It is real, it is fact, death comes, slowly, quickly, whole or by piece, death is a part of us. Some of us go quickly, unexpectedly, without notice or care. Some leave, some die a little piece at a time as we watch what once was become so very different.
When Marty had her first stroke in 2005 a piece of her died, a piece of the woman I met 35 years ago simply was no more. When Marty had the second stroke eight months later, more of her died, more of Marty the woman was gone. Marty was spark and fire, laughter and anger, loud, brash and unrelenting. The first stroke was like a bucket of water on that fire, the remnants, the ashes were there, the heat and the light died.
After the first stroke Marty had a different personality. She was quiet, she was withdrawn, her emotions were flat, almost dull, she was different. She didn’t initiate any conversations, she replied, she smiled some, but laughed little and the spark of anger that had been so much a part of Marty was gone. Parts of Marty that had existed, parts of her that made her uniquely Marty were snuffed out by the brain hemorrhage.
We, Marty’s family, all adapted. We were afraid, we were angry, we were concerned, we were stupid, and we were in denial about the permanence of the changes. It was up and down as we experienced surgery and recovery and another surgery and another recovery and finally a last surgery that left me exhausted, in despair and concerned about recovery. Eventually we all found our place in Marty’s new life and accepted that parts of Marty were gone forever, that parts of her had died from the stroke.
The second stroke was devastating in its damage to her brain and took more of Marty’s light, more of her laugh, more of her intellect and curiosity and all of her independence. What was once a person who prided themselves on being able to do for themselves, on being able to handle all things, could no longer take care of the simplest human needs. Large pieces of Marty died the second time around.
Who survived was not Marty from years ago; it was not even Marty from a few months ago; the ravages to the already damaged brain were so much worse. This time, in addition to the death of her personality and spontaneity we were all witnesses to the passing of so much of her cognitive ability, so much of her ability to reason, to remember and to communicate thoughts. I mourned the loss of so much of her brain.
When you lose someone you love you grieve, you try and process the event, you get angry, you deny, you argue but, hopefully, you eventually get to acceptance, so you can eventually find closure and peace to move on to a new, but different life. When you watch someone you love, someone who has loved you, die a little piece at a time it feels like a cruel cosmic practical joke. You may get to acceptance of a different life, you never get to closure.
It’s like you get to walk through the steps of loss every time something else dies. Our family behaved classically, we went through all of those stages after the first stroke, missing so much of what Marty had been, fighting to accept what Marty had become. We accepted and hoped, then we got to do it all over again.
I can’t speak for son Matt or daughter Erin but from time to time it pisses me off and I resent the living hell out of what has happened, but I don’t really know where to direct the anger and the resentment. It’s not Marty, it’s not a system, it’s not a medical community, it’s an altered life, it’s an existence that seems to continually take away one more piece and erect one more barrier, it’s the disease.
I can’t really speak for Marty either, though I try. I know from time to time the whole thing pisses her off too. I know she hates the dependence, the loss of her privacy, the loss of her autonomy, the loss of her quick wit, the loss of her communication skills, the loss of her strength. The strokes killed so many things she loved most about herself.
They have taken so much of her, but not her courage to face another day. The blessing is that there is another day and Marty has never been reluctant to face the day or the new challenges of the day. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m afraid to wake up and see what the new day brings, but what do you go but get up and stand beside the one you love the most.
I want to unequivocally state that I am forever grateful Marty survived the strokes; she is my hero and the most amazing person I know. I am grateful she has continued to improve and gain even a minimal sense of who she was before the strokes. I am grateful we have learned to live, I am grateful we have learned to accept, I am grateful we have become more of a couple, I think I fear the closure because to me closure is the end.
I’ve talked to Marty about all of this, the idea of parts of her whole, dying. I’m not sure she agrees with me, she doesn’t want to use the “D” word about herself at all. Me neither, but the feelings, the grief are very real, I think it best describes what she has endured, what we, as a family have faced, learning to live with dying a little at a time.