My grandmother attended my wedding. She held my first born and died 45 minutes later. I believe she waited to meet him. I know most people don’t experience the gift of great grandchildren, but I have always anticipated my parents would grow very, very old. Watching my mom hooked up to tubes and monitors now numbs my brain. Abandoning my routine to be here all day and much of the night has been exhausting. Sounds like I am complaining. But my mom is alive and she’s actually getting pretty good reports. I won’t fuss. The future still lies ahead of us, and I do not care so much about its length anymore. A teacher at my son’s school wrote me a supportive email today, saying she understood because her mother had had a stroke. She also lost her brother and her dad recently and reminded me; “what I take away from that is to live each day fully with as much love and compassion as you can muster-because it could all be gone tomorrow in a blink.”
I haven’t spent this much time with my mom since I was six, yet I miss her. I keep picking up the phone to call her and tell her about how much I hurt and how scared I have been. I think somehow my brain thinks the woman I am spending my days with right now is my grandmother who passed away at 98. This couldn’t be my mom. My mom sparkles. Actually, my grandmother sparkled too. I can see why my brain thinks I am with Louelle. I was with her when she was diagnosed with heart failure and she looked at the doctor and said, “how dare you call my heart a failure after all these years.” Now the tiny woman in the bed keeps waking up to crack jokes with her nurses in this low, distorted, slurred voice that is absolutely unrecognizable other than the wit in reveals. Day 1 in the hospital she said, “I’m all for an adventure but I think I went too far this time.” Day 2 she could really only open one eye, but I’m pretty sure she winked at me. Day 4 we left ICU and when we made it to her room we shared our first post-stroke mother-daughter knowing look. Day 6 the doc told her the MRI showed many strokes in her brain, like a shower of little lights; she said, “I’m a meteorite.” Day 7; when I walked into her room she was sitting in a chair slowly talking with one of my close friends about fixing my brother up with her single friends so that he would move here to Minnesota. My friend is a Reiki Master and I don’t know what she did, but I will be forever grateful to her for helping my mom out of her neurological shell for an hour. Today my big brother and I gasped and squealed and clapped and hugged when we both heard her true laugh for a split second; just one twitter. She was back.
But just for awhile. When I leave the hospital the panic creeps back in through my pores. The fear of losing her. The terror of her being tormented by her body. Back to Day 1. The call from dad. Seeing what I thought was her corpse in that E.R. bed. Waiting for news. Hearing the echoing voice of the neurologist say, “your mom’s health is very complicated and I can’t tell you yet which way this will go.” Holding my husband. Listening to my friend say, “breath, Shawna” on the phone. Trying to breath. Trying to feel the ground under my feet. Trying not to throw up. Crying, which I don’t do. Feeling vulnerable. Wanting to hide. Holding dad’s hand.
In medical first responder training we learned about “core-shunting;” when the body sends blood to what is most essential in order to survive stress like cold, blood loss, shock. I felt that way until we left ICU, and now I just revisit the feeling a few times everyday. Its better because she is better, but there are still unknowns. When I lapse back into fear my chest feels heavy, my arms feel tickly, my hands can’t grasp, my legs feel empty and awkward and my feet feel pins and needley on the ground. On day 5 I felt this way as I left the hospital because I had determined the stroke was all my fault.
Luckily, I have a few friends who are doctors. I sent a frantic, “what if I had known” text to one of them and she responded, “it wouldn’t change the outcome.” I sent another and he said, “its not your fault.” Another showed up in ICU like a bald, beautiful angel in nice shoes and said, “she’s going to be ok.” Hearing that from someone who knew her before meant everything to me. And one more just happened to have lit a fire in his backyard, scrounged his fridge for 3 beers, and had open chairs ready before my husband and I even called him at 10pm on night 5. He talked me down.
The night before her stroke I pulled over on the way home from choir, ready to turn around and drive to my parent’s house. Something felt wrong. I talked to her. She had a cold and this had been a tough month with a chronic condition she has battled; maybe just dehydration. She and dad agreed; we’ll call the doctor again tomorrow. We’re going to sleep–don’t come. I didn’t follow my instincts. By morning she had had “a shower” of strokes. Panic. My feet tingle. I could have saved her.
But we sat by the fire and he told me about medicine and how it works and how it fails sometimes. He gave me medical reasons why spending the night in the E.R. might not have kept her from having a stroke. He gave me human reasons for not always being able to protect the people closest to me. And we ate some chocolate and cheese and sat by the fire in the rain and felt better. Blood returns to feet. Hands grasp. Strength returns.
I haven’t always trusted my husband to be the supportive type. I figured he would fill many, many needs but my friends would supply the shoulders I cry upon. And they have. They have watched my kids, called, texted, shopped, hosted, prayed, sent light beams, prayers, cards, and watched my kids more. I love, love, love my friends. But it was good for me to realize that I was wobbly at the hospital without my husband there. As soon as he showed up, I was grounded. If something good comes out of this it is knowing I can be vulnerable, and “there is still joy,” as one of my very first friend’s wrote today. In fact, my cousin watched my littlest guy today and took him to visit his horse. He came home dirty and smelling like hay and I loved my cousin for the joy he rendered during a week like this.
Another cousin came to see us. She brought a flower for mom and her beautiful smile and she brought me tumeric and ginger for my nervous stomach. She has been here before. She has been darker places, actually. She gave me a teary hug that felt like a blanket I could hide under for awhile, and together we made mom laugh a little. Actually, in truth, I think mom made us laugh. And then she was tired and slipped away again. She felt present for a little while when her dear friend visited. And she smiled when I told her Teddy had come with flowers and when we told her that her brothers and sisters wanted to visit. I read her the emails and cards and prayers everyone has sent and she cried, saying she couldn’t die yet. And I sat in disbelief looking at her crooked face and one good eye and feeling the love she eminates. All I could do was hug her and all her wires as tightly as she has always hugged me.
But our best Red-Tent moment came a few days later. She had a painful test involving a needle being injected into her bone to sample marrow. If I had any doubt in her strength before we held hands for this test, it vanished as she squeezed my fingers (unfortunately/painfully donned with the rings they removed from her fingers in the E.R.) She had to lay on her side, and I sat at her bedside inches from her face. We locked eyes and breathed together. I am sure it was an awful point in time for her, but for me, it was a turning point. I found my place as her support. I found something I could do for her. I found my role in all of this mess, and my blood returned to my limbs and my belly and my head. Lesson learned; if I remain in my body I can be helpful to my mom.
So, here is the update; she truly is doing a remarkable job recovering from her stroke. She is exhausted. Her underlying health issues remain complicated so she will be in the hospital awhile longer. For more and more of the day everyday, she is her funny and sparkly self. Everyday she is strong. When I went to visit her on Mother’s Day my oldest said, “wish her Mother’s Happy Day.” I started to correct him and then realized he had said it on purpose. This year, my mom and I needed to celebrate Mother’s Happy Day instead, and he knew it. So in celebration of Mother’s Day this year I hung pictures of her at carefree, outdoor times on her hospital room walls. I want her to remember being her, but I also want her nurses and doctors to know what she will look like when she recovers, and who she has been to all of us. I want everyone to know that she is special; my mom is a meteorite.