteps. My Pulmonary Embolism and stroke were a fluke, but this, this was all ready written in the cards. I am not worried nor am I scared, because I know the American Heart Association is fighting for my tomorrow. They are raising funds for critical research that will one day save my life. And for that I am incredibly thankful.

“My Mama and Pete aka my Dad”

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography


My Parents are my greatest cheerleaders. Together we faced the unknown, fought the good fight, and with faith in our hearts we saw a better day. My Father is a 13 year congestive heart failure survivor and my Mama is one tough cookie. She takes care of my dad, sets up his pills, drives him to the Mayo, and without her he would not be alive. She puts her needs aside to care for the man that fathered her daughters. My Mama does it without question, she is an extremely giving soul that doesn’t know how to quit. Because she cared, because she loves him, my Dad got to see his daughters graduate college, get married and divorced, he stood by my side as I recovered from a stroke, he said hello and goodbye to his first grandchild, and got to hold his second in his arms. Because of My Mama, my Daddy is living the life that dreams are made of.

Sophia

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography


There are no words to describe my love for this little girl. I fell in love with Sophia the moment I laid eyes on her. Connected our souls are and she will always be a light in my life. Watching her grow and come into her own has been a great joy. Hearing her voice whisper into my ear, her I love yous, and her “Hi Auntie Mannies” never get old. Sophia has my heart and I have hers. Auntie is the greatest title I have ever been given and everything I do is for her healthy tomorrow.

Cullen aka The Muppet Like Dog

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography

Photo by: Stephanie Ryan Photography


Those who say “a dog cannot bring you happiness,” have never owned a dog. This little white ball of muppet like fur has brought so much joy, love, and laughter into my life. Cullen has been my trusty little side kick, my confidant, my fashion critic, and mostly the best four legged friend a girl could ever ask for. He and I are as thick as thieves. Mama and Muppet together forever and ever.

Divorced Life
Image (4)
Yes, I am thankful for my crazy Divorced Life that is a beautiful disaster that even I could never have imagined. Life, it didn’t pass me by, instead it was patiently waiting for me. Waiting for me to find my way and to come into my own. My life, it has been far from easy. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Because in the end it is my beautiful story and no one else can live my words. No one else can love the way I do, fall flat like I do, and no one, no one can contain my passion for living like I do.

I have fallen in and out of love and said goodbye more times than I care to count. It seems that God needs my friends more than I do. They are now apart of the stars that I place my wishes on. All of the women who lost their lives due to complications from the Nuva Ring are the reason I do what I do, Because I know if they were given the chance they would gladly take my seat on earth and continue the good fight. I owe every moment of my messy divorced life to the four people who died so I could be the one to live another day.

To live another day on my never ending quest to find love. Love is a dream that I have been chasing. I want a second chance to prove to the world that I AmandaJean can have a successful marriage. For a little while Charlie made that dream come true. God he had other plans for him and I was left with a broken heart. I gave myself time, breathed in the loss, and looked to the stars. Those stars lit my way and I can finally say I have found someone who loves my kind of crazy. Who appreciates my honesty, my ability to live in the emotionally raw and one who is intrigued by my wit. For the first time in four years, I am truly happy. I feel like my old self and my heart is bursting with more joy than one soul can handle.

I am thankful for fate, for she has finally smiled upon me.

{Hearts On 22} Five Borrowed Years

Top right photo was taken one month after my PE and Stroke

Top right photo was taken one month after my PE and Stroke

I honestly cannot believe that it’s been five years. It seems just like yesterday when I set out to work oblivious to what this day would hold. I still remember what I wore and that I was upset because I forgot to buy creamer the night before. It was a free jeans day and I wore a gray cardigan with a white eyelet button down peasant style top and jeans paired with cranberry colored flats. It was also day #4 at my brand new job. I was busy learning the ins and outs of replevin work and didn’t have the time for inconveniences.

On Tuesday night I felt this excruciating pain rush through my body. I barely made it through the evening rush hour drive. I came home put my purse down, took some Tylenol and crawled into bed. Wednesday morning I was right as rain and went on about my day. On October 22, 2009 I woke up with a mild nagging pain in my chest. I didn’t think anything of it, figured I was coming down with a cold and brushed it off.

