The day before I had moved in with my boyfriend and we were wrapping up our first grocery shopping adventure as a couple when a family friend from Florida called. I knew instantly something was wrong. A sudden sensation of fear struck me as I fumbled to answered my phone. The person on the other line said, “Jacqueline, something has happened to your Mother. We think she had a stroke and you should probably come home.”
What started out as a magical morning filled with playfulness and a sense of excitement and hope for the future was the beginning of a vastly different life for my Mom and my journey in becoming a primary caregiver. Ironically, she was coming to LA that day to share in my sister-in-law’s baby shower which was taking place the very next day. At the exact time I was supposed to be collecting her from LAX for what was to be a fun-filled week ahead, my brother and I were being dropped off at the airport to fly back to Florida to be with her.
She had a 5 millimeter bleed to her brain caused by hypertension. For those of you who know my Mom, you’re probably just as shocked by the diagnosis as we were. The women in my family have unusually low blood pressure, but beyond this my Mom has an enviable Zen-like quality to her and a marvelous gift for transcending the aggravations and misfortunes of life with humble grace and elegance.
They say that your mom is your first friend. Fortunately for me, my Mom has also been my best friend for most of my life. She has been there to counsel me during hard times and to lift me with hope and optimism during the lowest points in my life. This is not solely because I’m her child, but because this is who she is. If she knew you were down and out or needed something, she would equally invest in trying to make your situation better and help you however she could. Many of our friends know this as they’ve been direct beneficiaries of her warmth and kindness over the years.
This is not to say that she is all nice and no fun. Quite the contrary; she is perhaps the funniest woman you’ll ever meet. In fact, speaking of generations, my Mom was voted wittiest in high school, as was my grandmother and so was I.
Even though I was a mere baby here, I’m sure they were likely passing down their best (dirty) jokes to me as the three of us sat on the couch.
Her personality runs the gamut from creative, savvy, selfless to down right hilariously funny. You can get a very tiny glimpse of my Mom’s zany, pleasing and lighthearted nature from this short voicemail in which she’s slightly annoyed that I’ve left her to play phone tag all by herself.
Our house was the one all the kids would hang out at, but if you stayed longer than thirty minutes you were guaranteed to be asked to wash the family dog, vacuum or lend a hand in one of her many giant-sized projects, like a 30 foot fresco wall or a gazebo, both designed and built from scratch by her. Somehow this didn’t stop the kids from coming over and, in ways, though fully grown, they keep coming around today to support her needs. That’s the magic of my Mom.
Her stroke took place September 7th, just days before I originally intended to start things up here with WiseTribe. While I was eager to get started with this dream of mine and to nurture this next phase of my love life -and I had just agreed to terms for freelancing projects in California, I made the decision that I would stay in FL through the New Year to look after my Mom. Foolishly, I thought I would be able to manage caring for her while producing content and connections for WiseTribe, run at least one project on the side and keep a thriving love connection.
Ah, so not so.
I spent the first five weeks sleeping on a small couch (which felt like it was designed for Barbie) in the hospital to advocate for her medical needs and rehabilitation efforts, but most importantly, to let her know she wasn’t going to be alone on this journey. Somehow I thought when we brought her home I would find more time for my ambitions. Little did I know that we would effectively be running a small hospital for which I would become Chief of Staff. As the days folded into one another, my ambitions started to seem like luxuries as I tried to merely keep track of what day it was while staying afloat of the physical and psychological stress of being a caregiver to someone I love deeply.
When I agreed to stay on and care for my Mother, I honestly hadn’t a clue what I was signing up for as her needs are infinitely more demanding than I ever remember my father’s being. Please don’t take this as me complaining, I’m not. Being here may have cost me some important things in my personal and professional life, but it has been profoundly rewarding to give my Mom comfort and assurance when I know she most needs it. She has spent a lifetime giving this to many people, many times over, and to be able to give this gift back to her is an honor.
Every stroke is different, as I have learned, and the road ahead of my Mom is going to be a long one. Despite our best efforts to do everything possible to get her back to her former self, there are lots of questions that will require lots of time to be fully answered as to understand what her future will be like. Many people have shared very inspiring stories of loved ones coming back from strokes that were far worse than my Mom’s. I hate hearing myself say this, but, at times, it’s hard to imagine but I do hope, man, do I hope. I appreciate hearing the stories of others, either as one who has recovered from a stroke or has dealt with the pressures of being a caregiver, so if you have some wisdom and inspiration to spare, I could really use it right now.