Dancing At My Wedding: My Grandmother, Seagulls, and Me

By Amy Oestrieicher

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 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, both my lungs collapsed, and I was given 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; a world of crisis where everything became minute to minute – a fight for physical, emotional and spiritual survival.

I could write about how I fell into my coma the week after I had gotten all of my college acceptance letters, and I mourned the loss of what seemed to be a natural progression of my maturation and education. How would I finally come into my own, become an adult, be part of a community and learn how to operate in the real world? Was I forever to be the sick patient, chained to 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, she and I would take nature walks, she would sew buttons on my coat, make her delicious noodle kugel and yell at me for not wearing socks on the cold tile floor. 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. When finally discharged, I was discouraged and depressed. 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 to survive, but to thrive.

A month later, when I could no longer stand my loneliness or my medical situation, I decided to tell myself “I’m healthy enough” and make 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.

That day, a man named Brandon sent me a message. By the end of that day we were writing novels back and forth to each other – 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 helped 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 are 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. 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 back in Arizona. And now I’m planning my wedding for June of 2015, while in college and doing my one-woman autobiographical show!

My grandmother always told me she would dance at my wedding. And I feel her spirit guiding me. She was there as I twirled around in the first wedding dress I tried on, and she’ll be there as I declare 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 every 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…

About this writer

  • Amy OestrieicherAmy Oestrieicher is a PTSD peer-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, RAINN speaker, award-winning health advocate, actress and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance  and inspirational speaking. She is the author and star of Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman musical autobiography, which has earned rave reviews and accolades since its NYC debut in 2012. Her writings have appeared in the Washington Post and On Being, among others, and her story has appeared on TODAY, Cosmopolitan and CBS. She’s currently touring a mental health advocacy/sexual assault awareness program to colleges nationwide. See amyoes.com for more information.

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One Response to “Dancing At My Wedding: My Grandmother, Seagulls, and Me”

  1. Amy your strength and perseverance is amazing. Perhaps your grandmother had a hand in choosing your soul mate. I am certain she was dancing from above on your wedding day.

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