I found her sprawled across the oriental rug in our foyer. Her arms lay at odd angles and her eyes were fixed on the ceiling. The carpet’s black and red designs swirled behind her porcelain skin like a pool of blood. For a moment I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. I was frozen in my attempt to comprehend the scene before me.
I was snapped from my daze by the sound of someone screaming. Not until I felt the sting of hot tears in my eyes did I realize that it was my own voice screaming.
“Mom! Mom!” I yelled, my arms thrust back with the force of my cries.
She didn’t respond.
My father was already at her side, working calmly as only a physician can do in such a situation. Panic swelled within me when she didn’t reply to him either. She just stared listlessly, her jaw slack. My screams grew hoarse, and just when I thought I couldn’t possibly emit another sound, my mother’s eyes rolled sideways and made direct contact with my own. But what I saw terrified me. I will never forget the way her eyes, just her eyes, looked at me. She could see me, but I knew she didn’t know me. And for a moment, I didn’t know her.
Who is this? What is happening? I thought, as my father hoisted her body over his shoulders. My sister and I trailed behind, wailing. I stared at her hands dangling down his back, the way they bounced and knocked together with each heavy step. I reached up, shocked when her fingers didn’t reciprocate my grasp.
It was on the frantic ride to the hospital that I first heard the word–stroke. My mother had a stroke.
As a six-year-old, I didn’t know exactly what this entailed, but as a doctor’s daughter, I knew that this word was bad. I knew that my mother was in danger, and at that moment, I came to the realization that she might die. With this single thought in mind, the rest of the ride was a blur. The hospital was a blur as well, all chaos and tubes and needles. Before I knew it, I was watching a helicopter rise into the sky with my mother inside.
Twelve years later, for the first time that I can remember, my mother and I shared a conversation about her stroke.
During a poetry unit in one of my English classes, we were asked to write about a special memory or experience that we had. My mother’s stroke is the single most vivid memory I have of my early childhood. It popped into my head immediately when I heard the assignment, but it wasn’t until later that day that I realized I couldn’t remember a single time that I had actually sat down with my mom to talk about the way this experience affected our family. So that is exactly what we did. It was a life-changing conversation.
One of the first questions I asked was what she was thinking or feeling while suffering the immediate effects of the stroke. (She was partially paralyzed and had lost much of her memory.) I was struck by her answer. She told me that in those minutes and hours following the stroke, she felt perfect peace, absolute calm, and the undeniable presence of the Holy Spirit. While the rest of us were tormented with worry and fear, my mother was resting in divine reassurance. How beautiful that in the very moment when my mother had lost nearly all physical function and self-awareness, only one thing remained. Her identity was so rooted in her faith that even when she didn’t know who she was, she knew who was with her.
I had always thought of my mother as a strong Christian, but this piece of information gave me new eyes. I was inspired. More than that, I deeply desired a faith as strong as hers.
As I write this article, I am reminded again of the miracle that is my mother’s life. When I visited her in the hospital after her open-heart surgery, the nurse pointed to me and my mom said my name for the first time. In a way, she was meeting me all over again. Now, more than twelve years and many months of therapy later, you would never guess that she had once suffered massive trauma to her heart and brain. And I have had the privilege of meeting her all over again.