My body was screaming for help and I, I just ignored the signs. I had reached the Sun Ray shopping center, the pain was getting a little worse, still I brushed it off. A few miles down the road that nagging pain turned into what felt like a thousand knives cutting me at once. Breathing was proving to be difficult and my arm was going numb. I’d try to breathe deep, my lungs they fought back and I had to make the decision call mom, no not an option she will panic. Pull over, no you are afraid to be stuck on the side of the road. Oh look Lexington parkway, take the exit.
3365
The exit, I took it. To this day I have no idea how I made it to Woodwinds Health Campus in Woodbury MN. The only thing I remember is throwing the Prius into park and collapsing into the security guards arms. Some how by the grace of God I made it to safety. When I came to the ER staff ruled out a heart attack and a panic attack, labs were ordered and I apologized for taking up their time. The doctor thought I had an infection in my lungs and ordered an x-ray and labs. As he left the room he turned on his heel and asked “by chance are you on a birth control?” I quickly said yes and he explained what the d-dimer test.
2nd chance
The d-dimer was ordered, my oxygen level was less than 50%, my heart was in sinus tachycardia and my blood pressure continued to climb. I, I was in rough shape. While on my way to x-ray the doctor shouted “where are you going with her? I canceled the x-ray.” I was feeling relieved and waited for him to tell me I had an infect and he was going to send me home. I didn’t get the news I wanted. With caring eyes he told me “the d-dimer came back glaringly positive we need to get you to CT ASAP. He quickly explained that the contrast die could prove deadly but the benefits out weighed the risk. I signed my name and into the scanner I went. They said it would take about 90 minutes for my results to come back.

I watched the clock and counted down the minutes. I could hear the phone ring, the doctor picked it up and said “shit! You have to be kidding, you are not!” Code blue was sounded and I heard a rush of feet come towards me. Within seconds every available hand was in he ER. He took my hand and said, “I am sorry AmandaJean you have a blood clot in your left lung that is blocking the main valve to your heart and your lung sacs have ruptured. Your body is not getting the oxygen it needs and you dear are going to be staying with us for a while.” My brain couldn’t comprehend how dire the situation was. My blood pressure went above 210, I told the nurse I felt woozy, one said it was just the pain meds, another looked at the monitors and said “the fuck it is, she is having a stroke,” he hit the panic button.

Clot busters were shot into my chest, thrombolytics and other medications were being pumped into both arms. I was alone, alone and fighting for my life. The ER doctor walked next to my bed as they were bringing me to the elevator bay. We stopped, he said AmandaJean do you know what’s down that hall? No I said. The morgue, I should be putting you on a slab instead of in a hospital bed. If you had been five minutes later your story would have been different, never ever forget that.
GoRed 2014
It took a few days for the gravity of what I had survived to sink in. Friends came and visited me, my parents and than husband stood by my side. My life became a series of injections, INR checks, scans, nerotherapy sessions and doctor visits. I was alive and that is what mattered. Almost dying 5 days before your birthday steals your innocence and changes your perspective on life.

I didn’t just survived, I thrived. The ultimate gift was given to me, not many people get a second go around. I treasure every moment of every day, because I know that if I were five minutes late my story would have ended with my ashes in an urn. Survivors rarely talk about the guilt that they feel. I walk this earth with a scarlet letter glued to my head and people tell me that I shouldn’t have a bad day, because I survived the worst day possible.

Yet in the quiet moments I feel guilty that I survived. In the past five years I have said goodbye to more friends than one soul can handle. I survived only to watch my son slip away, I took a seat at Adam’s funeral, wrote a eulogy for Connor, only to follow-up a few years later with a eulogy for Charlie, said a tearful thank you to Dr. Delahaunty, and held my friend Jilliann’s hand as we said goodbye to Trinity. I have been surrounded by so much death and heart ache. I can’t make heads or tails out of who lives and who dies, God definitely has the upper hand on that one.
heart on the hill
Hands I’ve got two and my knees are worn from praying. My scars are healed, my body is somewhat back to normal, yet my emotional scars remain. Emotional wounds are he hardest wounds to heal. They slowly disappear with time. Anger was replaced with hope and that hope gave me the strength to make a difference. The guilt it is a reminder that four people had to die so I could be the one out of five who survived. I live each day of this crazy life for them, its the only thing I can do to honor those who went to soon. I vowed to spend my days advocating for those who no longer can and that they would be more than their deaths. Their stories deserve to be told. In one sheer moment of disaster I found my passion. I found that I had a voice and that I had the strength to stand up for myself. I signed my name on the dotted line and became a plaintiff in a product liability lawsuit against Merck.
go red4

