As I recline on the couch, Dr Phil or Ellen or local news droning on in the background, my anemic toes stare up at me. 10 white reminders that I am not myself, I am uprooted, I am in crisis. Tanned skin retreats from crisis. Pale is the colour required.
The mirror is not my friend. Two tired eyes stare back. They are gathering baggage. Heavy, dark bags and the strain of their weight is showing. Gone is the glow, the energy, the fire that has kept me fueled for all these years. In it’s place a gaping wound. A reminder of life’s fragility. A monthly parking pass to a hospital.
My mom - the fiercely independent fireball role model of my life - lies in a bed there, in that hospital. Defenseless, vulnerable and afraid. The regal swans whom she has loved, companions by the lake’s edge, swim by. They are looking for her. They gather and make terrible noise. They cannot believe she has left them. And neither can I.
All of us have been drowned. Whisked into a dark vast cavern by a force of nature. Unexpected, uncontrollable, a stroke takes lives and knocks them sideways. Like dominoes in a storm, we all fall down.
They say it’s the most common cause of long term disability in North America. They say it’s the leading cause of death. They say someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. Those are just statistics.
They don’t say you will lose sleep. There will be tears. You will lose your independence, your free will, your health, your happiness. Your life. They can’t possibly write down what this ‘common’ occurrence will do to us all. It’s too hideous. Too morbid. Too gritty. They will tell me this post is the same. Harsh, negative. Ugly. And they will be right.
Unthinkable decisions to be made, lawyers to be consulted, forms to fill, belongings to discard, depressing facilities to be toured like holiday spas. Social workers, wheelchairs, hospital food. The smell of that. The reality is overwhelming.
How do you put this one in a box? Get it all settled and move on?! How do you protect your heart and soul from something so engulfing. Where do you find yourself again? It doesn’t exist. Not for my mother, not for me. Nothing will be the same again for any of us. And all by a tiny build up of blood, coursing through a vein, up into a brain. A tiny biological malfunction that ripples outward like an atomic bomb.
The frivolity of our lives in the sun, the coarseness of sand between my toes fades in my mind. I feel guilty at even the thought of it. Instead I reflect the grey around me. The sky cries onto the windows and her tears hit the cold lake, mixing with the weary waters of a Canadian spring day.
There is only one thing that keeps us all going. Pushing through the sludge. It’s the hug from my nephew. Warm, soft, beautiful in it’s innocence. It’s the hand squeeze from JW at the end of a trying day.
The friends of my mom who bend and stretch and reach out, far beyond what I could have imagined. It’s a testament to the amazing character of Jan. My mother is so loved. And it is love that shines through. It has proven to be the only force stronger than tragedy.
It’s what allows my sister and I to find laughter somewhere in all of this. Just to know that we are here for each other, for our mother.
So for now it’s the currency I’m working with. It’s the boat in a hurricane. And I’m just trying to hold on.