Monday, January 24, 2011

My dad post-stroke, 7-8 months later

My mom called me up while I was working on a shoot because she was excited that my dad stood up by himself.
I felt really excited and happy about it but shortly after, mostly sad still.

In the end of April my dad helped me move apartments, and on that day Obama was speaking at Cooper Union and my street was closed to all traffic for security purposes. That meant we had to park the van on the next block, and we had to bring all of my stuff down the street. It was a bitch, but me and my dad did it just the two of us. All of the sudden he started carrying this huge heavy cabinet all by himself down the street. Before I realized this I already had my arms full - and was asking "Hey dad, that's crazy, you can't carry that by yourself, let me help you!" and he insisted it was fine, and ultimately carried it by himself, and continued to do things like that the rest of the day.

I keep thinking about that specific moment - there he was in April being the strongest man in the world.
It's really hard to think about that and feel ok being happy that he stood up.

And I think about seeing him on June 9th when he had his stroke, when we first got to the hospital and the second I first saw him and they were moving him down the hallway. He was just looking up so confused, weak. He was completely screwed up by this thing. He just looked stunned, and I was helpless and stunned too.

The first months after the stroke you are focused on rehab and getting things back - regaining the paralyzed parts of the body. More time has passed and the realities of what he's lost are setting in. He's lost a lot. His right hand is still gone. Losing that hand, and having weak legs and impaired motor skills means a lot. It means not being able to really take care of yourself when going to the bathroom - certain things take 2 hands.

Though his comprehension and reading are perfectly in tact, his writing and speaking are severely impaired. He used to be incredibly talkative. He would talk your ear off on any number of topics, and get into a frenzy on a regular basis. He has so many opinions and knowledge and now it sits in there - and he shares one sound, one gesture, one look in his eyes, to give you an idea. All those thoughts and knowledge swim in there, and he works so hard to get the basic ideas out.

And all of this makes me think about how much I care to have children and make a family when the time is right. Maybe it's cool and fun to be single now, but I know the later half of my life won't find the same things meaningful, and the absence of family could be crushing.

My dad didn't have a proper childhood, his mother was an untreated schidzophrenic, his father a quiet/absent intellectual - depressed by the loss of his wife to the illness.
My dad could have just been socially inept and ended up alone or with the wrong person.
But he found my mom and he made me and my sister, and we know we are everything to him.
My mom was raised to give to others with every ounce of yourself (literally, her father was a minister and all personal belongings were to be shared with the community), and she's given to him in this way and created so much for the both of them.

He wasn't a perfect dad. He was always late, said the wrong things, and didn't know how to act like a dad all the time.
But he loves us and is so incredibly supportive. He looks at me like I'm the most amazing thing on the planet and is so proud of me all the time for every little thing I do.
He's also really fun and silly, and would always get into trouble with me, and encouraged me to think outside the box and challenge authority.
He's incredibly devoted and loyal to us too. I know he'll always be there, and he would always help me.

He was a fixer and a do-er, and losing his physical self is a huge blow to the family. Even if the plumbing was whacky in our house - he did it - it was taken care of.

There is so much obstacle in every day. Snow falls, and it needs to be plowed. Now all he can do is just look at it. I know he feels this, but we don't talk about it. We focus on the positive. We focus on healing.

I'm also not over being there with him when he had his seizure on Thanksgiving. It's the most horrible thing I've ever seen and I thought he was dying in my arms. So I often look at his eyes with fear that something will happen out of nowhere again. Seeing an ambulance with people in it makes me cry.

I've had to face a lot of intense thoughts. On the day of his stroke, I thought, he would probably be better dead than to have to be alive but not there.
I've asked myself this question a couple of times - is this so miserable for him and my mom that he'd be better off dead from the stroke?
There was a month in October when the answer was yes and it was horrible. He was refusing his medicine, was violently hysterical, irrational, and impossible - there was no quality of life for my mom or my dad.
But we got past that. He's adjusted to his medicine, and come back to us in spirit and personality.

Life is really challenging in their home - but I see that he still brings a lot to life.
My mom has to work hard to care for him - but he gives all of his humor and knowledge and company.
The fact that they are together makes a warm home that feels complete.
He is very loving and makes lots of jokes whenever he can.
I know my mom feels rewarded when things go well.
He also has a good attitude, and knows how much we love him.
He doesn't cry so much anymore.

My dad can't be who he was. I'm still really not over losing that. He was my buddy, and he was fun, and there's a lot we can't do together ever again. And I can't hear his voice and talk to him again. I'm not over that.

But he has all of his memories.
He has all of his personality and character.
He's my dad, and he's there.
He can see me.
He can be alive with me.
I could still have him there on my wedding day.

And so I'm really lucky that he stayed with us.
I'm really glad he came back.
He's my dad, and he's there.


Trish said...

Hey I just stumbled upon your blog and this exact thing is happening to us right now. I can't cope with the fact that my dad is so different. Reading your post really helped me though. Made me realize i'm not alone.

Anyway, how is he? Hope he's doing great.:)

Heather Fink said...

That's why I wrote it here - I was googling it and hoping to find other people who felt this way and there wasn't much out there. I remember going through it and feeling so desperate to connect with anyone who felt the same way. Please do email me directly if you need someone to talk to about it. - Heather