Gabby Giffords


Gabby Giffords squelched all talk about whether she would run again for another term in Congress by resigning this week. I must say, I am not at all surprised. A part of me was fearful that she would run again for lack of awareness is very common for TBI survivors. I thought I could go back to full time ministry and figured I would be able to do this after resigning as an associate pastor. I volunteered as a chaplain at a retirement center thinking eventually I would go back to full time ministry. After doing this for several years, it became clear to me this wasn’t going to happen.

She has received much attention in the press. I can’t imagine having to deal with the challenges of TBI while being so much in the public eye. I would love to see her recover to the point where she could work as a congressperson again but I really doubt that will happen. I remember my TBI therapists tried to steer me away from ministry but I wouldn’t listen. I was convinced I would be back.

I think I am ultra sensitive to any talk about working as I did before. I want Gabby to go back to Congress while at the same time, I would be jealous if she did. Thoughts would probably flood my mind. “Why did God let her go back to what she loved, but didn’t allow me to return as a minister? What is wrong with me? Did I not try hard enough?” Today I just have to tell myself to stop thinking this way. It serves no purpose and I only feel worse when I do.

I looked at that “Welcome to Holland” piece again. (Feb. 9, 2011) It helps me see the things I have gained among the losses and how the pain of this is never going to go away. I’m also reminded that in many ways, I’ve become stronger. Gabby and other brain injury survivors in the public eye are helping folks become more aware of this injury and that’s a good thing. Every brain injury is different and just because someone else can return to what they did before, doesn’t mean everyone can. (And if I’m totally honest with myself, I don’t know a single survivor with an injury as severe as mine, who has been able to return to the job they had before.)

Today a friend gave me a wonderful gift. She made some moon earrings for me to wear. Moons are a powerful symbol for me and I will wear them as a reminder of the moon which shines brightly in the dark sky despite everything.

What are your thoughts about Gabby Giffords? If you are a survivor, what has changed for you and what has if anything, remained the same or gotten better? See top right for commenting instructions.

Fifteen Years


On August 26, 1996, I sustained my traumatic brain injury in a car accident. Water and rainbows had always been healing to me but throughout these years on my journey, they’ve been a real comfort. When I was first injured, we lived in an apartment in Atlanta. I couldn’t drive yet but I would often take my little dog, Abu, for a walk to a stream by my apartment to “get away from it all.” Abu played in the water while I sat and relaxed, deep in thought. For me water and rainbows are signs of hope.

Fifteen years ago, Michael and I drove a couple of miles from our apartment to get some frozen yogurt. Michael made a left hand turn onto our street but forgot he was using a standard transmission so he miscalculated. We were hit and both of us were injured, he less so than I. We were taken to two different hospitals where I was put into an induced coma to prevent brain swelling. I don’t even remember the first hospital since after a couple of weeks, I was transferred to another facility which had rehab for brain trauma survivors.

In the beginning, I had planned to go back to full time pastoral ministry. I pronounced endless lists of words until I could learn to speak clearly. I did activities to help my cognitive functions. I even began volunteering at a retirement facility as a chaplain until I was ready to work as a full-time minister again. Slowly but surely, I became aware that I would not be able to work as a full time minister again.

Awareness is part of all survivors’ journeys. Rep. Giffords is on this journey now and it is not an easy one at all. It’s especially difficult because one never knows how much brain function will return. In the beginning, I improved by leaps and bounds and it looked like I’d be able to work again. I began leading devotionals at the center, attending numerous meetings and writing short pieces. The problem was, sometimes my body would completely break down and I’d spend a few days in bed sleeping. I always returned to the same work load which meant more times of rest. Many folks in the brain injury field cautioned me about doing too much but I didn’t understand what they meant.

It became a never ending cycle. I would get depressed when I needed to rest but yet I refused to cut back. It wasn’t until we moved to Asheville, NC in 2004 when I dropped out of everything. I didn’t have any church meetings, no volunteer commitments and no preaching or writing commitments. I spent all my time getting used to a new environment which was enough challenge in itself. After battling my insurance company who thought I could be working, I settled into a calm existence.

Yet I became bored. I needed some challenge, some sort of goal or I would go crazy! Harold Kushner, the author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People helped me here. Genesis says, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. The earth was formless and chaotic, with darkness covering everything.” Kushner continues, “Then God began to work His creative magic on the chaos, sorting things out, imposing order where there had been randomness before. He separated the light from the darkness, the earth from the sky, the dry land from the sea. This is what it means to create: not to make something out of nothing, but to make order out of chaos.” (I added the bold.)

