NOTE: This was supposed to be posted yesterday, August 29, but the power went off right before I clicked on “publish.” So, here it is a day later. Enjoy —
“Your wife has had a stroke!”
Those six words, spoken to me by a young emergency room doctor, on August 29, 2005, exactly ten years ago today, changed Deloris’s and my life forever. We were no longer equal partners, sharing chores, decision-making, travel and other adventures.
As days morphed into weeks, which then became months, the nature of our new life together began to take form. Deloris began to heal. She had not lost her ability to speak nor suffer any paralysis, although initially she lost temporarily awareness of the left side of her body, and experienced decreased mobility, physical energy and endurance. Then there was the impact on her short-term memory and executive functioning. As she says, “My memory is just a memory.” The ability to mentally focus, make decisions, engage in rational thought would have to be relearned. And, upon release from the hospital, she would need 24/7 care, which I was able to provide, more easily after learning to ask for and accept help from family, friends, and community.
Now here we are, ten years later. After much hard work, Deloris is about 75% of her pre-stroke self. While no longer the productive writer she was B-S (before stroke,) when she can focus she continues to work on the draft of the novels she was writing. She reads almost as voraciously as before; she works crossword puzzles with a passion; and is almost as committed to her physical training sessions as she is to her hair appointments. She devours television news programs, although the nuances of what is happening often elude her (as they do all of us.) Her conversation skills and sense of humor are intact.
I know the deficiencies exist, as does she. We live with them on a daily basis. Her energy and endurance remain low. She would rather lie on the day bed and read a book than walk in the park. (Actually that preference was the same B-S.) She doesn’t cook and does only the minor household chores I ask her to do. She wants to do more, but does not have the endurance or ability to stand long enough to do so. She doesn’t drive, much to her dismay, as I am concerned at her coordination and reaction times. It is an ongoing discussion.
She has begun to walk around the house without Raisin, her cane, which I take as a sign of new strength and mobility. I feel comfortable leaving her alone for hours at a time, although not yet overnight, knowing she can feed herself, climb the stairs to our bedroom, and handle her own toilette, all activities she could not do several years ago. Short-term memory deficits remain, aggravated by some hearing loss; Her long-term memory remains intact and mental processing seems improved. While hyper-alert to perceived changes, I also remember we are ten years older — Deloris is 81; I am 72, going on 73. Hard to admit, but age is catching up.
Equally important to me are the lessons I have learned and the changes I have undergone this past decade. Caregiving was not a career or life style choice I consciously made. It was a role I almost seamlessly and willingly assumed, since I married Deloris “in sickness and in health”.
Our mutual love and commitment has deepened over the past ten years. I treasure Deloris and our time together in qualitative ways I could not have imagined before her stroke. Even when I am frustrated, sometimes angry, and tired at what I have to do, wishing things were different, I am grateful for the gift I have been given. I have learned so much about myself, gotten in touch with a depth of compassion and love I didn’t know I had. That my life revolves around Deloris’s needs is not a burden; rather she has given me a gift, enabling me to get outside myself and be of service to another, and to do so in a real and meaningful way. When I remember doing what the woman I love needs to have done is a form of spiritual practice, I feel incredible gratitude.
I am a better person for this experience and my relationship with Deloris. What more can one ask for? As we mark this 10th anniversary, and celebrate our 28th wedding anniversary on Labor Day, I know I am, we are, blessed.
[Would you believe I can’t find a picture of the two of us at our wedding! 😦 ]