I won’t say parts of Marty actually died when she had her first stroke, I can’t say that, it cuts too close. I can say mental and emotional doors were closed forever on April 2 2005. Even more doors were closed and nailed shut on January 3 2006 when she had the 2nd stroke.
Strokes do that, they shut down parts of the brain and change lives.
My natural inclination, what I feel I must do, is to point out that as some doors are slammed shut others open. Not really, not all the time, not this time, not in cold, clear, real life.
The brain is remarkable in the way it finds to reroute certain things, commands to different parts of the body find new routes, orders for speech get confused but interpreted in a new and different way, directives to walk go through new neural pathways. Brain damage is not healed, burned out brain cells don’t regenerate, if you are lucky your brain figures out some detours around the locked doors.
On April 2 the loud, aggressive, funny, proactive part of my wife stopped being. On that day, almost ten years ago, the parts of Marty that were loquacious, argumentative, meddling, problem solving and intense simply disappeared. She still existed, she still laughed, she still loved, she still lived, but critical parts of her, important pieces that made her distinct, pieces that I loved, ceased to exist.
I didn’t complain I was just grateful she was still alive and able to communicate. I came to understand that the parts of Marty that were left were also parts I loved; it was just different, markedly different. It was the new normal people confront when doors are closed.
The stubborn as a mule door, the doggedly insistent door, the part of Marty that wanted what she wanted was still there. Her remarkable brain still worked enough to help her figure out she still wanted to drive herself, she still demanded to have some independence, she still had some very clear demands for her life. While critical doors to her personality had been shut tight, others remained open and she was alive.
After January 3rd more doors, more really important doors closed. That stroke was more damaging, that stroke took more of Marty away forever. The walking doors were closed, the sitting up independently door was closed, the right brain that controlled her left side was walled off from her left arm and leg. Big, huge, critical parts of Marty were gone, there one day, gone the next. I missed what had been just days earlier.
Marty was alive but parts of her, parts I loved, parts she loved, parts her children loved and needed, parts her friends admired were simply gone, there one day, gone the next. I had thought we lost too much after the first stroke. I should have been grateful for what had been left, I should have relished the doors that remained open. Too often we don’t understand that things can get worse.
It is surreal that changes, life altering cataclysms, happen in the time and the way they do. A second, a minute, a miniscule interruption to blood flow and pieces that have been a part of you for decades are gone and you are irrevocably changed.
The doors are closed not because Marty wants them closed, she argues the point, she fights the pieces of her that have died. She wants to beat down the you can’t walk door, she hates the you can’t think clearly door and she badly wants to open the best grandmother in the world door. But, they are all stuck shut, just like the windows her mother painted shut in her childhood bedroom.
Doors get closed; really important doors get slammed shut instantaneously and we are changed, we are never the same because pieces that were once there are walled off from us, like they have died.
It’s too hard, it’s too close to what really happened to say parts of Marty died on her stroke days. Death comes in different ways at different times and in different phases.
We continue to live, Marty continues to live and I’m truly grateful for the years in between the strokes and our new normal days. Marty is different, so am I.
I guess in a weird way that’s growth.