Healing Reflections: "The Bravery Bell" by Hayley Zimmerman

Jan 8, 2021 | Hannah Schlotthauer, Administrative Assistant | @schlohan

"The Bravery Bell" 
Story & Art by: Hayley Zimmerman | Chippewa Falls

It was a couple of days after Christmas my 7th-grade year when my parents suggested we move to Wisconsin. We had just gotten home from celebrating the holidays with my grandparents in Chippewa Falls, and my twin sister Sydney and I were definitely not expecting to hear that news. Of course, we were devastated by the thought of leaving our friends, but the opportunity to explore excited us even more than the fear.

Flash forward to 2020, sitting with Grandpa and Grandma Z eating Casa Mexicana in the dining room. My Grandpa is telling stories about his cowboy childhood of riding horses while watching old westerns and saying how he loves those big beautiful hats. My Grandpa had developed Alzheimer’s over the years, and could clearly remember past memories, but maybe not my name. He knew who I was, that I was someone he loved, but not the title.

February 26, 2020, was Sydney and I’s 16th birthday, being celebrated at Olive Garden. This was the last time I have been out to eat in a restaurant. News started coming out of COVID 19, and as our spring break extended by the weeks, my hope of finishing my sophomore year depleted. Of course, no one knew how to handle our virtual lives. So, my sister and I were consumed by online classes, with no free time until summer. In the middle of this silent madness, my Grandpa’s health was decreasing. He sadly passed away on April 14th, 2020. He was the first person, who I dearly loved, who passed away. Even though it was heartbreaking, I am extremely lucky that we lived so close to him. I am thankful for my Grandma Z who took care of him every day as a retired nurse, determined to keep him out of a Retirement Home. For me to listen to his stories and just sit with him is a happy and blessed memory to look back on.

The start of my Junior year was very exciting for me because I started to explore everything I love. I was becoming braver and ready for the challenges ahead of me. The year 2020 was honestly awful for everyone, but the summer had given me a refreshing break to reflect on life and spend time in nature with my family. That said, we were all ready for the New Year, 2021. The holidays were unexpectedly hard on my family. My Grandma S found out she had developed Cholangiocarcinoma (Gallbladder Cancer). My mom and her sister were my Grandma’s Caretakers. They worked effortlessly daily, as their full-time job, then came home to care for us kids. Even as my Grandma lost her physical strength, she still had her beautiful personality.

When my Grandma S was first diagnosed and very sick in the hospital, I decided to paint a portrait of her wedding day. My grandparents' love for each other was truly made in the stars. I feel I captured this in the painting, and their reaction was worth the 16 hours I spent working on it. My Grandma was touching her painted dimples and in awe of her blue eyes. While my Grandpa was joking about the handsome man in the painting.

I love reflecting on this special moment with my Grandma. Sadly, she passed away too soon April 1, 2021. This was heartbreaking to all of us, but we had been grieving for so long after the diagnosis, we were partially thankful that she was no longer in pain. My Grandma had gone through all of her cancer treatment, but she never got to ring the bell. The bell is meant to be rung after treatment is completed.

My mom and her sister went in one afternoon and bravely gathered my Grandma’s nurses, then they stood and rang the bell for her. The moment was emotionally charged, but necessary for healing. Even though the bell is literally meant to be for completion of treatment, I believe its symbolic meaning is bravery. Everyone these past years has had to be brave. Those who have cared for the sick, been the sick, protected others, those who have taken a stand, spoken up, or tried something new. The whole world has experienced the pandemic and together we are getting through it. Isn’t it so brave for us to trust and love each other in times of despair?

I am forever grateful and proud of my family and friends for their daily bravery. In The Bravery Bell, I represented my Grandpa Z with the purple ribbon, a symbol of Alzheimer’s, and my Grandma S with the green ribbon, a symbol of Cholangiocarcinoma.

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Hello, my name is Hayley Zimmerman, I am 17 years old, and almost a senior at Chippewa Falls High School. I am obsessed with art, the environment, and exploring. I love spending time with my twin sister Sydney, and she inspires me to go for all of my goals in life. I participate in track and field, and this season I made my PR of 7ft in Pole Vault. I am elated to be joining Chi-Hi’s Equity Committee this year, to help create a more positive school environment with equal opportunities for all. Lastly, I am starting an environmentalist club to help raise awareness to students and staff about the environmental impact we all have. Hopefully, my goal of switching from styrofoam school lunch trays to reusable is carried out next year.

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For more information about the Healing Reflections gallery or to get involved with the project, contact Sara Martinek.

To discuss the latest on Post-COVID Syndrome, head over to the Post-COVID Recovery discussion group.

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