Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Stroke

I remember quite vividly the visits to my great-grandmother's house. I was little - 3,4,5 years old and we went to visit her often. I hated those visits. It was not a fun thing to do, so why did my mom feel so obligated?

Her house smelled like old lady. Or what a 4 year old would define an old lady smell as. Urine, cigarette smoke, dust, sickness. She was paralyzed from her strokes and disfigured from her mouth cancer. She lived at home with her aid. She was either in a hospital bed or wheelchair.

This was not a grandmother to me - she didn't give hugs or smiles, she didn't dig in her purse and give me a 1/2 stick of double-mint gum - or juicy fruit if I had been especially good. She was sick, sad from losing her husband so suddenly not too long before, and she was miserable.

I didn't want to hug her. I would spend my time playing with her little figurines in the windowsills and upon the shelves or I would hope my Aunt Gail would visit with us, so we could play together in the stairway landing of my great-grandmother's old duplex.

I would hope we wouldn't have to come again, but we always did. And I would pass the time as best I could while my mom gently did her grandmother's hair, chatting about the latest news and neighborhood gossip, making a meal, and mainly just spending time with her knowing her time was short in this world.

I am sure my mother explained to me what had happened to great-grandma at the time, but I don't remember that. I just remember being 4 and going to a scary house and visiting a scary old woman that I did not recognize.


This January, my daughter's grandmother suffered a massive stroke. Their grandmother that they see the most, who lives in town and treats them to warm hugs, days of coloring, lunches of their choice, and unlimited M&M's.

When they walked into her hospital room on that January evening, I really thought they would go running towards her and into her warm embrace. But instead, the room went uncomfortably quiet as they stood frozen. Their young bodies were completely and unnaturally frozen as they stared and tried to see their grandma in the woman in the hospital bed - whose eyes were distant, body immobile, and words delayed. Instead of running towards her, they fled to the hallway - leaving me tearful and helpless to explain as my own childhood memories came flooding to the surface. As they rushed to the hallway, I went to my step-mom's bedside and held her hand.

Eloise silently sobbed when we left saying "I didn't think she would be so sick, it didn't even look like her. Tell me she will get better."


And she is getting better. Therapy is intense. Progress in slow. But my heart is warm and happy to see the hugs and kisses return. To see the girls look forward to the visits, to enjoy driving her wheelchair around, making her pictures to bring sunshine to her room, sharing their tales of the week and bringing treats.

We are mortal - it is not a secret we need to keep from our kids. It is so important to teach our kids what love is like when it is easy and we are healthy and strong, but also how important love is when those who love us need it most.



Melanie said...

This is another beautiful post, thanks for sharing, Tracy. I am so glad to hear that your step-mom is doing better. My grandpa had a massive stroke before I was born, so my only memories of him are wheelchair bound & unable to speak, but he would take us for rides on his wheelchair & still had a sense of humor. My grandmother lovingly cared for him for many, many years...thanks for causing me to recall some wonderful memories of family & love even in times of adversity. They both have been gone now for a very long time, but I wish my children had the opportunity to know them...I think I need to start telling them some stories! Have a lovely week!

Heather - Hopelessly Flawed said...

You are such a gifted writer. I want to read a book with your name on it one day.

Amanda M. said...

This was such a beautiful post. I am so very happy to hear that hugs and kisses are returning. <3 xoxo

Jill R said...

"she didn't dig in her purse and give me a 1/2 stick of double-mint gum"...did you lick the inside of the wrapper too? I didn't realize anyone else in the world got 1/2 pieces of double-mint gum like I did :-)

I always felt my kid's unease during our nursing home visits (except for my oldest who knew her before she got sick), I hope they learned the same things that you did when you went to visit your Great Grandma. I'm glad to hear your MIL is recovering, it's so tragic somebody so young had such a debilitating stroke. I know you and your family will be by her side during her journey.

Kristi Pohl said...

She is so very lucky to have you in her life-others would find excuses not to visit, but you go out of your way to let her know how much she is loved. Thanks for sharing this post, and Heather is right, you should write a book.

Jen said...

Wow, beautifully written and a reminder that we all need to hear.

ginny said...

I was always happy to visit her and help her the most that I could - wash her hair, clean the house, cook a meal. Before our grandmother's stroke she was a meticulous person (home and self) and she baked bread everyday! What we learn is how fragile life is. Although they don't appear to be whole - all their memories remain intack. All we can do is help them remain part of our lives and let them know how much we love them. I'm sorry you have those memories, but also have some of those same memories of others.
I'm sure the visits you make are so welcome and they will always be remembered once she gets better. Your children are sensitive and appreciated, don't ever think otherwise.
Where is that book.

Rachelle said...

Tracy~ this wasn't easy to read and I know that old age smell and I don't like it. Your last paragraph is the absolute best. Love is a verb and goes to visit anyway.

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