I'm not someone who shares a lot of personal things about myself. On Facebook, I do share photos of our lives; silly thoughts; things that make me laugh; things that make me think, and information that I feel like others might benefit from. You won't see me posting about the bad stuff that might be going on in my life and you won't see any drama. So I shared very little about the turn our lives took back in March.
The photo above, for those who don't know, is of my parents, married forty-two years this past May. They celebrated their anniversary in my mom's hospital room, and my dad brought her flowers and a card. My mom couldn't read it, and she couldn't say thank you, but I know she appreciated it.
In March of this year, my mom took a stroke. My dad called me at six thirty that morning, just after I turned off my alarm. What he told me wasn't something anyone wants to hear.
I won't go into the specific details, but you can imagine how horrible it was; how terrifying and heart-breaking. I will say that the first week was probably the hardest thing I've ever experienced. I made multiple trips to Halifax, as did my father, who barely left her side and didn't even go home for days after it happened. I was somehow able to be there with her and my dad and keep it together, but at home, it was different. I went back to work, and didn't talk about it. Some knew, but I wasn't ready to talk. You wouldn't have known anything was wrong by my Facebook page.
I cried a lot. I would randomly just burst into tears, or I would just lay in bed or on the couch and cry when I was alone. I somehow managed to hold it together at work until one day I just couldn't, and a co-worker wandered in to find me in a sobbing mess. I went home that day.
People ask me how she is, and I honestly don't know how to respond sometimes. "She's doing better" is really all I can think to say. It's not that I mind being asked; people genuinely care, and I am grateful for it. But it's a hard question to answer.
My mom has lost her speech, which means we have not had a conversation with her since the end of March. She has very little use of her right hand, and though thankfully she can walk, she's a bit unsteady, and has fallen more than once. She can walk without assistance, but most times will reach for my hand when I'm walking next to her. We are unsure of how much she understands when we speak to her, and if you asked her to write something down, she would not be able to. My strong, independent mother can no longer be left on her own when she goes home.
There are good things. When we think about where she was after it happened, it's amazing to see how far she's come. We weren't even sure she would walk again, yet she walks. She is getting some movement back in her hand, and her speech therapist sees potential. There are no promises or guarantees, but she does have the ability to form words. On a lighter note, she has absolutely no trouble saying "Jesus Christ" and says it countless times throughout the day to express her frustration as well as her excitement. Go figure.
I miss my mom. I miss her even when I'm sitting right next to her. We may not have had the kind of relationship where we called each other every day, and that's mainly on me because, well, I hate talking on the phone, but I still miss her. I miss her voice, and I miss being able to call her to ask what it is I'm supposed to do with the turkey that I'm planning on cooking. I miss her calling me to tell me news that she's heard. I miss her emails and her texts, and how it sounded when she laughed really hard. I'm sad about the fact that when I talk to my dad to hear how her weekend home was, he talks about her as if she is a child. "She did good. Ate good, but she was a little cranky because she was tired." I'm sad that if things stay as they are, this may be who her youngest grandchildren will remember her as. We were not prepared for this sudden loss of all that my mother was.
I can't quite put into words how it feels to say things to her that I would have once said to my own child. Do you know what button to press to go to your room? Use your fork. Do you want to put on your pajamas? Hold on to the railing. Don't cry, it's okay.
I'm not sure why I'm writing this. I don't even know if or when I'll share it. I cried as I wrote parts of it. I don't find myself crying so much anymore because this is our new normal with her. It's no easier, but it is easier to accept it than drive myself crazy with the "why" and the "it's not fair", though I do still find myself doing this sometimes. When I see other people's parents who are around the same age, so healthy, I do get sad. I get sad when I lay in bed at night and think of her, because as far as she's come, it still breaks my heart. There are times when I sit next to her and think, "It wasn't supposed to go like this". Times when I think of my dad and can't imagine how it feels to go through what he's going through, to have lost so much of the person that is the other half of yourself. Yet we don't know where she'll be a year from now, and looking at how far she's progressed in five and a half months, we're hopeful that she'll continue to improve. I know of people who are my age who have lost a parent already, so in this way I'm lucky.
I won't end on a sad note. I'll end on a love story.
Growing up, I'm pretty sure my standards were set a little higher because of my dad. Of course, I know my mom would have said that he wasn't perfect; no one is. Though I saw thing things my dad would do for my mom, little things that I probably never gave much thought to and figured that's what husbands did. Like how in the winter, he would automatically just go outside and clear the snow off her vehicle and warm it up for her. I've seen him stop at the house while driving the snowplow to do this for her. Doing the dishes every day after supper. Driving thirty minutes so she could have Tim Horton's tea. Those are just a few things that come to mind. I feel like it's because of this, and because of managing to find the man I envisioned as a husband, I am confused about the husbands who don't do these kinds of things. I found someone who I know would stand beside me through anything, just as my dad is doing with my mom. His faith in God has not been shaken, nor has his love for his wife. I fully believe that a big part of the reason that she's come as far as she has, was because of my dad.
Every day, he traveled the hour to get to her, and the hour home, only to do it all again the next day, and every day. Only when he had to go back to work was he unable to continue, but even now, after working a full day, he will get in the van and make the drive two or three times a week, still in his work boots, even just to spend a couple of hours with her. If she's in bed when he gets there, he makes her get up and walk around, even if she doesn't want to, because he knows it will make her stronger. I've seen him on more than one occasion get down on one knee to ask her to marry him. He goes through her clothes, takes home what needs to be washed, and brings them back on his next visit. He has gone shopping for her to pick out clothes that he thinks she might like, because "she likes to look nice". He has washed her hair when he thinks she needs it washed, and has had someone come in to cut and color it for her. He takes her out to eat because he knows she doesn't like hospital food. Through all of this, he works, and looks after the things that need looking after at home. Mowing the lawn, tidying the house, paying the bills. He has learned to do the things that my mom has always looked after. This is his normal right now, and I know I'm barely scratching the surface. I feel like I should mention, since this has happened, he and his sisters have had to make the decision to move their own mother to a nursing home, where he also visits every time he comes up to see my mom.
Forty-two years is a long time to be married. The time they've been together is longer still. They met in a bar, of all places, and though I don't know the whole story, when my mom walked through the door, my dad saw her and said - out loud - that she was the woman he was going to marry. She said no the first time. He managed to convince her otherwise when he asked her again a year later.
Although these last few months haven't been easy, it's shown me love between two people that many people don't ever get to experience. It's shown me devotion, hope, and absolute joy and triumph when there are even the smallest of steps. It's shown me that there are people that care, and I am so grateful for those who have stepped up for my parents, and continue to be there. It's shown me strength, and faith.
Like I said, I'm not sure why I wrote this. Maybe to give people who know my mom an inkling of her life now. Maybe it's a way of sharing something that's personal without having to explain out loud, which is something I'm not good at. Maybe it's because I'm so proud of who my father is and the strength he's shown, which is another thing I struggle to say out loud. Or maybe it's a way for me to remember the good when I'm not seeing it. In any case, I know it's a long read, and if you're still with me, thank you for taking the time. If you know my parents, please don't forget that she's there and although she can't talk to you, my mom could always use visitors, and so could my dad.
My mom likes Tim Horton's tea with two cream.