Author donates partial book proceeds to Power To Be

Sarah Kendall searches for the words to match the light of excitement I saw in her eyes before she softly closed them. We are sitting at her kitchen table, accompanied by views of the ocean outside the window and the makings of a home inspired by books and music within reach.

A short moment later, she speaks, pulling the phrases together to share her love of nature, and more specifically being immersed in it.

“I can hear myself breathe. I can watch the birds travelling here and there … I can go on the water in a canoe or kayak,” she says. “It’s the silence. And then the huge amount of natural sound. That is what I love the most.”

Sarah Kendall

Being in nature is one of three things that makes her happiest. Like the others, dancing and writing, her ability to experience that passion was called into question without warning one night while cooking dinner. It was during an otherwise mundane task that she experienced a life-changing brain aneurism.

“There was no warning, no sign of imminent disaster,” she writes in her memoir, Let Me Show You Chocolate Lilies. “I was a whole person and suddenly, irrevocably, I was not.”

Seven hours of surgery, followed by a month in a coma was the start of a seven-month hospital stay. Her recovery was marked with many milestones. She relearned how to breathe and how to use her left hand as her dominant hand as her entire right side is paralyzed. She rediscovered language, once so readily available, finding first simplistic language and then more complex words.

“I am left with many symptoms, and it’s difficult for me to say which are the worst,” she writes. “Memory problems, especially short-term memory plague me … and then there is my expressive aphasia, a stand-alone demon that blocks my ability to express thoughts in words.”

Those first few years were limited in language. Ever determined, Sarah works hard to reconnect to the language she so articulately weaves into turns of phrase. Eight years after the aneurism, she had an opportunity to work with a writing coach through a creative writing program. It was here that the seed for Let Me Show You Chocolate Lilies was planted.

“I really didn’t think I would be able to write again,” she says. “When I went to write this book, it took me maybe 45-50 times to write one poem and then it took a lot of editing to get it to say what I wanted it to say.”

The book, a memoir made up of poems and prose, took two years to write. Each piece was written by hand first, balancing creative thought with the focus required to move her non-dominant hand across the page. Once a piece was completed, she transcribed it into type on her computer – another exercise in balance between mind and body.

Published in 2016, the book was shortlisted for the Cedric Literary Award and has sold more than 300 copies. The day the first copies arrived at Sarah’s home, she cried opening the box.

“A book … and I wrote it, no two ways about it. It was an incredible experience to have it in my hands,” she says, smiling as her eyes close as she recalls the memory. “It was no longer my book. It was out there, in public.”

Like when she spoke about nature, her eyes are lit up during our conversation about her book, this monumental achievement that proved she could reconnect to a life-long passion for self-expression. It happens again when she talks about Power To Be; how her experiences on program have impacted her life and why she chose to donate partial proceeds from her book to the organization.

“I love Power To Be. It has done me more good than probably anything else,” Sarah says. “It gave me the ability to go into the quiet, into the woods.”

From an initial camping experience to kayak adventures and opportunities to leave the beaten path via a TrailRider, she has no hesitation to express what the adventures have meant to her.

“The very first time (I explored a trail via a TrailRider) I just cried. I was doing something I never thought I would do again,” she says, of the freedom the all-terrain wheelchair gave her. “I would go to the pathway into the woods, but I wouldn’t be able to go any further. I couldn’t get my wheelchair in there. When I found out about the TrailRider, it was a thing I didn’t have any idea about.”

Her story is diverse, with a common thread holding it together. Sarah is not afraid of a challenge, and she approaches them with what she calls loving determination.

“I offer this book for those who know me and those who don’t; to those who have had an aneurism or a stroke, or any kind of disability, and don’t know what to do next; and to those who are just curious about people. May it give you a glimpse of a life with all of its setbacks and all of its riches, and remember… it’s just a glimpse!”

Let Me Show You Chocolate Lilies is available for purchase through Sarah Kendall or through Ivy’s Bookstore in Oak Bay. $4 from every book bought directly through Sarah is donated to Power To Be (contact her via email).

 – Story shared by Sarah Kendall through interview and excerpts from her book, and Amy Dove, Power To Be