The Nuva Ring took a lot of things away from me and on the same coin it gave me a life that even I couldn’t have imagine for myself. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there and share the most vulnerable moments of your life. Sharing my journey allows me to educate the public about the dangerous side affects of hormonal contraceptive. Sharing my story has allowed me to shape the view points of politicians and to propel heart healthy policies forward. I owe a lot to the American Heart Association, they took me under their wings and gave me a platform. That platform has allowed me to grow and come into my own as a survivor. I am not ashamed to say I had a Pulmonary Embolism and Stroke, I am more than those events, I am more than a survivor, I am and will always be a small town girl who set out to change the world.
large group Lobby day
The past five years have been a beautiful disaster and I am proud to claim it as my own. Because of quick action and research my life was saved. Every day the American Heart Association gives funds and encourages researches to tread unknown waters. Without the AHA we would not have CPR or advances in heart surgery, early stroke and heart attack detection. Research is why. Advocacy is why. Life is why. Second Chance is why. Without the AHA there would be no why in this world and we would have no hope for a heart healthy tomorrow.

I am incredibly thankful to my Woodwind’s care team, without them I never would have gotten to experience pregnancy followed by loss, then divorce, a little adventure followed by a whole lot of love and mostly without them I never would have gotten the chance to hold my niece. Without them my story would have ended at 26. Instead I got five beautiful borrowed years on this earth and I plan on borrowing a few more. Because life, its only just begun.common thread

{Hearts on 22} Love With All of Your Heart

Sophia and featherChristmas is when I miss Charlie the most. Mostly because he got cheated. Cheated out of meeting Sophia. He was anticipating her arrival and received status updates on the progress of her birth. A trial kept him in New York and he couldn’t wait to hang up his traveling suit and snuggle his niece in his arms. Charlie never got to see her smile, hear her laughter or feel her tiny hand in his. Sophia never got to meet the man who dreamed of taking her to Paris and who would have spoiled her beyond her wildest imagination. Charlie died loving the tiny girl he never got to meet.

As I sit back and reflect I can’t help but to think about all of the people who have never laid eyes on their niece or nephew. Sure deadly drunk driving accidents stick in our minds. After all one drunk driver took Charlie an 4 other people out on a wintry Valentine’s Day. That was one moment in time, yet in that moment hundreds of women lost their lives to heart disease and stroke. Hundreds more died that day from a Pulmonary Embolisms or other hormonal contraceptive related side effect. Those lives never make the news, they just fade quietly into the timelines of history.

If it were not for my care team I would have joined the fading time line. I would have been another casualty not a news worthy story. There isn’t a day that goes by where I do not thank God for keeping me on this earth. For answering my silent prayer and giving me the strength to fight. For giving me the strength to stand up and shout my story from the roof tops. With each word spoken I began to heal my broken heart, I penned my name on a legal services agreement and became a plaintiff in the Multidistrict Litigation against Merck. I put myself out there in hopes that I could save one woman from enduring my hell. I love with all of my heart and in a sheer moment of utter disaster my passion was born.

My purpose is clear “educate those around me about the dangers of hormonal contraceptives, blood clots, stroke and pulmonary embolism warning signs.” I will not rest until the Nuva Ring is pulled from he market and until doctors properly inform their patients of the risk associated with the use of hormonal contraceptives. Charlie was the one who pushed me to share my story with the world. He took up my mission and would stand in the wings watching me with tears in his eyes as I brought tears to the audience. I am alive today because I listed to my heart.

When Charlie died my heart was broken and it healed each time I held our niece in my arms. Each time I heard her laughter, held her tiny hand in mine, and listen to her whisper Auntie” for the first time. To think the Nuva Ring almost robbed me of those moments. My birth control almost cheated me out of being an aunt. The Nuva Ring almost claimed my life and it changed me in more ways than I could ever explain. However it will never ever stop me from loving Sophia with all of my surviving heart. Sophia will grow up with the notion that she is one lucky little girl. Because she could be holding a picture of the woman she calls Auntie. Instead she gets to hold her aunties hand and play. She is lucky because God allowed her Aunt to be the 1 out of 5 who got to walk away from a massive pulmonary embolism on October 22, 2009.

