In each of our lives, there are days that exist in the shadow of the life-altering blows that came before them. With each flip of the calendar, those dates come knocking, dredging up pain and taunting us with memories of the good old days, before life changed their meaning forever.
Valentine’s Day will forever be that day for me.
Last year on February 14th, my Mother suffered a massive intracerebral hemorrhage in her brain.
As tears and panic grabbed hold of my heart, the Valentine’s dinner Julie and I had just shared quickly became a memory from life as we had known it, and we raced back to Michigan to be by my Mom’s bedside.
I knew each moment was critical, but that was all I knew. Thankfully I didn’t know the statistics of hemorrhagic strokes, that only 26% survive.
Considering that my Mother is alive today, she is one of the lucky ones. But every day for the last year, many of our days have felt pretty unlucky, most of all hers.
Prior to her stroke my Mom was a fit 73-year-old who did yoga and aerobics 3 days a week. She ran circles around those half her age, volunteering for more organizations each week than most of us do in lifetime. She lived independently, cooked like a foodie before it was cool, and most of all, loved taking care of others.
Today my Mom is paralyzed on her left side and lives in an assisted living home bound to a wheelchair. Perhaps most devastatingly of all, she struggles to speak.
Previously a poster child for extroverts everywhere, my Mom now finds herself without the words to express both her basic needs and her most complex emotions. And as painful as it is to witness and attempt to decode her utterances, it is infinitely more painful for her. But nevertheless, she persists; fighting her way through physical therapy and speech therapy day after day, continuing to inspire me.
Growing up, my Mom and I had far from a perfect relationship, but she was always my rock. A strong, single mom working full time, she still always made time to critique my term papers and field all my teenage angst. We traveled the world together, cried together over heartaches, and shared many adult conversations over what was probably too many glasses of wine.
Our relationship epitomizes what I now know to be the indescribable bond between a mother and a daughter.
Not long before her stroke, I shared that I was going to be a Mom and she was finally going to be a Grandma. With that news, our phone chats were fueled with a renewed purpose, full of labor stories and how homemade baby food was always worth the effort. I would later learn that although I was just 12 weeks pregnant, she had already begun knitting a baby blanket for our little one still many months away. She had waited her entire life to finally be a Grandma and she couldn’t wait for that littler person to transform my life, and hers.
Family is a complex and layered labyrinth. No one else can bring you to tears faster or love you harder. It’s said we don’t choose our family, but we do. We choose to weather the storms with them, or to let go.
So in honor of reclaiming Valentine’s Day, not for what it once was but for what it is today, may we all hold the ones we love tightly and remind them how much we love them every chance we get.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Mom. I love you!