My Mom Had A Stroke: The Horrifying Reality Of Parenting Your Parent

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woman in bed with caretaker


That sums up what I've learned from the decade-long experience of being the daughter of multiple strokes and heart attacks survivor.

Early on, there were days and even weeks where I would often forget that my mom's stroke had left her with brain damage when minor memory loss and slight coordination issues were the only identifiers that often went undetected to others. But after two major heart attacks, a quadruple bypass, a stent, seven major strokes, and countless TIAs (mini-strokes), ignorant bliss is no more.

The aftermath of each stroke is visible in my mother's every step — literally. When she attempts to rise from the sofa, her body tumbles back, taking at least two tries to successfully stand up. As her body sways, her unsteady legs tremble below her. The slight droop of her right side is more prominent when she's overtired.

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Depending on the day, a walk to the bathroom or down the hall looks as though she's navigating a funhouse at an amusement park, instead of her home of 33 years. Her arms go out in front of her in case her body decides to shift to one side or another.

The family dog trots behind her but knows to be ready to dash in case she takes a tumble. As she zig-zags across the hallway, I hold my breath, watching helplessly while her body collides with the wall.

To a naive onlooker, my mother would appear to have had too many drinks. But she hasn't been intoxicated since 2001.

Black and blue marks cover her body, making it appear as though she's a battered woman (which couldn't be farther from the truth) because of an unfortunate combination of blood thinners and lack of balance. At the moment, the current bruising is from a nasty fall that led to a chipped humerus in her right arm.

Much to my chagrin, she refuses to use the cane I ordered or her a few months ago when it became apparent that her balance was becoming a bigger issue.

At 25, it never dawned on me that I'd be online shopping for these items for my 55-year-old mother.

After her most recent fall, my father finally broke down and bought a walker for her to use — the same red walker with wheels and a seat we bought for my grandparents who are in their late 70s.

We also made the decision to finally get safety bars installed in the shower to prevent injuries in the future. The same shower that my mother used to give me bubble baths and where she taught me to shave my legs not so long ago.

Yes, this is a part of life and a natural progression that happens when parents get older. Yet, I feel too young to be entering this phase in my mom and I's relationship.

But again, I felt that way at age 17 when I found myself dealing with neurologists in the ER because she couldn't advocate for herself during the midst of having a stroke.

Or at age 14 when I tied her shoes, telling her it was going to be alright as my dad was started the car to take her to the hospital because we feared she was having a heart attack (she was).

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Over the past few months, it's become harder to understand my mother verbally when she's having a "bad" day. Early on, the only time it was difficult to decipher her speech was when she was overtired.

But more often than not, I find myself asking her to repeat what she said, while her eyes flash with embarrassment and annoyance. There are some times when I don't have the heart to ask her to repeat herself for the third time, so I just nod in agreement and try to change the subject.

My mother was the person who instilled the love of reading into me, indulging my passion by letting me purchase as many books as I wanted whenever we went to a used bookshop or flea market. She'd make blank writing books for me from construction paper and looseleaf so I could "publish" my own books.

Now, my mother's massive book collection of murder mysteries and crime thrillers sit on a bookshelf collecting dust. The woman who could breeze through a 200-page book in a few hours now has difficulty simply getting through a chapter.

Her immaculate Catholic school penmanship has been replaced with shaky printing that's often impossible to decipher.

The damage to her brain has left her long- and short-term memories severely compromised. Often when visiting, my mother is engrossed in a television show or movie she swears she's never seen before, even though she's seen it multiple times already. Instead of pointing out the mistake, I indulge her and let her tell me all about it.

Often, a conversation with her has a Groundhog Day quality to it. There are times when I listen to her recount a conversation she had with my grandmother three times in a span of three days.

Taking the time to listen to a repeated discussion for five minutes does less damage in the long run than fighting a battle of memory that no one will win. And if it's something crucial I need her to remember, I write it down in multiple places and text it to my dad so he can follow up.

It's the lack of long-term memory that kills me, though. There have been countless instances over recent years that I share a story from childhood that she was part of, and I'm met with a blank stare.

It reminds me I'm the only one who shares that memory now, which is an odd, uncomfortable feeling that's hard to explain.

Initially, when situations like this began to happen, I'd attempt to jam the details down her throat as if it'd jolt her memory. Nowadays, I change the subject quickly and move on to something else before more pain is felt between either of us.

But by far the most painful part of what's been taken away from my mother is her emotional abilities. My mother tends to shut herself away from the world when she's having a bad day or week. These are the days where she rarely picks up the phone and only speaks in short "yes" or "no" answers for a total of five minutes.

Her gaze rarely averts from the television screen and my words bounce off her like rubber.

That's when it's most painful being the daughter of a stroke victim. That's when I find myself grieving for the mother I used to have and the mother/daughter relationship I'll never know.

Honestly, I'm terrified of what the future will hold for my mom. In the back of my mind, it's always been assumed my mother will never return to a "normal" state of being. And as the years go on, more complications arise.

Up until recently, I really believed I'd eventually come to terms with my mother's health issues. But it's clear I'm still struggling. It pains me to type this, but in recent weeks I've found myself avoiding my mother because it's too hard to be around her and witness the decline first-hand. 

As my parent's only child, there's no one to tag-team with besides my father, who already carries the bulk of the situation on his shoulders.

I've looked for resources online to help cope with my situation but the images look nothing like my situation. The adult children on the websites I've visited appear to be my parents' age, while the parent mirrors my grandmother. To date, there have been no mid-20s/mid-50s duos on any of the resources that give insight on coping in a situation like ours.

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My mom is forced to cope, or at least live with, the reality that is her life after each stroke. There are ebbs and flows in her acceptance. But realistically, coming to terms with her body and living post-stroke will be a lifelong process.

Similarly, I'm still discovering that coping with the realities and turbulence of being her daughter is also a lifelong process with an ending that can't be predicted.

All I know is that I'm scared, but so is my mom. And there's nothing that either of us can do about it but take it day by day, hour by hour. 

Patrice Bendig has been a contributor to Huffington Post. XOJane, Bustle and USA Today College. Follow her on Twitter @Patrice_Bendig.

This article was originally published at The Huffington Post. Reprinted with permission from the author.