As I watch Sophia unwrap her gifts I will be thinking about all of my sisters who lost the battle. About all of those who would gladly take my seat at the table and those who are fighting with all of their hearts. Families will gather and thousands of children will hear stories about the women they never got to meet. Heart disease, strokes, and pulmonary embolisms are taking to many aunties out of the equation. To many children are walking in memory of the woman they never got to call “Auntie” and never got to love with all of their hearts.

{Hearts on 22} ~ National Wear RED Day

go redFriday February 1st, 2013 is National wear Red Day.

For the past ten years I donned red on National Wear Red Day. I wore it in honor of my cousin Emma and for my Father. I wore red as a reminder that heart disease knows no age nor gender. Red was my color and I wore it proudly. To me I was making a difference by sharing my Father’s and Emma’s heart stories. To me I was giving back for the second chance that my Father was granted.

My Father’s name is Gregory James. He is the son of an Irish woman and a Ojibway Indian. He is one of 13 children who grew up on a farm outside of Lake City Minnesota. His childhood was far from perfect, his Father was always to drunk to care and well his Mama, they only love he knew was the back of her hand. If you ask him about his childhood he will tell you “I survived by staying one step ahead of my Ma.” He never sugar-coated his life for my sister and I. You see my father was diagnosed with ADHD in the late 50’s. My Daddy was considered a throw away and no one ever thought he’d amount too much.

With only a 10th grade education he set out to conquer the world. He got a job in Minneapolis, lived in the YMCA, and learned that life was tough. Somewhere between Minneapolis and meeting my Mama he earned the nick name “Animal.” I’ve heard stories, but my Father has yet to deny or confirm the tales. Since he was barely making it in the City he returned to the tiny river town. As fate would have it he would fancy a female dump truck driver named Sharon. My grandfather played match maker and before long they were married.

My father is a laborer. He knows nothing but factories and nursery fields.Yet he was gentil and kind. Always lending an ear, a helping hand and playing with my sister and I. My Father was sort of like a stay at home Dad. Often my Mama would work double shifts which left my Dad with two tired and hungry daughters. Our dinners consisted of steak, baked potatoes, and watered down Koolaide. He would also get us up and ready for school in the morning.

Fast forward about 18 years. My father was the proudest man in town. One daughter had just finished college and the other was just starting. This is when the bottom fell out. I knew the day my parents dropped me off at college that it would most likely be the last day I saw him alive. He had fallen on ill-health and with no insurance he did not go to a doctor. One can tell when the soul is slipping away. On February 8th my father was admitted to the hospital, in March 2002 he was taken to St. Mary’s hospital in Rochester by ambulance. He arrived barely clinging to life. This, this killed me because I was away at college. My Father aways told us “When all else fails pray.” I just fell to my knees and prayed. I asked God to take me instead to give my father one more chance at life. The odds were not in our favor. However each day he got better and better. We soon learned that he had suffered Ventricular fibrillation which lead to cardiogenic shock.

My Father had survived. At 50 he became a survivor and we were blessed with his life. The past eleven years have not been easy. As a family we have had our ups and downs. My Father is not the same man I grew up with. His memory has faded, he is no longer able to work, and a good day is when he does not repeat himself 300 times. Those days are hard to come by,yet we don’t complain. Each day we have him around is a blessing. His first granddaughter turned one on the 27th and he was so proud. Seeing them together makes my heart happy. Yet, I am reminded that there are thousands of Granddaughters who never got to meet their Grandpas. An that breaks my heart.

What breaks my heart even more is knowing that there are children who never got the chance to meet their Aunt. Heat Disease, Strokes, and Heart Attacks are robbing children of their Aunties. To me my Stroke is nothing compared to my Father’s courageous battle against Heart disease. Because of my Father my life was saved. If I had never volunteered with the heart association I would not have been aware of the symptoms of a stroke. Through my dedication to my Father my life was saved. We are living proof that research can and does save lives.
pete and the girls
My Sister, My Mama, and I urge you to wear Red this Friday in honor of someone you love. Sophia would also like you to wear Red because she loves her Grandpa and Auntie very much. If that is not reason enough please wear red in honor of My Father’s niece Emma. Wear red in her memory and for the tomorrows she never got to see.

