Before and after … I’d used the formal photo, here, since 2009, where I had a makeup and hair helper in the studio. And the photographer friend had to keep coaxing me to smile.
 
That was when I was 51, thinking I had experienced a lot of life, but I didn’t know shit. This was before I had cared for my dad-in-law and witnessed how vascular dementia destroyed his brain … before I lost my dad to a massive stroke and held his hand as he took his last breath and while his head lifted slightly from the pillow as I knew he was greeted by loved ones on the other side …
 
Before I had to witness the final 10 months of my mom’s life, dying from lung cancer, working through my anger at her lifelong smoking and trying to understand why I felt like she was giving up … refraining from some conversations I wanted to have but didn’t because she said crying worsened her pain. Remembering her last panicked words two days before she passed, “My baby, my baby …” as her baby, me, watched helplessly …
 
Before I took the uncharted journey and challenge of driving to California to care for my cousin, who I hadn’t seen in 20 years, after his serious heart attack, where he had no one to care for him. I was 2,000 miles from home at Christmas as I fought the medical system and endless paperwork to get him through the toughest period of his life.
 
And then I pushed to get him diagnosed with the brain injury I suspected he had. Remembering the neurologist calling me to apologize for not believing me until seeing the test results. Then packing my cousin up to bring him back to the Midwest where he could be reunited with his parents he hadn’t seen in years … and me unpacking and clearing a hoarded home … And getting him the medical care and permanent disability he needed …
 
Before I lived on my aunt’s couch for seven weeks this year after getting her out of rehab after her broken tail bone … wondering the first day if I had made a huge mistake because she was NOT as mobile as the rehab unit led me to believe. Drawing upon everything I had learned from my PT and OT friends across the country to get her moving and accepting in-home therapy where I pushed and pushed and pushed … To get her independent enough to live on her own again.
 
And to survive the incredible hurt of her getting angry at me a few months later when I ordered an alert bracelet that would allow her to maintain her independence as long as possible. How she warned me on the phone not to dare bring it into her apartment and refused to wear it. And how she’s not spoken to me since, only sending a text if she needs something.
 
Before horrible rounds of depression, anxiety and panic attacks … other losses … battling lifelong questions of why I was even born, how I needed to try harder to prove my worthiness to live …
 
Before driving thousands of miles every year for brain injury and Stroke Camps, seeing the sights and discovering pockets of humanity I never knew existed. Amazed and humbled by an ever-widening circle of friends here at home and every corner of the country who took me into their hearts and arms and thanked me for my gifts of writing, speaking and photography … which come so easily to me and I wanted to share … and which I’ve not used to the full potential God had given me.
 
Before I dabbed on a little makeup Thursday and decided to take my own new “formal” photo, stepping outside in a favorite purple shirt with the remnants of Mother Nature’s gift of green. Where it was just me and my happy little finger pressing the clicker and I couldn’t help but laugh at how silly I must have looked. And found my true self in a selfie.
 
Why now? I’m going back on the road and virtually speaking because I have too much to say … how we need to communicate better … how we’ve got to stop missing life’s most amazing opportunities to connect as human beings … how we’ve got to care for our caregivers …
 
How we’ve got to acknowledge the challenges of individuals with life-altering injuries, illnesses and diseases … how we hail the miracles of modern medicine yet as a society don’t know how to care for these folks … how we need to consider the emotional challenges of genealogy and understanding where we come from … how to simply survive the holidays and so much more.
 
And this is the new favorite photo of ME, inside and out … real, empathic, determined, witty at the right moments … Yeah, I really like her … Whatcha think of the new official me … who has to heal the world wherever she can … because those are my orders from upstairs …
 
And here’s YOUR call to action: Share this with your companies, organizations, non-profits, groups and folks you know anywhere that need the right message for the times we’re in … common sense, compassion, credible and connected … and so much more!
 
Let’s do this together because I can’t do it without YOU … even though I can take a darn good selfie … 🤣🤣

 

Hey, drop me a line at monicavestwheeler@gmail.com or leave a comment below. I’d love to speak to your group, organization or company about working our way through the pain and challenges of everyday life. You want straight talk? You got me!