68: Focusing on What We Have

68: Focusing on What We Have

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Focusing on What We Have

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes.

~Hugh Downs

As I entered the emergency room, she lay there motionless and vulnerable under a white sheet. The doctor turned around, introduced himself and said, “We think your mother had a stroke affecting her entire right side.” My biggest fear was that she would have brain damage and not know who I was. I said, “It’s Lisa” and held her left hand. She squeezed my hand tightly. We both cried as the priest said prayers over her partially paralyzed body. That night, feeling scared and helpless, I cried for hours until I finally fell asleep.

The next day in the ICU Mom began exercising her left hand, arm and leg in bed. She squeezed her hand open and shut, lifted her arm and leg up and down, all with a smile. Prior to her stroke, she took an exercise class at the local council of aging and knew that it was important to keep moving. Despite her limitations, she had a determined spark and it was contagious.

The neurologist told our family that she had a 30/30/30 chance. Broken down that meant a 30 percent chance that she would die, a 30 percent chance that she would stay the same, and a 30 percent chance of change. I remember thinking that was funny math. What was the other 10 percent for? I decided it was for miracles. And that was what I was going to focus on.

I focused on what we had rather than what we didn’t. She could swallow, she was conscious, she understood everything going on, and she could write with her left hand when she had difficulties with speech. With rehabilitation, she learned how to feed herself and talk again. She regained a lot of her speech with only slight difficulties with finding the correct word or pronunciation. I prayed for my mother, gave her inspiring cards and read to her to maintain and support her positive mood. Most importantly, I was grateful that we still had each other.

One day I went to visit Mom at the skilled rehabilitation center and she told me she had pain and headaches every day but that she was at peace. I said to her, “How can you be at peace? You are in a wheelchair telling me you have pain and headaches every day and you need a catheter.” She looked at me confidently and said, “I pray to God every day and thank him that I am alive.” I had tears in my eyes because it was so beautiful that she could maintain such a positive and grateful attitude despite all the physical losses.

I thought when she was told her physical therapy was to end that she would have a setback, yet she accepted it gracefully. She understood that her right side was not regaining movement. She then focused on getting involved with the events at the nursing home. She circled events on the calendar and attended them every day. She was curious to find out what Chumba was and later told me that it was a chair version of Zumba exercise class. Using one arm and her head, she moved herself quickly from side to side and up and down, complete with imaginary music and a smile.

She did not allow the physical limitations to stop her. Although her body was handicapped, her will was not. One day, before I was about to leave the nursing home she wanted to show me how she could get to the dining hall. I said, “I will get you someone.” She said no: “I’ll do it myself.” I stepped back and gave her some room. She used her left arm and hand to move the wheel of her chair and her left foot to propel herself forward. She got herself to the hallway where she pulled herself along using the handrails on the wall. It was a slow and steady movement. Some would say it wasn’t perfect or smooth, but she was doing it. I’d say it was one of the best moments of my life. I watched proudly as she reached her intended destination.

Before she went to sleep at night, she told me that she rubbed her right arm and hand, believing that it would bring the circulation back into them and they would move again. Four months later, her right thumb did move. The last time she spoke with me, I asked her to show me. She lifted up her hand and thumb and I saw it move. I said, “It’s a miracle,” to which she said, “Yes.”

After being through so much, I thought my mother would have felt angry, frustrated and stuck. Yet, she could not have been freer. She was grateful, happy to be alive, and easygoing. She was connected to her childlike sense of wonder, yet was still an adult woman who gave me wonderful advice.

Positive thinking, prayers and love did not change the experience or the aftermath of the stroke, but it certainly changed my life. My mother taught me to live in the moment. Her positive attitude helped me to keep going, to have faith and to remain connected to her, especially after her death. Everyone loved my mother. Who wouldn’t? She was the one sitting in the wheelchair at the nursing home with a big smile on her face. I can’t recall a time I visited her that she wasn’t smiling.

~Lisa Hutchison

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