-Written by Anna-
Anniversaries. When I hear the word anniversary I tend to think of happy occasions. For example three days from now my parents will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary. Happy! This past Sunday we celebrated with my parents first church as they marked the anniversary of a move and a renovated church. Happy! But today marks the six month anniversary of the worst day of our lives. The day that took us from the high of a cancer free diagnosis to the devastation of a large complete stroke, the brain surgery that followed and the fight for Mom’s life.
Two weeks ago Mom and I started talking about what we should do to mark the occasion. It seemed that although this was the worst day of our lives we needed to celebrate the fact that God allowed her to LIVE! So last Sunday after church, thanks to a generous gift certificate that we had been holding on to for just such an occasion, we went to one of my Mom’s favorite restaurants to celebrate. She had strength for the outing and enjoyed every delicious bite on her plate.
But even in the midst of relishing the ability to eat and swallow and be out in public, reality quickly hit threatening to steal our joy. Someone had parked illegally blocking the only place we thought we could get her wheelchair over the curb. Dad had to go in and ask them to put ramps down to get her into the building (as it is an old hotel), we had to figure out how to navigate the restrooms,etc. Six months ago in the midst of the trauma and the crisis our hearts rejoiced with every beat of her heart and every day she kept fighting. I have to be honest and say that at the six month mark we found that the simple joy of having lived was somewhat overshadowed by the many losses, the weariness and unknowns of long term recovery and fears of the future. We learned early on in this journey that with stroke recovery no one will predict or guarantee anything. Each person’s recovery is so unique and individual. While we understand this it can be maddening at times to have the future be a big question mark, never fully knowing what is realistic to hope for or expect.
I have found myself surprised again and again at the expectations I realize I have only as I watch them crash. It takes months for your mind to wrap itself around the fact that recovery does not actually mean the patient will be back to their old self. It is learning to wrap your mind around the fact that the ‘old life’ is no more. Even if Mom were to regain full function of her limbs again we can never go back to December 13, 2015. It is hard for me to even imagine that day now. When I look back I feel as if I am watching another family. Mom and Dad picked me up at the airport, both standing tall and Mom able to hug me fully with both arms. We then spontaneously decided to eat at Cracker Barrel. We didn’t have to give ourselves extra time to pack up a wheelchair and remember all the things that need to come with us. No one looked on us with pity as we walked into the restaurant. We didn’t make a grand entrance trying to fit the wheelchair through tight spaces, etc. I honestly have no idea if it was a restaurant that was easily accessible for someone in a wheelchair or not. I didn’t watch Mom as she ate hoping she wouldn’t choke. And I certainly didn’t accompany her into the bathroom stall. That life is gone forever. There is a grieving that must happen and yet one of the mysteries of being a follower of Jesus is that He promises LIFE from death. JOY in the midst of grief/pain.
And even though in a weak moment you might find me/us wishing for our ‘old lives’ back, if we are truly honest there is something about suffering that draws you to the heart of God in a way that nothing else can. Does this mean that we as a family have not had our questions, doubts, moments of wondering what God was doing? I think I can speak for all of us by saying absolutely not! We have each wrestled with the new realities and losses that the last six months have thrown our way AND YET as we move out of the crisis of the moment and the intensity of those first days/weeks/months, we can all attest to His faithfulness, His mercies, His tangible love through so many of you, and I could go on.
It is the reason God commands us to REMEMBER! In my darkest moments, watching my mother suffer so terribly in the Neuro ICU, I was not always sure where He was. While I still shudder at the pain of those days when I look back now I can see His hand everywhere! Our reality/life is filled with His provisions, mercies and tender care!
Many of you know care-giving is a job that never ends (part of the reason for my silence on this blog since Mom returned home). Keeping up with the house even with my Dad’s help has been a challenge. Since coming home I had thrown a few things in the back corner of Mom and Dad’s room and had not touched anything since our return. Last week I finally had a moment to get all of Mom’s stuff a bit more organized. And I found myself adding things to that pile in the corner and I felt God whisper to my heart – “Stop and look! You are building an altar of remembrance.” Instead of the rocks that God told the Israelites to use from the Jordan River, my ‘altar’ was made up of milestones, items we no longer need, ‘stones’ that mark His faithfulness and the many miracles we have witnessed. Her helmet, a boot to prevent foot drop, scarves used when visitors came to cover the 40+staples put in her head twice!, an AFO brace, a bedpan, a standing frame so generously gifted to us, and a few other items. There are quite a few things I pray we will soon throw into that back corner of the room as well but in the meantime at this six month anniversary mark I want to publicly thank the Lord for the miracles represented by that pile! And thank Him from bringing LIFE out of death. And thank Him for the new life He has brought to our family!
Thank you for your continued prayers for Mom and for all of us. We do see continued signs of improvement and progress, albeit much slower than we would like at times. Pray for patience and perseverance. Pray with us that as we are discharged this week from home health that the Lord will lead us to just the right place and therapists for outpatient therapy. Pray for her pain as it is something we continue to try to manage. Pray for us as we anticipate my return to Germany mid August. We are eternally grateful for your love and prayers for our family!