It was a Saturday morning like many before it. Up before the sun with my boys to make cut-up pancakes with maple syrup. A morning movie for them; coffee and some cleaning for me.
Little did I know this routine day would leave me forever changed.
Everything was just fine — until it wasn’t. I suddenly felt strange.
Light-headed, tingly. My vision was blurry and my thoughts confused. I stood in my kitchen but couldn’t understand where I was.
Something else was wrong, too. What was it?
My right arm was hanging numb by my side. I couldn’t lift it. I couldn’t move my hand. I picked up my arm with my other hand and put it on the counter. I stared at it, unable to comprehend what was happening.
“Help. Help me.”
I shouted out the words in my mind, but I couldn’t make the sounds out loud.
Panic coursed through my body as I limped into the bedroom where my husband was sleeping. I called his name as best I could. My mouth was drooping — I couldn’t speak.
He later told me he saw the fear in my eyes and immediately knew something was very wrong.
I fell to my knees, trying to ask for help. I couldn’t stop the drool trailing from my mouth.
“Stroke?” My husband asked frantically. “Are you having a stroke?”
I nodded my head as tears fell down my cheeks. I couldn’t say the words, but I knew it was true. I had had a stroke once before.
My young sons came running into the bedroom.
“Mommy, are you ok?” they kept asking. Now I could see the fear in their eyes.
I found the will to reach somewhere deep down into my soul and give a mumbled, “I’m ok, guys. Mommy’s ok.”
The paramedics were there minutes later. My boys sat on the couch crying as I was loaded onto the stretcher. One of the EMTs complimented them on their Spiderman masks and told them everything was going to be ok.
But I knew for them, nothing seemed ok at that moment.
I soon learned I did have a stroke. A week before my 40th birthday. During a pandemic. With two kids — one seven, the other four.
I spent my hospital stay alone because of COVID safety requirements. And I thought about my two kids. My family. My friends. My work. My faith. My life —— and all I haven’t finished.
All the things I still need to accomplish.
My lowest days were followed by slightly better ones, then better ones after that. And I’m thankful to say I recovered quickly.
The strokes were due to issues with my heart I’m still working to address. In many ways, I’m working through several matters of the heart — physical and emotional. Simply put, I left the hospital changed in more ways than one, and I won’t ever be the same.
I went in afraid and numb, and I came out still afraid but stronger.
I don’t take being able to write these words lightly. The permanent scars on my brain tell the story of that morning, and I could easily be re-learning how to talk, how to walk, how to write…
I could be gone.
For me, this means I hug my children tighter now. I breathe them in, and I tell them every chance I get how much I love them. They tell me they love me more. It couldn’t possibly be true.
I appreciate my family, my friends, my coworkers — people in general — more than ever. Their being is more present in my heart, and my love for them has expanded.
My faith has grown stronger, and I know I’m going to be okay.
Life is so fragile, and yet we’re all so resilient. I’ve learned I can handle anything that comes my way. My husband and I’ve shown our kids what strength looks like and in turn, they’ve been strong themselves.
Here’s something else I’ve learned:
There’s no time to wait.
Things can — and do — change for all of us in a literal instant.
Whatever you have been waiting for:
Say it now.
Do it now.
Be it now.
If you don’t get a tomorrow, what will you have left unfinished? Finish it now.
It took surviving two strokes, being filled with fear, and facing constant unknowns to teach me I don’t need to be afraid of fear.
I can feel it, but I don’t have to be afraid of it. It doesn’t have to stop me from doing what it is I’m meant to do and from being who it is I’m meant to be.
So, when I look back on that day that changed my life, I don’t see it through a lens of fear or pain.
No, I see it for what it’s turned out to be. A stroke of wisdom. A stroke of understanding. A gift.
We can choose to see the scariest times in life as a reminder of how fragile life really is and of our responsibility to treat it with care.
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