Dreaming Out Loud, Afterword
Here is my last blog posting concerning Dreaming Out Loud, the book about my mother’s stroke.
During the time my family and I cared for my mother, I learned to accept, however begrudgingly, some hard, bitter truths. The strong, proud, immensely capable woman who raised me from birth and became my close friend and adviser during my adult years disappeared the day she suffered a stroke, never to return. It took the better part of a year for me to swallow such a bitter pill, but swallow it I did. What choice did I have?
In her place was another woman, a far simpler creature, sometimes childlike, sometimes insightful, always frustrated and frustrating. I learned to love this new woman, just as I loved the old one, but it required reserves of strength unknown to me beforehand. My mother never wanted to be dependent, never wanted to be patronized, never wanted to be pitied. After her stroke, I did what I could to honor her wishes and avoid actions that would marginalize her or rob her of her dignity. It was tough.
One thought constantly echoed through my mind: My prestroke mother taught me to play the hand I was dealt in life and stop grumbling about what might have been. Don't whine or live in the past. Accept the facts and make the best of them. With that sage advice in mind, I wrote this memoir to play the hand we were dealt the best way I knew how — through writing as therapy. I hope that readers, especially those people who care for a sick or elderly loved one, take heart in the story of my mother’s stroke and its aftermath. Our world changed, true enough, but it did not become a barren, hopeless place. We did not live each day buried beneath clouds of sorrow and depression.
In penning this tale, I did not write a self-help guide. I am neither qualified nor predisposed to pontificate on “Twelve Steps for Coping with a Stroke Patient.” While such a book may have its uses, it is not the book I wished to write. Readers searching for a tale of redemption and Christian love — illness as an ennobling process that draws families closer together or reinforces religious values — should continue the search. If solace is to be had in these pages, it is in appreciating the commonality of the human condition. This is my personal story. While I suspect the tale contains a measure of universality, especially for families struggling to care for the disabled, I am disinclined to cite statistics on how many stroke patients recover or throw out homilies about how love or God conquers all. If the book offers any advice to the bereaved it is this: Shit happens, so deal with it the best way you can. If medicine offers a cure, take it. If you need a support group, find one. If religion serves a purpose, get down on your knees. Whatever gets you through the night is all right.
Because this book is not a self-help guide, it should be obvious that many of the actions I describe are hardly ideal. I realized that my mother was suffering a stroke much later than I should have, and I spent far too much time transporting her to the hospital. In retrospect, I see that many decisions I made in the heat of the moment would have been improved had I been more thoughtful and deliberative. I also demonstrated a curious passivity that rendered me all but immobile in many situations. I don’t say these things to be too harsh on myself; rather, I don’t want to mislead readers into thinking that the activities recounted in this book are a model of behavior. The advice offered by the National Stroke Association — conveniently located on the World Wide Web at www.stroke.org — is contrary to almost everything I did during mom’s ordeal. I have learned that experience can be divided into categories — what a person should have done, and what a person actually did in real time.
For the most part, everything described in these pages is true and accurate. Occasionally, I altered some facts, identities, and place names to heighten narrative tension and to protect the innocent and guilty alike. In so doing, I sought to avoid a proliferation of hurt feelings and frivolous lawsuits. Otherwise, this is what happened as I saw it.
I appreciate the support and assistance I received — especially from my ex-wife, Paula, and my ex-stepdaughter, Shelby. Without them, mom and I would have experienced infinitely more hardships during our long and often terrible adventure.
Thanks also to family and friends who helped to care for mom and ease our transition into the brave new world of post-stroke life: The Reverend Loren B. Mead and his late wife, Polly; Walter Mead; Phil and Carolyn Mead; Chris and Laura Mead; Barbara and Jim Wise; Billy Mellette; Gus and Bonnie Poindexter; Martha Pickett; Wallace and Leila Jordan; Glenda DuBose and her late husband, Charles; Lucy Thrower; the late Alex Thrower; Keith W. Smith; Shirley Hardrick; the late Bobby Mellette; the late Linda Speeks, and all the wonderful caregivers, therapists, and gifted doctors who treated mom.
In his book A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure that it will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”
Ain’t that the truth!
Forgive me one brief, parting foray into sentimentality; I need to get it out of my system. I extend special thanks to Laura M. Martinez, the remarkable woman who lives at the heart of my narrative. All that I am or hope to be I owe in no small measure to her. She enriched my life during the 41 years I lived before her stroke, and she continued to enrich it in the long days that followed that cold December afternoon in 2003 when our world changed forever.