I got one of those calls last Thursday that everyone dreads. Ever since I got one of those dreaded calls back in 2004 when my mom suffered a massive stroke, I’ve been anticipating with anxiety the day when I would get another such call. And that day came last week when my parents called to tell me that my brother had a stroke. My brother. I don’t know about you but I don’t normally think of people in their 30s having strokes. Everyone talked about how young my mom was (54) when she had her stroke. So it was a double shock.
The kicker was that I got the call while I was attending a birth. And I’m not normally able to take calls while I’m at a birth. I just happened to be running down the stairs to let in the birth tub folks with the heater replacement when my mom called. That was the first indication that all was not well. My mom doesn’t call me. I call her. That’s how she rolls, post-stroke. So my heart was already beating faster as I called back. My dad answered and said that they had just heard from my brother’s wife, Lorri, that he’d had a stroke and been rushed to the hospital. That was all they knew and they would call when they heard anything further. We hung up. I felt dizzy and my body was already responding to the terrible news. My heart was racing and I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath. I was scared. How bad was it? Was he going to die? Part of me wanted to jump in the car and race home, sit with Jason, cry, pray, pace, and wait for more news. But I wasn’t at just any birth. I was at my friends’ birth. A couple who has been part of our community group for nearly five years, a couple we are tight with, you know? So I had to think fast and make a decision. I took a moment in the kitchen to compose myself and decided that if I went home, I would just be sitting around awaiting a phone call but that I could, essentially, do nothing but that. If I stayed, I could still be of some use. So I did. I stayed and I’m so glad I was able to be there to bear witness at the birth of beautiful little Stella. And soon after her arrival, I was able to race home, sit with Jason, cry, pray, pace, and wait for more news.
It was a hemorrhaging stroke in the center of his brain, just like my mom’s. 2.5-3 centimeters in size (whatever that means). Once he made it through that agonizing first night and the doctor’s were able to stabilize his blood pressure, my parents cautiously declared him “stable” and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. There is a lot that I don’t know because I’m not there. But he can talk and although it will be a lot of hard rehabilitation, my parents tell me he will likely walk again and regain his mobility. But there are a lot of unknowns and he’s got a long road ahead of him.
Part of me is still in a state of disbelief. How could this happen to him? He’s so young. His daughter, my niece, is only 16. It’s so painful to be far away and unable to do anything. And I despise the thought of him being sad or in pain. I don’t get to see him and his family nearly as often as I would like and it always grieves me but more so now than ever. I long to be near him, to help him, to carry just a small bit of the sadness my sister-in-law and niece are now carrying.
I also ache for my parents. That first night was really hard, hearing their pain, their fear, their grief. Damn if it’s not awful to hear your parents cry. There are a lot of phone calls a person doesn’t want to receive but that one? One about your child? If there’s a hierarchy of dreaded phone calls, that’s got to be at the top. My mom has really had a terrible time the last few years. She lost both her parents in the past year and a half. And now her son, her firstborn, suffering so. For some reason I keep thinking of her and this quote by Anne Lamott that I like so much.
When I held Sam alone for the first time… the night that he was born, I was nursing him and feeling really spiritual, thinking, Please, please God, help him be someone who feels compassion, who feels God’s presence loose in the world, who doesn’t give up on peace and justice and mercy for everyone. And then one second later I was begging, Okay, skip all that shit, forget it – just please, please let him outlive me.
I desperately want Gryffin and Isaiah to outlive me and I guess I’m just so, so glad that my brother gets another chance to do just that, to outlive his mom, and to be here with us for, hopefully, a long time yet.