Jun 1, 2012

Felled by a Stroke

For two weeks I sat at my mother's hospital bed ... waiting.  A severe stroke felled her this time. She is eighty-eight. She's old. Maybe it's time.

She gave birth to me as a young woman of twenty-five. And she was once my best friend; but we drifted when my first streak of independence surfaced. The relationship was forevermore strained.

I sat staring. I could see the beauty she had once smiled on the world. She could have been a beauty queen. Her talents were on display as a semi-professional singer and a dancer, and later as a Musical Hall entertainer and an actor. But she chose to make ends meet as a hairdresser, an assistant librarian, a landlady.

She lived a quiet life by most standards. But, she was anything but quiet. She was a dynamo of energy and anger. Stubborn as a mule. Sensitive as a butterfly. Tough as a bullfighter, or perhaps the bull. Now, bewildered, lost, ill.

I remember, once, as a kid, she took me to an old age home. She would arrange to style the hair of groups of pensioners. One old lady was barely sitting up in a chair, looking very much like my mother looks now, slumped over, barely able to raise her head. She was fully conscious, that I could see.  My mother stood behind her, scissors snapping, combing and styling. She naturally thought the old lady was asleep. Suddenly my mother said to me, "If I ever get like this, shoot me will you, please?"

My face must have gone red with embarrassment as the old lady's eyes looked up at me. Perhaps she felt the same. One can only surmise. Mother would have been devastated had she known. What would she say now, today, if she could have seen the future back then?

When I first saw her after the stroke she was able to mumble a few words,
"How are we going to fix this?"
"Fix what?" I asked. As if I didn't know what she meant.
"This mess," she said, motioning to the feeding tube down her nose and her motionless left hand.
I was devastated. She knew. She was fully conscious of her state.

In her present state, she can hardly mutter. But at our last meeting, I kept asking her why the chicken crossed the road. "To get to the other side," came the words. She smiled. But how many more smiles are left?

This, truly, is a sad time, and probably the first time in my life where a bleak future has flashed before me. I saw my grandmother decline from a smart, vibrant person to a wheelchair-ridden vegetable because of a stroke. My father had died at the age of eighty-eight as the result of a massive stroke. Now, what lies ahead?

I have a very spiritual idea of what death may be. However, living out the rest of my life as an invalid, not able to think, do, be... would be hell on earth for most of us, I would imagine. A mild stroke can be life changing. A severe stroke is overwhelmingly destructive to our brains, our thoughts, our connection to our soul and spirit.

My mother's words ring out, "If I ever get like this, shoot me will you, please?"
For me, it would be time to take me to a cliff top and let me crawl to the edge to fly off to the abyss.
For, what is life without mind, curiosity, adventure and knowledge?

My mother is stable now, but slowly deteriorating physically and mentally. I wish her Godspeed on her journey and next adventure. As, I would hope, someone would wish for me.

Mother, I wish you nothing but love.