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By Laura Drinan
Hometown Weekly Reporter
After suffering a massive stroke as a result of a ruptured brain aneurysm, Astrid Hendren laid in bed, listening to her doctor describe the malformation at the tip of her brain stem. The doctor told the 32-year-old patient: “We’ll try to fix it, but if I can’t get to it, I’ll send you home and you’ll have about a week to live.”
As a mother of two, Astrid knew that survival was her only option. With her healthy lifestyle and positivity going into surgery working in her favor, she still stands to tell her story of endurance and perseverance.
On October 19, Astrid visited the Medfield Public Library to discuss her memoir “Surviving Lasts a Lifetime: A Parent’s Journey Through Medical Trauma.”
Astrid’s memoir documents the day she first went to the hospital, the 76 stitches from brain surgery, her rehabilitation and readjustment to daily life, divorce and remarrying, her relationship with her daughters, and her career. But even before her memoir, Astrid had written a guidebook to life.
“My coping strategy was writing,” said Astrid, holding a thick, worn red notebook. “It was very important to me as I was dealing with the fear of dying.”
But Astrid did not fear death for herself. She feared leaving her two young daughters motherless.
For a year and a half after surgery, Astrid wrote letters to her daughters of all of the things she would want them to know if she passed away. She wrote anything that was on her mind, from growing up in Holland to education to dating to applying makeup. The life lessons became known to Astrid as “My Red Letters.”
With tea and sweets, Astrid and the small group that joined her talked about her near-death experience and prompted the discussion-goers to talk about their own experience with death and loss.
“What I have learned is that [the book] is actually very helpful to people that are dying or have lost a loved one and it gives people comfort to know what I have experienced,” said Astrid.
One of the local book groups also read the memoir and shared personal stories. “The book became the catalyst for the sharing of things people had never had the courage to share,” said Michele Feinsilver, who had previously discussed the book and came to support Astrid at the library. “That night, what happened is that all of the stories were woven together into piece of fabric,” Michele said.
“The message that I feel so passionate about today is to have communities understand that you have to take care of each other,” said Astrid.
Astrid’s bravery and kind spirit inspired the discussion-goers to be more transparent and vulnerable, form connections to one another, and strengthen the roots of the community.