When a tragedy happens to you, it is a blessing that you never see it coming. The actual shock and numbness of the event is natures’ way of weaning you into it. It hit him, and all of us, like a lightning bolt, on that bleak Tuesday in February. Lightning would be rare in February and you would not expect it. When they say your life changes that day forever, believe them.
THE STORM BEGINS
There comes a day in everyone’s life;
A day that sits heavily on your chest,
that you can barely breathe.
So heavily that your legs can barely carry you.
So heavily, that your heart feels it will just quietly stop beating.
You have to check your pulse to see if it still is.
The room becomes close and your vision is narrowed.
The day that phone rings.
The devil’s day.
The day God looked away from you
for one second
and he snuck in.
you will truly understand
why loving someone is so important
and nothing else is.
Everything seems gray to me; the blue sky, the sun, my skin. It is all happening in slow motion like a play unfolding before me except I have the lead role. I am walking down the hospital corridor, on the way to see you. They called from your work and told me that you have had a stroke. They told me that it’s bad. I am wondering right now as I walk, floating would actually be a more accurate description I think, if you are still alive. What would I do- My life as I know it at this succinct moment would change forever. I have spent over twenty years with you, through good and bad times, times that I loved you desperately, and times when I hated you passionately. You are a part of me, a part of the children’s lives. I would not be me anymore without you.
A lightning bolt is the official mascot for stroke, I think it is appropriate. Your stroke seemed to come right out of the gray sky. You are laying there on the white bed, looking pale and scared. You are clearly too big for this dwarf bed and your feet dangle over the edge. You can not talk but you try to motion with your hands, something, anything. Your eyes talk to me though; they are telling me you are scared. I try hard to fight back the tears and I look away, afraid that you can read my eyes.
A doctor whisks me away into the sterile corridor. I have never looked at someone’s face more intently than at this moment, I watch as his mouth moves and he speaks. I am only focused on what he is saying. I know that I will never recognize his face if I met him five minutes from now but I would know that mouth anywhere.
The stroke had taken your voice and the use of your right side. Your arm is useless and you can not walk. Your beautiful, masculine face is now misshapen by this monster inside of you and drool lightly trickles from the right side of your mouth. It is your eyes though that frightens me the most. They are wide and faded, like a dead deer caught in the headlights. You try to motion with your one good hand. But I whisper in your ear to rest. Maybe tomorrow you will wake up and this will be a dream.
But the dream is a stark reality. A new life for us now. Nothing will ever be the same. It’s very hard to accept. You keep fighting it but eventually it wins. Always it wins. I walk off the elevator onto the stroke ward, I walk past the rooms and as I pass, I can see the path of the destruction; broken bodies everywhere, and helpless loved ones walking in a fog not knowing what to do. I stop briefly before I go into your room. I take a deep breath and plant a smile on my face hoping the tears welling up in my eyes will not escape. And there you sit in the chair by the window.
I walk quickly
through the halls of hell,
fire licking at the bottom of my soles.
I can’t wait to lay
my eyes on you.
I am so hungry
for the sight of you.
I can’t wait to feel
the skin on your hand,
the stubble of your beard
on my cheek,
and your arms around me.
I am running
now down the last hall
to your room.
to breathe you in.
And there you are
beside the window.
My heart jumps
as you turn
to welcome me.
You start to cry
and I embrace you
with all the strength I have.
Hoping my love
will pour into your heart
and move away the pain.
I am here, I whisper.
But the clock ticks quickly,
for soon I must leave you.
We walk slowly
towards the elevator
like two prisoners to our execution.
You stand outside
of the elevator door, waving a silent goodbye.
The door shuts and you are gone from me.
Visiting hours are over.
After six weeks away from us, you come home from the hospital. You are like a stranger in your own home, a stranger to your own children. You are helpless and you hate it.
I have to shave you because you can not use your left hand to shave as you are right handed and that hand is no good anymore. I know how hard it is for you to let me button up your shirt and do up your pants. I don’t want to be your mother, ever. I try not to cry when I have to mush up your food because you can’t swallow properly. I want to run out the door and never come back. But I never leave.
We walk a small distance every day but you want to walk by yourself; you are getting frustrated with being ’babysat’ by me. On this late summer evening you get mad and walk away from me. I am frustrated too and I let you go. I watch as you slowly limp down the sidewalk. An hour passes since you have been gone and it seems too long. I start to worry about you like one of our kids. I am worried if that is how I think of you now.
NO OTHER CHOICE
to come to terms with it.
than both of us.
We can’t fight it; we can’t make it go away,
it lives with us everyday.
Sits at our breakfast table in the morning,
and lies between us in bed at night.
We will have to find a way to live with this,
and make it part of our lives.
For we have no other choice.
It takes months for your arm to get back to somewhat normal but it is the loss of your voice that is the cruelest. Your mind is still strong but you can’t get the words out or write them properly. Aphasia is the medical term. I have never heard of it in my life before and now I know everything there is to know about it.
Beat on your chest.
then scream again.
For you have triumphed over it.
The monster that made you not whole
has left, limping away.
He hides in the bushes now.
You know he is there
but you are not afraid anymore.
You will stand your ground
and not wave the white flag
for the war is not over yet.
Your voice is not really your voice anymore, it is high and alien like. Sometimes I find myself trying to block out the sound. I get headaches a lot from concentrating so much, trying to figure out what you are saying. I don’t tell you though, it is a small sacrifice I make. I notice other people looking at you when you speak. So do you.
People talk loudly to you, like you are deaf. They talk to you like a small child. They talk to me, not to you, even when you are standing right beside me. Even when it is your healthcare they are talking about. Some people just don’t talk to you at all.
They think you have nothing to offer. Maybe they are afraid they won’t understand you and would be embarrassed to ask you to repeat yourself. Poor them. Some people just think it can never happen to them. Lucky them.
Some days I wonder how you get up each morning. I wonder about all the other things that could have happened to you. I thank God that they didn’t. I wonder if it could happen again. I wonder if it will happen to me.
I watch you sometimes, especially in the dark of the winter evening, when the children are all out and the house is somberly quiet. I see you crying softly; you can not even cry loudly. I can not help you and it is so hard to watch my big strong protector of the house, weak and beaten. You get up though and wash your face and put the kettle on. You are a survivor. You will go on. For me, for the children and for yourself. Like all people stricken with disease, or disability, living is all that matters in the end. It is all we have; to say that we have overcome the monster. That we have beaten him. We are still here.
The sun does shine like before except you appreciate it more. Little things don’t bother you as much because you know what a true crisis is now. Lucky you. People with their everyday whining will bother you more though because you want to scream at them and tell them how lucky they are.
It is a journey. You have to take something good from every journey for only then will you have truly embraced it. You can tell yourself that you have been taught a lesson; a wonderful lesson that only a few select, special people get taught.
Life is precious.
We had it all taken away
but in the emptiness
there it sat, the bright gift that I didn’t see before
when my vision was gray.
It was there all the time
yet now I can open it.
The gift makes me look at the world differently now.
I am more thankful. Thankful that I am just here.
And that you are here with me.
Diamonds and shiny things
have lost their luster
but people have turned to gold.
And the sun and the wind
and even the rain is all that matters.