On Monday morning, Tom’s youngest brother — 37 years old and the father of three kids under the age of 11 — had a stroke.
Fortunately, neither he nor his wife had left for work yet, and she was able to get him into their van to drive to the small hospital nearby. Assessing his amnesia and beyond-bloodshot eyes, the doctors and nurses realized right away that he needed to get to the experts at the University of Alberta hospital — two-and-a-half hours away — immediately. We got the news just as the ambulance was taking off, in a phone call from my sobbing mother-in-law. Fortunately and unusually, Tom was at home, having stopped in to pick up some more tools.
We spent the next 24 hours waiting for news. By Tuesday afternoon, we’d learned that it was definitely a stroke — we still haven’t heard much more than that — but in a way that information has been confusing for the family. How could someone so young, so healthy, so strong (he’s a big guy who’d still be playing intramural hockey if his knees had held up), and presumably without any of the risk factors (we’re not sure about the high blood pressure) get a stroke? Or as a friend of both Tom and his brother said to me yesterday when he phoned for any news, “If Mike can get a stroke, then anyone can.”
Aside from jumping every time the phone rings and being consumed with wondering what life will be like for Mike, his wife, and their kids after this and if (please, please, please) it will ever go back to normal, or near normal, the other thought all of us have had is that one. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone — to me, my husband. And we won’t have any warning.
I thought back to the day before this all happened. I don’t care too much about leaving a sinkful of dirty dishes, a kitchen floor that needs mopping, a pile of unfiled papers, or even a head that needs shampooing when the ambulance comes and life as I know it is gone forever. But…did we remember to check on the kids last night and watch them for a bit as they slept, the quilts rising and falling gently with their breaths? Did I agree to the pleas for “just another chapter” for their bedtime readaloud or did I firmly shoo them to bed so I could jump in the shower? Did Tom and I have a chance to talk for a bit before bed, rather than just exchanging a quick list of what we each needed the other to do the next day? Did we all remember goodbye kisses when Daddy left in the morning? Did I decide to fold laundry in the living room with the kids while we all watched our new kids’ DVD of Midsummer Night’s Dream rather than hop on the computer quickly to check my email? We have more yeses than nos when we do the tally, which is good.
Then again, you can’t really live each day as if it might be your last, can you? But I think you can try to do your best, especially for your own family and for yourself. I’m haunted right now by the fact that those memories of that last day of doing your best — or not — may be what you take with you in that ambulance, that hospital bed, and beyond. This is definitely a time for time, and patience, and waiting, and seeing. And hoping.