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Wrigley: Life-changing experience shaped parenting, writing journey

September marks two important anniversaries for columnist Kathleen Wrigley

Kathleen Wrigley
Kathleen Wrigley of Fargo crosses the finish line with a big smile Saturday. Dave Wallis / The Forum

Anniversaries are reminders for events, like a wedding, a death or the start of a new path.

September is a special month for me. Of course, it’s a significant calendar month for most of us. September kicks off a new season and a new school year. This month is bursting with opportunities. Fresh starts.

Twelve years ago on Sept. 1, I said goodbye to my children and family as I relinquished every ounce of control, putting my trust and care firmly in the hands of God and a St. Paul, Minn., neurological medical team, and I headed into brain surgery to correct an 11-millimeter brain aneurysm . Trust doesn’t come easily for moms crippled with fear. Even my prayers were lined with helpful hints and winks to guide God’s plan. We want to steer our own ship. We crave control.

Twelve years ago in September my first-ever column, “Rollin’ with the Punches,” was published in On the Minds of Moms . I wrote that article for my kids: Quinn, Patrick and Harper. I had no power over my neurosurgeon’s hands. As mightily as I prayed, I could not manipulate God’s will for the pending brain surgery or the details of the outcome. So, I took the wheel and steered where I could. I cherished every minute with my kids and family. I penned a note to each of my kids and sealed the envelopes. Then I wrote my first-ever column, for my children, so they would know how complete and important and purposeful they have made my life. The column was published simultaneously to the Sept. 1, 2009, surgery date.

Yes, September is a month of celebratory anniversaries, births (my son’s birthday is Sept. 26), and re-births. Each September that passes, I celebrate and I assess. Life gets hectic and years pass. Extra time and busyness are favors, not afforded to everyone. I give massive thanks, as I move forward and I measure, reflecting on what I’ve done with this second chance: How can I do better, be better and live fully in God’s grace and His will. I want Quinn, Patrick and Harper to see how God is working in me.

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Twelve years ago, I remember sitting at my computer staring at a blank screen with my fingers draped over the keyboard, watching and willing the blinking cursor to transform the emotions of my heart into sentences for my first column. Harper was an industrious one-year old. I was a full-time, stay-at-home mom. I remember letting her color her arms and legs with markers to keep her occupied while I poured out my thoughts. Don’t judge. Moms of small children are wonderous multi-taskers.


"Each September that passes, I celebrate and I assess. Life gets hectic and years pass. Extra time and busyness are favors, not afforded to everyone. I give massive thanks, as I move forward and I measure, reflecting on what I’ve done with this second chance: How can I do better, be better and live fully in God’s grace and His will. I want Quinn, Patrick and Harper to see how God is working in me."

- Kathleen Wrigley


I am grateful for the opportunity to write. Writing is a helpful therapeutic tool. As a mental health professional and school counselor, I encourage students to journal. Feelings and thoughts cramp our souls and swirl around in our brains. Releasing them onto paper is an effective coping mechanism, offering validation that our ideas and emotions matter. They are worthy and deserve to be recorded, to see the light of day.

As I look back 12 years ago AND walk forward, I remember the tears and the fears of why I was writing my first-ever column — to my kids. I remember the neurosurgeon’s warnings of the worst-case scenarios of brain surgery. The “what-ifs” consumed my mind by day and invaded my sleep at night. Not one person in the medical field prepared me for the emotional recovery that lurked behind the physical scars. You understand. Their urgency was my brain, not my heart. So, I wrote. Journaled. Recorded. And prayed.

My journey began with a health scare . Your journey may be different. Fill in your blank. And act. Do what you can with what you have, to take care of your heart and fill your soul with purpose and joy.

I was profoundly struck by the emotional recovery following surgery. I made it my mission to help prepare patients for the possibility of a host of post-operative feelings. I became the self-proclaimed ambassador for brain aneurysm patients and their families. Dozens of patients from across the nation have found their way to me.

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The Oct/Nov issue of On the Minds of Moms will be available Oct. 4.

Connecting and sharing my experience to help people plan for what lay ahead, physically and emotionally, is both a responsibility and an opportunity to use my journey to help others. I wished that someone had prepared me for the emotional recovery of my heart after brain surgery. For me, proactively helping to prepare others for the soulful healing legitimized what to do with the bits of my health scare that I could not control.

Milestones, anniversaries, and significant life events should give us pause.

Fast-forward 12 years. No one readied us, as parents, for the lifetime achievement of our kids’ high school graduations, followed by their swift departure on college move-in day. The confluence of conflicting and contradictory emotions leaves parents forlorn and off-centered. And the good news is, the better you do as a parent, the more your heart is torn in half at this milestone.

We have two children living their best lives in college, one a junior at Concordia and the second a freshman at NDSU. There are thousands of pieces of parents’ hearts scattered all over those bustling campuses. I assumed experience would safeguard my heart from the pain of letting go of our second graduate. I was wrong. Sending our son off to NDSU was every ounce as gut-tugging (I am NOT being dramatic!) as it was to move our first born baby girl into her dorm-home. Both lifetime achievement milestones left us clinging to their empty garage stalls where their cars parked, to the boxes of their favorite cereal left in the pantry, or the forgotten laundry left in the dryer.

And so, I write. And journal. And pray. I connect with other parents — mostly moms — who are battling the excitement and pride for their coeds, with the loneliness and transformation of their families that pair these milestones. I reflect on their 18 years under our wing, AND I move forward with confidence in the foundation we’ve built for them.

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Yes, milestones, anniversaries, and significant life events should give us pause.

Twelve years later, I am looking back AND walking forward as I celebrate a dozen years of scribbling my thoughts into a column and 12 years of the gift of a second chance at living after brain-aneurysm surgery. There is hope and light, and yes, some heartbreak and pain , on the other side of these moments in time. It’s important to look back and reflect. And keep forging ahead. The past positions us for the future.

I’ll end with a simple declaration from my neurosurgeon when he released me from the Intensive Care Unit. He directed me to: “Go. And LIVE.”

Thank you for being on the journey. Let life humble you enough to build the steps ahead.

Kathleen Wrigley is a wife, mom and advocate. She is made with equal amounts of grace and grit, with gobs of giggles and gratitude.

Kathleen Wrigley
Kathleen Wrigley trains for Saturday's Fargo Marathon. She is the guest speaker at the Fargo Marathon pasta feed Friday night at the Fargodome. David Samson / The Forum

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