{2012} Finding The Lining, When the Bottom Falls Out

2012 was filled with promise. As the clock turned to midnight Doctors were closer to coming up with a cocktail that would put my kidney disease into remission and I was finally starting to feel better. I was no longer taking up residence on the couch, instead I was out and about. Charlie was happy that his AJ was getting better. So glad that he proposed to me while I was a sleep. He totally took advantage of my ability to hold conversations while sleeping. Lucky for me he proposed to me again, this time I was awake. Wedding magazines slowly piled on top of his Play Boys and he was enjoying every minute of my drooling over Vera Wang. I had decided on a simple lace gown with a gecko green sash that tied into a bow on the side. Pie, I wanted pie and Muddy Paws Cheesecake instead of cake. Charlie wanted to pick out the venue and he had chosen the Chateau St. Croix winery. He wanted to hang lanterns from the 100-year-old oak tree and thought it was best to say I do at sunset.

Wedding plan lead to talks of babies. Charlie wanted to be a father, well with a catch. He was a Helion as a child and did not want a boy. He would tell me “If we have a boy I am going to FedEx him back to God. There will only be girls in this family.” I almost died laughing. You can’t blame the man, he grew up with three brothers. Charlie wanted to name our first-born girl Charlotte Rae. I giggled because well he’d say “We can call her Charlie for short.” Yup, he was going to name our daughter after himself, selfish I know. In truth I loved the name Charlotte Rae and couldn’t wait to start a family with him.

Thoughts of weddings jumped in my head as I started my new position at the firm in the burbs. Leaving the team at Faegre was hard, they had become like family. For once in my life I got to be a part of the ripple that was creating a better day. An that ripple will always be with me, because never again will I get to work on a case that big. I was excited to get started at the new firm and lucky for me I hit it off right away with the new Attorneys. While working away and learning the ropes I was counting down the hours to Valentines day. Charlie would be returning to Minneapolis permanently on Valentines day and I was excited to start building our life together.

Valentines day didn’t bring me love, instead it brough a wave of tears. The bottom fell out. I received the late night call that everyone dreads. Charlie’s brother said to me “AJ, sweetie I’m sorry to call so late. Choking back tears he said Honey, there’s been an accident and Charlie was hurt pretty bad.” The air left my lungs and I crumbled into the floor. I couldn’t find the strength to speak or to even cry. I muttered an OK. Two days later on February 16th, I got the call I had been dreading. Charlie’s Mom said to me “Sweetie, I’m sorry.” In that moment I knew he was gone. The man I loved with every fiber of my being was dead.

Charlie never got to say I do and we never got to plan the perfect wedding. Instead I got to plan a funeral, write a eulogy, and place connect four into his casket. I got to say Goodbye to my best friend. Charlie loved the song Cowboys and Angles, the chorus reads: “She lives for me, and I’d die for her.” I can die knowing that Charlie loved me until his last moment on this earth and that he would have died for me. So I must live for him. As the grave side service ended I was given a final moment to say goodbye. The funeral directors stood guard and looked toward the crowd as I placed my hands on his casket. Tears fell onto the cobalt blue lid and I promised Charlie: “Charlie, I will not let this one moment define me, I promise you with all of my heart that I will pick up the pieces and find my new normal. I will not lose my way and I will not lose my sense of wonder. I will always love you.” I also promised Charlie that when I start a family of my own I am going to honor him by naming my first-born daughter “Charlotte Rae.”

With those words whispered into the wind I walked into my future and began to heal. I will never understand why the man thought he was fit to drive after one to many drinks at a Happy Hour. That one drunk driver took the lives of five people on a NY state Hwy that day. Five families will never be the same and our lives will be forever impacted by the moment he turned the key and put his car into drive. I no longer ponder the why or the how. I am at peace with what happened and know that Charlie’s life was not a waste. Charlie’s life was full and he is now resting on the clouds of heaven looking down on all of us.

