On Monday, December 6, my family’s vocabulary expanded suddenly in a way we never would have chosen. I first knew something was up when my husband came home from work and told me that he had had a phone call, that my grandmother had been taken to the hospital. Before the night was over it was determined that she had had a stroke and she was flown to UK. And just like that our world changed.
I have no experience with a family member having a heart attack or being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and only one experience with having someone diagnosed with cancer and it was easily treatable. So I have no comparisons to make here. I just know that when someone you love has a stroke, one minute they’re functioning and the next minute they’re not. No gradual adjustment period, no conversations with them about how they’d like to handle things or what would make them more comfortable, no getting used to the diagnosis before treatment begins. My grandmother lay down for a nap, and when she woke up she couldn’t speak.
She spent two weeks at UK hospital where we learned our new vocabulary. Words like stroke, speech therapy, feeding tube, ambulance transport, swallow test–we had heard those terms before but they always had meaning for other people. Now they were devastatingly real to us. The matriarch of our family, my grandmother who has always been up and doing and going–cooking and cleaning and loving on the babies–is now lying in a hospital bed, unable to speak or walk. The shock to us was great, I can’t imagine the shock to her.
Over the past four weeks, we’ve somewhat adjusted. I guess I use the term “we” rather loosely as I am four hours away, removed from the day to day journey that this has become. My mom and her brothers and sister, and even my sister, have been taking turns staying at night. My granddaddy rarely leaves the side of his bride. My cousins and their kids are coming in and out as they can, and as the nurses will let them sneak the children into the room. I got to go see her over Christmas week while we were in town. I went three or four times, and finally managed to get my kids in to see her on Christmas Day, when we thought surely they wouldn’t be turned away.
It was difficult to see her. She smiled at us, chuckled a bit, and tried to talk, which were all signs of good progress after a stroke as severe as hers. But the last time I saw her she was bustling around my mom’s kitchen getting Thanksgiving dinner ready, holding Silas after three months of not seeing him, laughing at the children playing around the house. The first time I saw her, I made it back out to the van and then I just sat and cried. Such a sudden change. How is she processing this? If it’s difficult for us, how much more so for her? To be locked inside, to see and understand so much of what is going on, and yet not be able to have a say or just tell us what she’s thinking–my heart breaks for her.
She has handled it well, my mom says. I guess sometimes she gets frustrated with not being able to communicate and make them understand what she’s trying to say, but for the most part she’s been able to keep her spirits up. She was happy to see us when we visited her. I could tell that she was especially happy to see the children. I wish I could be there more. I wish I could take a turn staying with her at night. I wish I could give back just a little of the love and care she’s shown for me all my life.
This is a vocabulary that we all speak fluently now, whether we wanted to learn it or not. But thankfully, there is another word in this new vocabulary that we already knew, but it just has new meaning now. Hope. We are full of hope for the day that she speaks again, laughs again, walks again. Full of hope for the trip to Somerset when we again go visit Grandmother at her house and not at the hospital. Full of hope because despite this, she is healthy and strong and should recover well. But mainly, full of hope because we know God is good and His plan for her, and us, is good. We don’t understand why it included her having a stroke. We would have preferred that the stroke didn’t happen. But we trust. We trust what we know to be true of God, even when our questions don’t get answered. Hope and trust. Words we had in our head vocabulary. Now we know them with our heart vocabulary.