On the morning of 3 April 2021 my mother suffered a massive hemorrhagic stroke in the basal ganglia region of her brain. Although, remarkably, by June, she had recovered quite a bit of language and some capacity to swallow, she remained profoundly paralyzed. Bright spots were nearly daily visits on zoom, where she teased and joked with family members. Because she could not walk and I could not get the US to see her for some months, I began “taking her for a walk in my heart” every day. The photos here are from some of those walks, that daily effort to walk with and for her, to hold her with me even as I was some 2300 kilometres away from Ohio in Nova Scotia.
Finally, after waiting several months and at last getting twice vaccinated myself, in July 2021 I was cleared to travel. I drove to Maine–where my car broke down just five miles from the hotel–then flew from Bangor to Dayton, Ohio, where my sister Becca and niece Rachael picked me up and took me to my father’s house in Urbana where I stayed for a couple of weeks. The journal entry below talks through some things that happened during my first in-person visit with my mother.
19 July 2021 Urbana Ohio
Where do I start? With how my mother’s left hand curls inward like a hurt bird? (Why am I clutching a teddy bear she asks, glancing at her arm.) With the way the left side of her body lies, inert, a dead weight, how thin her arms, how her right foot is restless?
That foot is restless, I say to her. It wants to go for a walk. Yes, she says; it does. I do. Will you take me for a walk?
I promise her I will find out if I can.
Yes, if I sign her out of the facility I can take her for a walk.
So I plan. Maybe you’ll need a sun hat, I say to her. Yes, maybe I will, she says.
This is some time after I ask her how she feels about what’s happened to her. Together we find words:
trapped bored frustrated
bound up (we get to this conversation because she tugs at an edge of the blanket covering her and says help me to undo this; it’s binding and I can’t stand it)
Her eyes fill up with tears when we get to this word and she doesn’t want to talk anymore. Okay I say. You don’t have to talk about this now. But we can if you want to. She shakes her head. This is a yes and a no.
She wants to sit in the courtyard by the running water, a small rill into a tiny goldfish pond. The courtyard is light and filled with trees and birds and flowers and tomato plants. The air is sweet, delicious. And the sound of running water peaceful. I feel better in the courtyard. Not like I’m stuck in a hospital. This seems to be true for her too.
I dash about getting her water, tissues, other things. I’ll be your legs, I tell her. No she says, your legs are too short. That would look funny.
My mother is proud of being a tall long-legged woman. Not like shorty me. Wounded as she is, she is still beautiful.
Sometimes something fierce in her surges up–she describes how competitive she felt two days ago in a game of ring toss with some of the other residents. I had this one she says. I knew I was going to beat the pants off them.