So a little at a time, God is helping me make order out of the chaos of brain injury. I can do a lot but I must be careful about what and how I do it. I can preach, write and do other things but I can’t do them all together as I could before. I’m learning to make choices. I still want to take on too many things so this is a process for me but every year, I get better at it. I’ll never have it completely worked out but that’s okay. One of my favorite passages of scripture is Isaiah 43:19 “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” God creates order out of chaos which means there is a road through this wilderness of life.

If you are a brain injury survivor, do you see order in your chaos? Or are you in the midst of chaos and wonder how you’re going to survive? Many of us who are survivors have been there so please know you are not alone. See above right for commenting instructions. Due to a glitch I’m not able to comment here but I read every one. Hopefully, this will be fixed soon. If you’d rather contact me directly write puffer61@gmail.com

"Trial and Error"



It’s already starting. Arizona state senator Frank Antenori is pushing Rep. Gabrielle Gillords to say if she is planning to run for reelection. (see article in Huffington Post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/19/gabrielle-giffords-reelection-frank-antenori_n_931155.html) Of course she isn’t required to file until May 15 but politics can be ugly business. Huffinton Post wrote, “Speculation on Giffords‘ future has buzzed since her surprise return to Congress to cast her first vote since the Jan. 8 shooting… Her return to vote on the debt ceiling deal was celebrated as proof she could possibly return full time to politics.”

I don’t know if she’s going to be able to return full time to politics again or not. She probably doesn’t know and neither do her doctors. I remember when I was injured in 1996, I assumed I would be able to return to full-time ministry. Every day brought more improvements and I was hopeful. I remember walking around a pond with my physical therapist trying to get used to an uneven pavement. I remember speaking various words over and over again, trying to speak as clearly as possible. I remember painting ceramic objects which helped me learn to use my hands again. I remember playing hang-man and other word games as my word finding skills improved.

It was, and is, a long process. When I was first injured, I was told it takes two years for most improvements to be made. I remember hanging on to that rule. Two years stretched into three, five and then ten years. Yes, many of my huge improvements happened during those first few years, but I will always continue to improve. It wasn’t until a few years after my injury when I realized (awareness) I would never be a full time minister again. However, I still can do some pastor like activities. I must be selective and it’s a “trial and error” sort of thing to learn what those activities are.

This brings me back to Gabrielle Giffords. She’s having to go through this awareness process in the public eye – in the crazy circus of politics. I can only imagine how difficult this is. This was hard enough without having to have my every move commented about in the newspaper. I am grateful for my husband’s advocacy for I wasn’t able to do it for myself.

I have my doubts about her ability to return but that is neither here nor there. She needs to come to this awareness herself. Another important factor is, every brain injury is different and I try not judge another survivor’s choices. Traumatic Brain Injury doesn’t fit into nice categories and it really is a “trial and error” sort of thing.

If you are a survivor, what’s sort of things have you had to try? Did they work? See above right for commenting instructions but note that at this time I cannot comment myself due to a technical glitch. Know that I read every one. If you’d like to contact me directly, write puffer61@gmail.com

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords

I read in today’s paper the following: “Space shuttle commander Mark Kelly wouldn’t go into details about her condition during a news conference Friday and deflected questions about how he knows she supports his choice to fly.” His wife, Gabrielle Giffords, sustained a gunshot wound to her head at a “meet in greet” in Arizona on January 8. He had been training for a scheduled mission in April. He took leave to be with her during this first month and there has been much speculation about whether he will fly. He has made his decision and I support him completely.

A month after my accident, I spent hours learning how to walk, eat and speak again. I remember working with a speech therapist where I learned how to put words together. Actually, first I had to recite lists of words separately before learning how to put them together! When my husband visited me at night, he patiently tried to understand what I was saying. Often, I just slept because it took so much energy to get the neurons working in my brain. Of course, she isn’t able to say she wants him to go! They’ve spent months if not years, talking about his missions so she knows how hard he has worked to reach this point! There isn’t anything he can do now that she is in rehab. She is in the care of professionals. The press doesn’t know what she needs and it makes me angry they would insinuate otherwise! His superiors would not allow him to fly if they thought there was any chance he could not focus on his mission.

We need to continue praying for Giffords and Kelly in these days ahead. They have a very difficult journey. I remember how hard it was for us. I say “us” because a brain injury doesn’t just change the person injured but rather all those in touch with that person, especially family members. I’ll write more about how family members are affected later. I might even ask my husband to write a guest post since I only know about his struggles through him telling me about them!

I have been involved in many discussions about Rep. Giffords just as I’ve had discussions about other “famous people” in the news who have begun this journey. And it is a journey. Even now as I write this, my emotions are running away with me because I know more about this journey then I ever wanted to know.

As always your comments are appreciated. Where are you in this journey? What has the journey been like if you’re a supporter? What are some of your thoughts about Giffords and Kelly? If you would like to comment here simply click on the comment button. You may contact me directly at tamara@indylink.org