In August of 2013, my mother, who is my absolute best friend, had a blood clot in her brain that led to stroke. It has been a long road, and completely tore my close-knit family into pieces. Although we are positive and encouraging when we need to be, it breaks our hearts that her dominant arm will not move, she cannot walk as quickly, and her speech needs some work. I am thankful every single day that she is cognitively aware of everything and is lucky enough to be on the road to recovery, but the fact that she is not the same person she once was is impossible to bear.
And yes, all of these were actually said to me.
8. “I don’t know what to say to you anymore.”
When you have a sick parent, you know that encouraging words aren’t going to change the terrible situation you and your family are in. When we get upset about our loved one, we know that words can’t magically make everything okay again, but that doesn’t mean we couldn’t use a little “pick me up” when the sadness is too much to bear.
Words can change our perspective on just about anything. Words are much more powerful than many people think, and words can make the most depressed person turn their thought process around. Think back to any sports movie where the main team was losing, but you knew they had the potential to win. What influences the team to play better and beat the other team? A pep talk from their coach. Words can inspire people and ignite a flame in them that they never knew existed, even if it is the same simple phrase said every single day.
There are days where all I needed to hear was, “You’re going to push through this,” or “It’s going to get better,” or “Stay strong.” We need to be reminded every single day that there is hope, because without hope, we have nothing left. If we had no hope, it would be impossible for us to wake up every morning and be positive for our parent. Even though it may seem useless and repetitive to say something as simple as, “It’s going to be okay,” every day, it is actually one of the most helpful things you can do. Say it, and say it again the next day. The more time that passes with our parent being sick, the more we need to hear it.
7. “It could be worse.”
Thank you, Captain Obvious. We are aware that the situation could be worse, but that doesn’t make it any less painful. Sure, my mother could have a lot more damage from the stroke, but that doesn’t make the tears she cries over her immobile arm any less real. It doesn’t make her feel any better about the fact that she can no longer bake in her bakery, do her own hair, or drive a car. It doesn’t make her feel any better about the fact that it takes her twice as long to get up the stairs, or out the door. Sure, she will learn all of these things in time, but right now, that is her life and it is the hardest thing she’s ever had to deal with.
We know it could be worse. We are thankful every single day that my mom has a high probability of a full recovery, but there is a part of us that fears she will never get there. We can’t shake the fact that she is not who she once was, and although she will get back to that person, we don’t have her right now. We can’t smile at her while she cries over the time she is losing, and tell her “it could be worse.”
Sure, it could be worse, but it could be a hell of a lot better, too.
6. “You’ve been sad for like, four days this month.”
Actually, I have been sad every single day since August. I wake up every morning with the same sadness in my heart, and wonder how I am going to get through the day.
I know that being sad is not the most productive thing in the world. Over time, I hope that the sadness lessens, but for now I still have to live in this nightmare. I try to see my mom multiple times a week because that’s how often I used to see her before the stroke, and each time I see her, my heart breaks all over again. Yes, she can smile and laugh and speak, but we can’t go for a walk with the dog up the street. We can’t get in her car and sing along to country music while she does her silly dance moves behind the wheel. We can’t go out dancing like we love to do. I know that someday, and hopefully someday soon, we can do all that, but right now it is too hard for her.
Our lives are not the same no matter how hard we try to pretend. Things are different now, and even though they are going to get better, it is perfectly acceptable for us to be sad that they are not better today. It is okay to be sad and vulnerable as long as you don’t let those feelings overtake you, and you never lose hope.
5. “It is what it is.”
Tell me what it is exactly, because what it seems like to me is watching a woman who was always lively, selfless, and strong, be confined to her couch, struggling to ask for the food she is hungry for. What it seems like to me is a woman who was meant to live her life to the fullest with her children forced to watch them grow right before her eyes, unable to take them all the places she wants to go. What I see is a woman sitting in her bakery unable to make the whole house smell like cupcakes in one hour like she used to.
I know that it is what it is, and it kills me inside that I cannot change it. It should not be this way; my mother is too good of a person. I do not understand why it is this happened to her, and what we are supposed to learn on this long road. I know that there is hope, and I know that I cannot change what has happened. I will move forward, and I will grasp onto all the hope I can. But please, don’t tell me it is what it is, because I know exactly what it is-a tragedy.
4. “You need to start being positive; what you’re doing right now isn’t helping.”
Tell me something I don’t know. Positivity is the only thing I show my mother, because that is what she needs. I have only cried with her once, but every other time we are together, whether it is in a hospital room or at home, I put on a brave face and try to inspire her. I moved to the rehabilitation center with her, and forced to her to work as hard as she could every day. When she cries, I tell her it is going to get better and that this will not be her life forever. I muster up all of my energy when I see her and repress the sadness, which is why I need an encouraging word or two when I get home and feel like I have reached the end of my rope.
I know she needs positivity, and that’s what I give her. We cannot be positive people all the time. We should try to see the best in every situation and trust that everything will work out, but there are going to be days where being positive just isn’t possible. To say that I am not helping her is absolutely horrible, because all that I want in the world is to help her and make everything okay.
3. “Your family is handling this the wrong way.”
Until you have been in our situation, you cannot judge what the “right way” is. We are all trying to balance being positive and helpful with our own sorrow and grief, and I think we all do a damn good job. My mother was the glue that held our entire family together; the person that we all went to when we were upset. We can still go to her if we wanted, but we do not want to lay our problems on her. She has enough of her own. I think that my family has been so incredible and strong through this whole thing, and I think it is outrageous to say we are handling it the wrong way. Offer constructive advice, or do us all a favor and shut up.
2. “Well, it’s not like she’s dead.”
No, she’s not dead, but a part of her is right now. It will come back of course, but it is currently missing from our day. I once thought I could never make it through my day without her help, and quite frankly I am surprised I have made it this far. I have had to do a lot of things on my own, and although I make due, it is just not the same.
1.“You need to get over it.”
If you say this to us, be prepared to run, and run fast.
I am hoping that this will get better, but I know that life is completely out of our control, and we never know for sure what the future holds. Every single day I muster up as much positivity as I can and force my mother to work harder so that she can get better, and I hope one day she will be over this illness.
We will never just “get over it.” We will never be able to look at our sick parent, shrug, and say, “Well, whatever. I’ll get over it. You wanna go get a pizza?” You’re completely out of your right mind if you think that we will ever be the same, or that there will come a day when being a parent to your parent isn’t painful. If you know someone going through anything remotely close to this, don’t be afraid to reach out-it’ll mean more than you think.