My dad had a massive stroke on January 4th, 2004. It’s hard to believe it’s been 17 years since it happened. I was seven at the time. I didn’t recognize just how much it would impact my life. As for my dad, he was 36 at the time and relatively healthy. He could have been a few pounds lighter, but there was nothing to indicate that he would suffer such a debilitating stroke that morning. He would become paralyzed on the entire left side of his body and left with significant brain injury. The dad that came out of the stroke was someone who was nearly unrecognizable. He grew angry at times and would say things not fit to type on this blog. He was left with a fraction of the functionality he once enjoyed, and those who knew him best were left with a fraction of the man they once knew. Looking back at it, it must have been incredibly frustrating for him to realize all the things he could no longer do or struggled to due because of the stroke. I think the hardest thing for him, however, was the way in which the relationship with me and my brother fundamentally changed afterwards.
My mom could not take care of my dad and adequately raise me or my brother, so my dad moved out to Tennessee to be with his parents where they could afford full-time caretakers. He would go through several caretakers over the years. It takes a special kind of person to work with someone who’s had a stroke, especially a stroke with side effects like the ones my dad had. He was often volatile, and his mood was often subject to rapid change.
He would say things that were beyond the pale. Was this him, or was this his brain injury talking? I’m inclined to say it was more of the latter- but I suppose we’ll never truly know. Anyways, I never got to see my dad often. He would call everyday, and as I was younger at the time I’d often take those phone calls for granted. His message was always the same. He loved me, my brother, and my mom. He looked forward to the day when we’d all be together as a family again. I knew this day would never happen, but my dad stubbornly held out hope for this. I would see him at Christmas and during trips to my grandparent’s farm. He would come to Raleigh once or twice a year, and I always got the feeling he never wanted to leave. I often wonder what those plane rides back to Tennessee were like for him, as he was leaving his wife and boys behind. I wish he could have stayed at my house in Cary, North Carolina and had hired help to look after him. That way we could have at least visited him on the weekends and he could have seen us more often. I am told that this was impossible logistically, but I often doubt the veracity of such statements.
I’m not in full authority to state what his life was like in Tennessee, as I wasn’t there most of the time. However, what I saw while I was there was depressing. He’d often be sitting in the living room with his mom watching Fox News. I’m told by one of his friends that he said he’d cry when he saw a commercial on the television with a dad playing catch with their son. Hearing this broke my heart.
My dad would die quietly on a summer day in late May of 2012. His body was tired. I was 15 at the time, and as I watched my dad’s breath grow shallower and shallower, I cried out to God to ask if he could by chance stay. It was no use. It was his time to go home, and I am glad I was there when he departed this life into the next.
I often wonder what my dad’s life would have been like if he never had a stroke. I’ll never know. I do know he is perfectly whole and with the LORD. I look forward to seeing him again one day.
Until next time, dad.