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A Stroke Struck and Changed My Family Forever
Time waits for no one. Ten years can fly like lightning? Wasn’t I disappointed yesterday by what happened on August 16, 2007? Wasn’t the pain sharper than a razor blade? Didn’t I struggle to believe that time would heal the trauma and eventually heal me? How great! As I look back on this month, I have no choice but to thank God for bringing me and my loved ones together. If he had not been by our side for so many years, where would we have lived? Time has really eased the indescribable pain. May the name of the Lord be glorified forever.
In 2003, an unexpected phone call from my younger brother Osa woke me up from a deep sleep. Bad news for him! Her close friend in Nigeria called to inform her that our mother had suffered a stroke – the right side of her body was paralyzed. A very cold chill ran down my spine when I thought all his children were out of the country. We were thousands of miles away. How was he going through this nightmare without any of us by his side? Tears became the order of the moment and remained so until I broke the news to my younger sister Wee, who lives in the same town as me.
Trying to imagine our mother partially paralyzed was traumatizing. After all, I saw it a few months ago. He was bubbling with so much life during his vacation with us in the U.S. I watched him go to the airport and stood there waving and watching him until he was out of sight. Little did I know that this was the last time I would see my mother walking on her two legs. This is life!
Before the stroke, my mother lived in a world of happiness of her own making. We call it “His Heaven”. He loved the convenience and paid for it promptly. He always had a staff for anything – a house help, a cook, driver, gardener and security or gateman as we called them. My mother didn’t need to lift a finger because everything was done for her.
His love for God was immeasurable. I remember her gathering the neighborhood kids and sating their fleeting hunger with cookies so that when the real food (God’s Word) came they had no choice but to partake. He also dedicated a room in our house for prayer. When we were kids, my siblings and I dreaded being called into that room. We have been known to spend at least an hour in prayer with hunger pangs struggling to rob us of what little concentration we struggled to maintain.
Entertaining people was something my mother did with raw passion. Even if we had a midnight visitor, he had a unique way of bringing home a dish with or without ingredients. His love for music goes hand in hand with entertaining people. In the early seventies my mother connected loudspeakers from her bedroom to the kitchen. How can I forget how the whole house wakes up to classical music or hymns most mornings? Just as music took a permanent place in our home, so did my mother’s love for art. From sculptures to paintings, he bought them as if they were going out of fashion. The variety of flowers in her well-kept garden were priceless to her. He spoke to his tree every day and mourned the death of the ugliest flower in the garden.
One of us had to go to Nigeria to be with our dear mother. Although the timing was bad for all of us because coincidentally, we were all dealing with a storm raging like mad dogs in our lives, my brother Osa, his only son and last child boarded the next available flight.
As Osa arrived in Lagos, Nigeria, reality set in. Our mother was worse than we imagined. The original plan of taking care of her until she was strong enough to travel to the US a month or two later went out the window. Osa had to be brought back with him. They left on a flight with a stopover in London three weeks later.
Uyi and I spent the morning preparing to receive our mother. I had a hard time mentally picturing what lay ahead. For one, I can’t stand seeing people sick or suffering. Seeing my mother sick and helpless, how was I going to stomach? I had no choice but to sweep my fear on the carpet of fate and wait until I laid eyes on him. On the other hand, my sister was more prepared. She loves taking care of people and once toyed with the idea of pursuing nursing. He was mentally and physically ready to take on the challenge of looking after our mother.
I will never forget the moment we met our mother and Osa at the arrivals area of the airport. We are shocked to see our beloved mother! She was a far cry from the woman I had last seen at the airport. Who imagined his next visit to the United States in a wheelchair? I was speechless, frozen in fear and denial. Her size and buoyancy were so shrunk – she was half her size and so helpless. His signature smile that always announces his presence is nowhere to be found. He could hardly speak. I was in shock all day. I just couldn’t look at his face. How can I?
That night I lay in bed with him. He was lying on his back staring at the ceiling as if he was searching for answers to the many questions in his mind. She seemed happy to be around her children and grandchildren but I knew my mother was wrestling with the unfortunate trap that her body was caught in. I lay beside her in complete silence. Sleep eluded me because of how much I suffered mentally. I looked at her in the dark and noticed tears rolling down her pillow. I cried silently too until I called Shakti and asked in a voice that I woke up to “Are you okay mom?” “I’m fine dear,” she whispered to me.
The first few weeks were rough. We were clothed in patience, dedication and endurance as we did everything under the sun for our mother. She was like a new baby in our helpless arms. I babysat him at night while my sister takes care of him during the day. Although we felt burned because we didn’t know better and the guilt of seeing him like that plagued us too much. His visit to a certain doctor opened another chapter.
He underwent a series of tests and was referred for physical therapy. Her first day in therapy was the beginning of the slow death of dependency in my mother’s life. The nice but determined American therapist made my mother do things we never imagined she could do despite the presence of partial paralysis. The therapist made us promise not to help him unless it was necessary. I openly welcomed the idea with relief but doubted whether my mother would cope – she was used to being pampered. My mother did not find this judgment funny. How could he? We assured her that it was going to be a gradual process for her own good. This was the beginning of my mother’s gradual exile from being completely dependent on us or someone to do things for her.
We began by ignoring his repeated requests to board the next available flight back to his comfort zone in Lagos, Nigeria. We weren’t going to help him escape to his “heaven” because with the stroke he had to do it himself or resign himself to the fate of permanent paralysis. As our mother attended therapy regularly, she saw some patients come in without arms or legs but a fierce determination to do anything without help. He began to see the responsibility of relying on others to do what you could do for yourself. This motivated him and with time, faith and encouragement from everyone, he started to do things for himself to the point of mastering the use of his left hand and foot. He learned to dress himself without assistance, get in and out of bed by himself, move around with little or no assistance, feed himself using his left hand, and even go on family outings with minimal assistance.
He improved dramatically and realized that his idea of ”heaven” was actually hell because the ability to do something by yourself is an invaluable asset. Although a stroke is one of the worst things one can experience, in my mother’s case it helped us learn some invaluable lessons. For one, it exposed the ugly side of dependency, taught us patience and tolerance, increased our faith in God that nothing is impossible, built unity in our family and discouraged us from taking advantage of any situation. We learn to live each day intentionally.
We were blessed to have our mother for four more years. We all rotated around taking care of him in our home for 6 months to a year at a time. On August 16, 2007 at approximately 9:30 PM, our beloved mother Gaurav passed away. It left a huge void in our lives but 10 years later, I can look back and thank God for seeing us through this very stormy but precious part of our lives.
Dearest Mom, even though it still seems like yesterday, your beautiful memories will always be in our hearts. I miss you so much! Love, memories of good times, your unique smile, jokes, mozzarella and nut craze and everything you stand for. I am eternally grateful to God for the opportunity to have a mother like you. I will always love and cherish you. Thank you for bringing me into this world, the beautiful life you gave us all, your values and what you stand for. Not a day goes by without your memories. May you continue to rest in beautiful peace until we meet again.
May the souls of all our loved ones depart, rest in perfect peace in Jesus name.
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