The Evolution

The Evolution

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

The Evolution

My mother and I had reached that point in our relationship where we became friends, and then I had a stroke and everything changed. Before the stroke, I had just come to the realization she was human and therefore imperfect, and that was okay. She, in turn, became acquainted with a young, independent woman who shared her love for reading, doing crafts, playing games, and remodeling old houses.

I remember sitting in her living room, our heads bent over our embroidery while I taught her needlepoint stitches. She shared her knowledge of painting ceramics and drawing. Whether it was frequenting garage sales, gambling, traveling, or just spending the day on the porch in silent revelry, we enjoyed spending time together.

She was my dear friend. No longer was she obligated to discipline me. Now we could be who we were, two women with commonalities and differences who respected and genuinely liked each other.

My stroke transported us back to an earlier time. She was forced back into her role of mother, because I returned to my role of child. I refused to take an active part in decision making with regard to my life. Even the clothes I wore were selected by my mother, because I refused to make even the most rudimentary decisions. I hid in sleep and wallowed in my depression. And I felt that, at twenty-six, my life was over. I was a ventilator-dependent quadriplegic with no hope or faith. I wanted to die, but my mom wouldn’t allow it. She had the strength and faith to wait for better days.

Each day she moved my unfeeling limbs, hoping my brain would reconnect with my body. She demanded I watch while she put my fingers through the range of motion exercises. “Try to move your finger,” she insisted doggedly. I tried, and when I succeeded, her determination to see me restored consumed her days. From morning till night, she attempted to move every joint, with her patient mother’s determination. Function returned in my left arm and hand, and I could turn my head and wiggle my toes.

These milestones fueled her dreams of a daughter with a happy future. I was only cooperative because, when I was, she would be happy and leave me alone. Sleep was my hiding place, and I gratefully sank into its numbing embrace every chance I got. I was an unwilling participant in life, but my mother had enough drive for both of us.

Energized by her successes, she prodded my diaphragm dozens of times a day and asked, “Do you feel this? Can you feel this?” For three months she tirelessly performed this ritual, and I responded like a petulant child.

“No, Mother, I can’t,” I answered with a look full of resentment. I wondered what it would take for her to give up.

One day my answer differed. “I’m not sure. Do it again.” She did, and I felt it. I thought, Now maybe she’ll stop. But I was wrong; my answer had heralded the beginning of her crusade. My mother was going to get me to breathe unassisted by the ventilator.

Days stretched into weeks, weeks into months, and months into years. I tired of her relentless pursuit of reawakening my body. Like a teenager growing into adulthood, I bucked against the constraints of my mother’s influence. Once again, I tried to exert my independence, and did not stop to thank her for the time and dedication she had given me. All I saw was that the eight hours of therapy a day became intolerable. “Mom, I would rather not get any movement or sensation back, because all I do is dream of what might be. I want a life again. I’m going to live with what I’ve got.”

Mom struggled against her mother’s instincts to push me further. It was not in her nature to give up when there was the possibility of restoring more of my movement. I was no longer compliant to her demands. After she had devoted herself to the thankless task of rehabilitating my body, I began to focus on my spirit. She had to loosen her bonds and allow me to exert my will and fulfill my desires. At times I made wrong decisions, and she watched me fail and helped me pick up the pieces of my wounded psyche.

Today we have come almost full circle. She is still devoted to me and steps into her role of mother when I need her. Day to day we are friends. I can no longer stitch embroidery or physically remodel a house, but we recently bought a house and are planning the renovation together. I would not be where I am today if she had not fought for me when I wouldn’t fight for myself, or if she had refused to let me exert my independence again. I thank her for today and all of my tomorrows, because without her I never would have become me—a writer, a speaker, and more than just her daughter—a friend, once again.

Jessica Kennedy

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