Bronks Charlie was looking forward to meeting Sophia and he couldn’t wait to hold her in his arms. Sadly Charlie never got to meet his niece. Having my niece helped me cope with the pain of losing my best friend. Sophia’s sweet smile and tiny laugh make me smile. When I look into her eyes I see hope, hope for a better world. I have no doubt that Sophia will create change and impact this world in a big way. The world is at her finger tips all she has to do is reach up and grab it. For now she settles on puffs, yogurt melts, and grabbing her Auntie’s hand. She has grown so fast. It seems just yesterday that I was holding her in my arms and now she comes crawling when she hears my voice. I love that little girl more than anything. Charlie would have loved her too. He couldn’t wait until she was old enough to play board games and to learn how to snow shoe. We had big plans to take her to Paris when she turns five. Now I will be taking her by myself and capturing the moments of her standing in the Streets of Paris. Charlie often viewed the world through child like wonder, I pray to God that Sophia does the same and that she will never lose her way.

While Sophia rested in the safety of her home, I was packing up mine. The Ivy no longer felt like home. The condo that we shared was no longer filled with laughter, drafting sessions, and board games. It was like someone came by and sucked the hope right out of the air. It was gloomy and stale. Minah and I cataloged and packed up Charlie’s things. Durring this processes I realized: “It doesn’t matter what we do in life, because all of us end up in boxes.” Tears where shed as I packed away his board games, wrapped art work, and God his clothes still smelled like his cologne. The muppet was sad to lose his friend and would walk around the condo looking for him. Soon the cars were loaded on a flat-bed, the last box was loaded into the semi, and I stood in an empty condo looking out at the Minneapolis skyline. I said my good byes and headed back to uptown.

Before I knew it spring had arrived in uptown and I was slowly finding my balance. One thing Charlie’s death taught me was to spend time with the ones you love. Because you never know when there last day on this earth will be. An I did just that. I no familylonger worked 70 hours a week and felt like I was cheating when I left the office at 5. Man it felt good to have a life again. I reconnected with Sherri, that girl deserves an award for being a saint. Her friendship means the world to me and I thank God every day that she is back in my life. Cocktails were had on the sidewalk, laughter filled the air, and I was smiling again. I took the time to actually listen to my Father when he called me, had lunch dates with my Mama, and babysat Sophia. Work is no longer a priority, it is no longer my life, and I am thankful that I was able to find the balance. It feels amazing to have a social life and friends again.

In July I went on vacation with my Mama and my sister for the first time in years. My Mama learned that one must keep their mouth closed when going down a water slide. WI Dells She drank slide water. No one likes slide water. All it took was one weekend to remind me why I love my Mama and my sister. My sister is always there for me. We may fight hard, but we love even harder. August brought Pete and I to the river road winery tour. Connecting with my Father is important to me and well wine makes it fun. By summers end I was ready to put on my dating shoes and make an attempt at a personal life.

On one August night a Chump walked into my life and well as they say “One moment can change everything.” For now the Chump is a keeper. He thinks I am goofy and well he just gets me. It’s not easy to date a complicated stroke survivor. He truly deserves a trophy for taking on such an endeavor.

I said goodbye to my twenties and hello to my thirties in Chicago. I am so glad to be 30, my thirties have to go a lot better than my twenties. Then again I of all people know that nothing goes as planned. So far we are off to a good start.

2012 is the year of construction. Fate tore my life apart and I put it back together. When the bottom falls out you must use everything you have to patch the bucket and move on. Living in the land of what if does nothing for the soul. It only steals your fire and brings you down a dark road. Ferry 20120818 - Copy I traveled that road when my son died. Charlie was the light I needed and he helped me over come a bad marriage and made me believe in love again. I have no doubt that he was there pushing me along the path and cheering me on once I found my way. Sometimes we just need one person to throw us a rope, other times it takes a village to help someone out of a dark place. What matters is that you get out. No one is ever to proud to ask for help. Help can come in many forms. For me my Family, Faith, and Muppet like dog got me through the darkest days. I know that Charlie is resting beyond the stars watching over me and cheering me on to my highest potential. I can go to the grave knowing that he died loving me and I will love him until my final breath. Until that day comes, I am going to live the life dreams are made of. Knock down a few walls, take down a few names, and leave this world a little better than I found it. Charlie would want me to do that.

My bucket is patched and I am ready to move on. I am ready to take 2013 head on with all cylinders burning. Love the life you live and live a life full of love. When you do that, you can never go wrong.

A toast: May 2013 be filled with love, prosperity, hope, and more laughter than one soul can handle. May the wind always be to your back and may you always wake up fighting the good fight.