My rule of thumb is to write from the scar, not from the wound.
I’ve written little about my husband’s stroke these past couple of years; the wound has not yet healed. To have written about it too soon would be too vulnerable, too angry, too terrifying—like the world might swallow me whole. We quietly crossed the two-year anniversary of the stroke earlier this month. I thought it might be time to let the words out. To let my soul unburden itself.
To catch you up to speed, my husband was on business in Mexico when he felt discomfort in the “death triangle”—his chest, arm, and jaw. He went to the hospital, felt better, and was released. Lost in translation were the words “heart attack.”
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He began making his way back to Chicago which took a few days based on times and available flights. He felt fine when he saw his doctor in Chicago four days later. That night, his doctor read the test results and called us as we were climbing into bed. He urged us to go to directly the ER.
Jim had suffered a heart attack in Mexico and didn’t know it.
After a night in the hospital for observation, he underwent a routine procedure, a look-see really. He rolled into the operating room my husband of nearly 30 years. He rolled out unable to speak, unable to swallow, unable to walk. I had no idea if he knew who I was or would ever again know who I was. During the procedure, plaque dislodged and showered Jim’s brain with flakes like a spectacular firework exploding in the night sky.
We chased 100 percent recovery like our hair was on fire.
I made that guy consume weird mushrooms and rare, powdered breastmilk. He tai chi-ed morning, noon, and night. He meditated, balanced on balls while catching bean bags, and pilates-ed all day. He’d spend ages picking up coins, buttons, and molding clay.
He crushed all therapies barring macrame. Macrame was a spectacular failure. Macrame was one step too far, apparently. I quietly packaged up the macrame kit and set it on the doorstep of some neighbors who live down the street.
But anyway, here we are, two years in. The great news is that Jim is fine. Truly, he is.
But he isn’t the same.
We’re all getting to know the new Jim. He is, too. It is a frustrating and often lonely journey we’re on. From the outside, things look pretty good. From the inside, we are exhausted. With the thrill of chasing recovery gone, we had to accept what was. What is.
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Accepting this painful reality felt like a failure. Were we quitting? Discernment tested us. I wanted peace even if peace looked like giving up. My husband wasn’t ready to accept his limits just yet. In the end, we realized chasing 100% recovery was a distraction; a distraction from doing the terrifyingly hard work of finding a new normal.
We are often knee-jerked to gratitude, but please, I beg you, do not should us into being grateful.
Being told to be grateful lands like drops of gasoline on a puddle: sure, the rainbow it creates looks pretty enough, but it poisons everything beneath the surface.
Being told we should be grateful chokes my hope. Do we know things could be worse? Oh, you betcha, we sure do. We do not take life for granted. Is it possible a silver lining will reveal itself? I assume it will. Does that make our new normal easy? Nope. We aren’t at grateful just yet.
The thing y’all need to know is that strokes are brutal thieves.
Strokes don’t care that you’re a husband or a father of four. They will strip you bare. Strokes will take your essence, your joys, your dreams and leave you to make a life with whatever is left. Nothing, nothing, is easy after a stroke. Strokes snatch away simple pleasures like language and tying shoes. They leave behind only that which takes effort.
But this is the crazy powerful, humbling, other-worldly thing I want to share with you: people were praying for us. We felt it. I talked about the feeling of being suspended in grace. It was real. It is real. We were exhausted, we had nothing left to give, but people sent energy. We felt it. People sent grace, amazing grace. And people sent love. This is the good juju that fed us, that continues to feed us.
And this is how we heal.