Keeping Grandmother with Me

© Julie Anderson All Rights Reserved

There have been many miracles over the years … taking a sip of water for the first time after three years of not being able to eat or drink, a coma and at 27, grueling circumstances are certainly significant. When I was 18—a week before my high school senior prom—I randomly found myself in intense pain.

I woke up six months later, only to learn that my stomach had literally burst to the top of the OR and exploded and after both my lungs collapsed and 122 units of blood, I almost died.

Here I was, suddenly displaced from my former life as a carefree, audacious, musical-theatre-loving teen, and thrust into a world of tubes, bags, beeping machines, and a world of crisis where everything became minute to minute—a fight for physical, emotional and spiritual survival.

I could talk about how every night I prayed to God while tied down to a stiff ICU hospital bed that one day I would be able to suck on an ice cube again. I could talk about pacing through the aisles of a grocery store in tears wondering if I’d ever be able to have dinner with friends. I could talk about how on my 21st birthday after a 19-hour surgery and three shifts of nurses and doctors, I finally took my first bite of food. I could talk about how my three older brothers and devoted parents camped out in the ICU and stayed by my side through every up and down, and how one was even inspired to go to med school and become a doctor from my ordeal.

I could talk about how despite my bleak circumstances, I was determined never to feel like a victimized patient. And I could talk about how, while I was only sustained on IV nutrition, I taught nursery school, put up three professional art shows, starred in musicals, learned karate and yoga, and eventually wrote, directed and starred in a one-woman musical about my life.

I could talk about how miraculous it was that I was able to maintain my sanity when I was once again living at home but prohibited from eating or drinking indefinitely—where even turning on the faucet could be a lethal temptation for me.

I could write about how I fell into my coma the week after I had received all of my college acceptance letters, and I mourned the loss of what seemed to be a natural progression of my maturation and education. I could write about how I would finally come into my own, become an adult, be part of a community and learn how to operate in the real world? I could write about how I wondered if I was forever to be the sick patient, chained to a machine, going from doctor to doctor—would I ever be normal again? Was this my life now? Once I said, “yes,” it became my life—a beautiful, miraculous blessing. And at 27, I am finally in college feeding my brain with knowledge and my belly with campus grub.

But I’d just like to write about my grandma. She is my miracle. My grandmother was in Auschwitz at 18—a survivor, like me in a way. The Nazis forced her to sew their uniforms because she was an amazing seamstress, which is how she was able to stay alive, along with her determined spirit and unwavering faith.

Growing up, her and I would take nature walks. She would sew buttons on my coat, make her delicious noodle kugel, yell at me for not wearing socks on the cold tile, and although she never liked to discuss the pain of what she went through, I could always see that depth in her eyes. My grandmother always filled our house with joy, gratitude, love, and food. She always exclaimed that she “was going to dance at my wedding,” which would be her biggest pride and joy.

My grandmother passed away while I was in a coma, and it pained me deeply that I would never see her again. My mother and I often searched for her spirit in the many seagulls that flew around our tiny house by the water. We would pray to any seagull we saw, feeling my grandmother’s presence in their glorious flight. The seagulls helped us believe in miracles, that things would get better, and that my grandmother was still with us, watching over us all in loving protection. It made us feel less afraid of what the uncertain future would bring us at a time when it was hard to keep believing in anything.

Years later in November 2012, I had to have another surgery. What was supposed to be minimally invasive turned into three emergency surgeries within a week, and a few more months stuck in the hospital unable to eat or drink.

I was discouraged and depressed when I was finally discharged. I felt lonely, like I had lost all connection to the outside world once again. With a gaping wound that has not healed to this day, all my physical strength depleted, and no road map for recovery, I was too tired to be the feisty and fearless warrior that had enabled me to not only survive, but to thrive.

One day, a girl named Sara called my mother. She very assertively stated, “I just moved here from the city, and I don’t know anyone. I grew up with Amy, and I’d love to get together.” Still wearing hospital pajamas and barely able to get out of bed, I was in no mood for company. But I reluctantly agreed. Sara popped right over and casually mentioned that she had met her boyfriend online. I thought nothing of it.

A month later, when I could no longer stand my loneliness or my medical situation, I decided to tell myself “I’m healthy enough.” I made my first online dating profile ever. In fact, I had never had even a casual boyfriend my entire life! I used the same mentality that had helped me endure everything else:

If you act healthy, you’ll feel healthy.

The first day of my online dating profile, a man named Brandon sent me a message. By the end of that day, we were writing novels back and forth. I couldn’t believe how scarily alike we were. We had all the same likes and dislikes. We had visited all of the same places, had the same exact values and family memories, and the same quirky sense of humor! He made me feel like a person again and to realize who I was before the medical ordeal—who I still am. I was so ashamed of the terrible shape I was in after these surgeries that I tried to put off meeting in person—but we did meet … a week later.

Since meeting in March 2013, we were inseparable. I had not felt joy and life within me like this since before I got sick. After so many surgeries, invasions, and setbacks, it was hard to feel normal, human, or even real. It was actually hard to know what feeling felt like anymore from all the numb years of being forced to deny my starving body food or water while nutritional IVs mechanically streamed through my veins. Now, love flowed through me instead—for the first time.

Brandon put me back in touch with me, my vitality, my spunk, my hunger for life. Fast forward through countless hours of stream of consciousness discussions on any topic under the sun, hikes, grocery store strolls, (our favorite date night!) dinners, escapades, and everything else, Brandon proposed to me that July 2013 during our visit to his family in Arizona. We were married in June 2015, while I was in college and doing my one-woman autobiographical show!

My grandmother always told me she would dance at my wedding. And I still feel her spirit guiding me more than anything—I don’t need a seagull to know that! She was there as I twirled around in the first wedding dress I tried on, and she was there as I declared my vows under the chuppah made of her own lace.

The miracle is learning that she has been with me all along, watching over me and ensuring that not only did I keep my body alive, but my spirit, my will, and my heart. She is the music as we dance, the food that will warm my newly fashioned digestive system, and my guidance into the unknown world of married life. And now and then as I walk out of the new house that Brandon and I own together and will spend the rest of our married lives in, I sometimes see a seagull soaring over my head.

© Amy Oestreicher

© Amy Oestreicher

Amy Oestreicher

Amy is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, speaker for RAINN, writer for The Huffington Post, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright eagerly sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, performance, art and speaking.. In 2012, she wrote, directed and starred in a one woman musical about her life, Gutless & Grateful, touring theatres across the country for three years, and earning rave reviews and accolades since it’s BroadwayWorld Award-nominated NYC debut. As a visual artist, her art has been featured in esteemed galleries solo exhibitions, and her mixed media workshops emphasize creativity as an essential mindset. Amy’s “beautiful detour” inspired her to create the #LoveMyDetour movement, a social media campaign inspiring people to flourish because of, rather than in spite of challenges. Recipient of the Great Comebacks Award. Her Washington Post and On Being with Krista Tippet, and is a regular contributor for numerous publications including Elite Daily, The Mighty, Indie Chicks and Career Girl Daily. Her story has appeared on the TODAY Show, CBS, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, among others. Amy's passion for the arts as a means of healing and expression led her to devise storytelling workshops for the Transformative Language Arts Network National Conference, the Eating Recovery Center Foundation, and The League for the Advancement of New England Storytelling. Determined to bridge the gap of communication between wellness resources on college campuses and students, Amy is currently touring college campuses with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre. For information on keynote presentations, private coaching, workshops and signature talkbacks, visit

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