reality. I become teachable. I grieve the loss of the
Rachel before my stroke. It was the biggest loss in my
life. I lost me. But I have found a new me. Rachel now
needs a lot of help and loves to help others. This is my
truth, and I practice it daily. When I don’t, my stroke
teaches me more lessons in fatigue and pain until I
accept my reality, my changes and live life right.
Part of my practice of accepting life on life’s terms
comes from my participation in many stroke discussions
and following research and policy geared to survivors,
caregivers, the medical community and policymakers. I’ve
bristled at one phrase that is tossed around: the idea of
“getting back” to who I was before my stroke implies a
What I mean is that, in early stroke recovery, it
was important to “get back” every physical action that
stroke stole or dulled. I wanted strength, mobility and
flexibility. And I “got back”: I was physically able to
carry and deliver a healthy, miracle son at six years
post-stroke. That is “getting back” and going beyond.
But stroke affects more than the physical self and so
with me. Spiritually and emotionally I was changed
in the moment of my stroke and continue to change in
significant ways. “Getting back” defies the passing of
time or the magnitude of change of which I am capable.
In the field of teaching, the “growth mindset” is big
right now. We look for how much growth a student
makes over the year according to different measures.
We help children be more and know more than they did
yesterday and last year. Growth matters for children.
I guess that model resonates with me as a stroke
survivor. Life is ever changing and so much bigger
than Rachel. I am just not very powerful or important.
Kids know that. Stroke survivors learn that. We lose all
illusion of power and control.
If we can reframe that as a gift and relearn the idea
of living each day, finding joy and being a part of our
world, giving our gifts, then we have peace. Life means
something. If we can accept our stroke and our change, we
can move forward with joy in life. It is truly impossible to
live life in the past. And with stroke, my past me was very
different than the me after my stroke. I have to live life
today. That is all I have. And that is a gift.
FOR MY FELLOW SURVIVORS
Stroke does not erase us. Survivors are stronger
than stroke, by definition. Peace takes time. It took me
about three years after my stroke. Three years I spent
in denial, anger, bargaining and depression of what
stroke did to me. I begged God, my family and doctors
to answer every question I talk about in this article and
many more. But I never heard what I wanted to hear.
Things changed when the question became, “Why not
me have a stroke? And why was I saved? And what was
I saved for?” Simple, but not easy. I don’t know what is
around the corner for me, and with practice, I don’t waste
time asking. But I do know, I DID NOT SURVIVE A
STROKE TO BE MISERABLE. Been there, so done that.
For me stroke recovery is a lifelong journey. I need
help and guidance. Recognizing myself in the stages of
grief helped me make sense of myself after the fact. It
reduced despair, gave me hope and showed me I was
not alone. Imagine knowing about the stages as you are
in them and knowing it is normal to feel this way and
you will get better. Imagine. You don’t have to bite off
the whole idea at once. Take a baby step. Consider the
possibility of joy, just for today.
One good day is a priceless gift, and stroke survivors
know that better than anybody! We rock! When
survivors tell me they “want it back,” I wonder, what
do they “want back” and what is “the end” they are
working toward? We never arrive at the end. Life is not
stagnant. I set goals and accomplish many. Then I set
new goals and try new things and am ever aware that
whenever I make Plan A, life shows me Plan B, C, D,
all the way to Z. You have to laugh and go with it. I
GET to laugh and go for the ride. That is a gift.
“I DID NOT
STROKE TO BE