Mum calls to tell me about her dream
She’s trapped in a cage and phones are ringing outside it. She cannot reach them to answer them but they keep ringing and ringing and there’s nothing she can do about them.
She sees her doctor outside the cage and she begs him to let her out to answer the phones.
He says he doesn’t have a key. Only she has the key. Only she can get herself out.
But she knows the truth. She doesn’t have the key. There is no key, no way out. She’s trapped in that cage, bars between her and the rest of the world for life.
There is nothing anybody can do about it.
I remember the night she first had the stroke.
We went to the hospital. She’d had her clot busting drugs and we crowded around her in the emergency room.
She was awake, alert, bright, grateful to be there. She thanked everyone for getting her help so quickly.
The slurring was gone; her face normal. She was normal. She seemed normal.
Now I realise we were watching her brain die. That clot, unbroken, unmoved, killing off her cells as we watched unknowing.
A black wave washing over her brain as we were talking to her.
Strokes are quick. The effects take longer. What would have been if we’d removed the clot then? If the drugs had worked? If targeted removal had been rolled out through the system? If she’d had her stroke one month later. Two months?
If. If. If.
No. That way lies madness.
Blame was the first thing on everybody’s minds. Guilt and blame. But guilt and blame achieve nothing. They’re emotional dead ends.
Mum went off Warfarin for her overseas trip. But Mum also had the memory of that trip, her dream trip, the one she’d wanted since she was a child.
Which is more important for a life?
The things is, this was all four years ago now. Four long, painful years.
An accident or an illness – however stressful, painful or exhausting – ends. It ends. Things revert. Things settle. Things change but they also change back.
When someone you love dies, a hole is blasted in your life but then that hole fills in. Space abhors a vacuum. The hole will still be there: the edges clear even after your repair. You can see it out of the corner of your eye, feel it as you walk over it. It’s just that now you won’t fall in.
Grief after death, to extend this metaphor, is like earthworks. Done right, your foundation is secure. You know that the work is done: you can see the cracks around it, feel the place where the hole was dug and then filled in. But one day, eventually, you’ll walk over it and realise that you’re no longer in danger of falling in.
Strokes are the opposite of death.
Strokes dig the hole and then ask you to pretend there is no hole. Strokes take somebody you love and know and replace them with somebody else.Those changes can be small, they can be fine, they can be subtle. Impulsiveness. Candour. A new struggle with irony or missing social cues.
Or those changes can be gross, they can be large, they can be stark. Social inappropriateness. Lack of empathy. Self-absorption. Crassness.
As humans we have a great capacity for rationalisation. But trying to grieve and to celebrate at the same time? Trying to be happy a loved one is alive while grieving for the person that isn’t there any more? That is a cognitive dissonance at which even the most nimble of us fail. Strokes ask us to dance on the hole as though it isn’t there.
It’s Christmas and Mum is crying in the bedroom because she has so many things to do for Christmas Day and nobody will let her do them. Anosognosia is a symptom associated with a right hemisphere stroke. It’s a condition where a person who suffers a certain disability is seeming unaware of it. To this day, Mum insists that she can walk, it’s just that Doctors or her nasty family won’t let her. Over the years, her Anosognosia has gotten better but there are still days like this when she’s upset and confused as to why we won’t “let” her do the things she wants to do.
It’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.
I love you, Mum
I miss you, Mum
I’m glad you’re alive
I’m sorry you’re gone
Love, February 2019: Day 12
Mum calls to tell me about her dream