Taking care of someone who suffered a stroke is not easy.
The call came at midnight, they said, and my parents didn’t let us know until the morning after.
My older sister and I, both just getting into high school, had no expectations really, just that our grandfather had to be hospitalized for a while. We didn’t realize at the time just how serious his condition was.
My grandfather suffered a massive stroke in the early 2000s, and as he was well working into his 70s, I understood now that with the changes in his mental state at the time, the foremost worry of my parents was what a sudden retirement might do to him, mindset-wise.
He took great pride in being a self-made man, that was for sure, and growing up, I was his little shadow. He was the only grandfather I knew as my grandfather on my mother’s side passed the year I was born.
My paternal grandfather never got angry with me as a child, which is why the sudden shift in his personality after his stroke was what had me in tears most of the time when we had to move back at their place when his doctors recommended he had family as primary care givers.
He even struck me once, when he grew frustrated at not being able to tie his shoes. It was the very first time in my life he had ever hit me, and I went crying to my father about it. My dad sat me down and very gently, broke down the reality of our new situation.
‘He won’t be the same grandpa you knew, and it’s not his fault,’ he said.
You’ve probably heard this about your loved one too, care giver, and you might not realize it now, but it will teach you great empathy. I’ve heard it multiple times, each situation more painful than the last.
The aftermath of a stroke in elderly patients will most likely result in further deterioration, but they will have their good moments. And when it’s good, you’ll at least have a brief glimpse into the person they were before they had a stroke.
When he was ‘present,’ my father said grandpa would talk about the future with him, how he was worried about us grandkids, and what would happen to the family if he passed. He would constantly remind my dad, throughout the nearly 14 years we cared for him after his stroke, to watch over my grandma, to think twice before deciding to sell the family farm, and handle the affairs of his properties before he passed. Then, just as quickly as his ‘old’ self would appear, the new one would return, and he was a blabbering old man once more.
In the summer of 2013, my grandfather bid his long, long battle with his health goodbye. I cling to a photo of him in his usual crinkly-eyed, smiling gaze; because I do not want to remember the grandfather whose last hours on earth were spent strapped to a hospital bed, tubes down his throat and needles in his arms.
Dear care-giver, it’s no secret you have a long road ahead of you, but it is one paved with twice as many happy, joyous moments than there are the sad ones. You’re incredibly selfless, and stronger than you know, for taking on such a huge responsibility. And from someone who has been in your shoes, let me tell you, it’s all going to be okay.