We take for granted the workings of our incredibly complex human mind and body, and why shouldn’t we? So much is automatic or was learned so long ago that we can just go about our business and not worry as this fine machine carries us through each day, allowing us to focus on what we wish rather than the business end of its functioning. Therefore when one has a stroke, a cerebral vascular accident, there is great surprise, frustration, and fear in discovering that a body and mind that once obeyed commands automatically, will no longer respond. Even the simplest of things can become very important when you can no longer do them. Body movements and lack thereof, changed mental abilities and perceptions, and the overwhelming emotions of such a major upheaval, can be quite catastrophic. Pathways in the brain are shattered and blocked, as if a bullet has penetrated its depths and torn reality itself apart. Effectively, that’s exactly what a stroke is and the damage a clot can cause. Never underestimate however, the power of the human spirit and love, that which drives this wondrous machine and eclipses even its magnificence when challenged.
I experienced the life changing event of a stroke firsthand, though I was blessed in that only some pathways were permanently blocked and left useless. I was relatively young and quite stunned by the event as anyone of any age would be. Once I got over the initial shock, the battle was on! With effort and training I could and did for the most part, learn new paths and access others which had only temporarily been disconnected. I had to put my hope and faith into action. Were you to meet me in person, you wouldn’t know that any of this had happened. Signs and symptoms are nearly invisible unless I get overtired or too stressed, at which point the mind then tries to go automatically onto the old paths that no longer work. I must keep faith in action on a daily basis. I must have patience. I must have acceptance of things I cannot change and too, of things that I must try to change. Above all, I must always remember that each day is a gift. In the darkness, I found light; in the tears, I found reasons to smile; and in the near loss of it, I found blessed life. With an attitude of gratitude, I enjoy this journey!
I share with you today, a snippet from that time in my life, a moment in my recovery . . .
The speech therapist worked with me on my mouth and facial muscles, and on this day she was trying to get me to purse an “o” as of blowing a kiss, with lips that had fallen to the side and refused to obey my commands. The therapist believed that the loss of connection I was suffering was not permanent but rather, just off track and had to be re-trained. My hard work in therapy was granting me increasing success in the movement of my lips and I could almost make a small smile but they would not pucker up. I was becoming so tired and disappointed. Time and again my efforts failed and tears began to fall. My family came in at that moment. Therapy had run overtime and it was visiting hours. I quickly wiped away the tears and tried to smile as my five year old grandson shyly entered the room. The therapist ignored the newcomers and insisted I continue practicing with her in making the “o” of a kiss. She was certain I could and would. I almost did but it yet remained elusive, out of reach, distant from the memory of and the now action. Dakota watched intently, his expression serious and concerned. I tried to ease his worry but I couldn’t do it, my mouth would not work. The therapist then wrote her notes, gave me exercises to do between our appointments, and bid us all a good day. I sighed in frustration, and relief.
After hugs and kisses in greeting my small family, my daughter brought the wheelchair forward and helped me to transfer from my chair to this moving seat which had temporarily become my legs. It was a beautiful day outside and after wrapping me in a soft blanket, we all “walked” out of the building and down the path to the duck pond, where we would sit and enjoy our limited time together. Dakota was unusually silent and serious. Time and again, his little mouth would make that “o” of a kiss and blow, in the way I could not. I reached for his hand as he walked beside me, and gave him the best smile that I could.
“Stop!” he suddenly ordered and held his little arms up with open hands to his mother who was pushing my chair. She obeyed as we looked at him and he smiled, nearly dancing in excitement as he said, “Wait! I know what Nana needs!”
He raced off the path onto the grasses beyond that had not been mowed recently. Such is unusual in facilities such as I was in, but I am forever grateful that on this day, they were not. I watched as this little guy gathered up a fistful of white, fluffy dandelions and then sheltered them as he walked carefully back over to where we waited.
“It’s like this Nana, watch!” he ordered, then with a giggle and a smile, pursed his lips and gently blew, sending the fluffy seeds sailing on his breeze. I had taught him that when you do so and then catch one of the fragile, floating seeds, you can make a wish and it will come true. He carefully caught and cupped one in his hand and held it as he squeezed his eyes shut, his lips moving in his silent request and prayer.
I felt the tickle of a memory stir as he opened his eyes and smiled, then lifting another bloom from his batch, he repeated the motions. His eyes were bright and daring me to do the same as he then offered his bouquet to me. I choose one of the cottony blooms and lifted it before my mouth, keeping my eyes locked onto his face as we both blew out our breath, gently sending the seed heads to floating around us. His breath blew more off the bloom than mine but something was happening here. Tears glistened in my eyes as he brought another one before us.
“Again, you can do it Nana, I know you can!” his small voice encouraged me as we repeated the exercise over and over until at last, as in other abilities that were slowly returning to me, something “clicked” in my mind.
I felt the rightness of my mouth’s tension, and blew gently. This time it was my breath alone that carried the seeds from the bloom that now trembled in my fingers. I watched the tiny, feathered seeds drift away as tears of joy fell upon my cheeks. Looking at Dakota, I blew to him my first kiss. Then a greater gift came as my lips lifted, as free now as the seeds that flew, and I smiled fully for the first time since the stroke.
“There is a place where we are always alone with our own mortality, where we must simply have something greater than ourselves to hold onto—God or history or politics or literature or a belief in the healing power of love, or even righteous anger…. A reason to believe, a way to take the world by the throat and insist that there is more to this life than we have ever imagined.” ~ Dorothy Allison – Author