A few months ago my Mom had mentioned a play that was going to happen at the Fringe this summer. I was surprised because as far as I know, neither of my parents have ever been to a Fringe event or play. But she said it had something to do with a stroke survivor and it might be good for us to go.
Many years ago, my Dad suffered a few strokes. It kinda changed everything for our family. I guess I never really thought about it because it’s just the way it is. But I can barely remember what it was like before when my Dad could eat without choking or throwing up, walk across the room without falling down or losing balance, remember the way home from the coffee shop down the road… But to be fair, he has recovered pretty darn well for someone who doesn’t believe in self-care. I credit my Mom for him being alive.
Anyway, tonight we three went to the Fringe show “My Stroke of Luck” at the Walterdale Theater. I was super nervous because Dad forgot to wear his fall alert alarm again, and I couldn’t find him. I was worried he had gotten lost again, or maybe he couldn’t find parking in the busy streets, maybe they left late and wouldn’t make it on time. I realize I worry about Mom and Dad a lot. Well, I didn’t realize it until I watched this play. And it hit me like a ton of bricks.
Diane Barnes tells her experience as a high functioning doctor and ambitious single mother that has to relearn everything after suffering a stroke. The few moments that she stuttered would probably go unnoticed by most, but I felt the same twinge I feel when my Dad struggles with his words and speech. She recounts how her friends, workmates family, and most importantly her children reacted. It was extremely raw for me to watch because I realized that I had never really processed my Dads health events. On two occasions I was the one who discovered him unresponsive and it was extremely traumatic. But I didn’t dare allow myself to feel sad or scared or stressed because thank god at least he was alive! They said he could have died. They said he WOULD have died if I hadn’t have called 911 when I did. I can tell you now, that does something to a kid.
Diane roleplayed her young sons, who were trying to take care of her, but she was too stubborn to allow it. The woman took forever to even admit that she had suffered a stroke! Sounds familiar. My Dad still denies or downplays it sometimes.
As she is a doctor by trade, she explained a lot of stuff I didn’t know about strokes. I felt so much compassion for my Dad, and all that I didn’t realize goes on with that. She spoke of an intense splitting headache and described the physical and mental process that stroke victims experience. This was all new to me because my Dad doesn’t talk about that stuff. He never admits he is in pain. Diane’s explanation was so helpful and started to make sense of my Dad’s strange behaviors. It really hit home that Dad lives with brain injury.
I guess what made the most impact on me was the recollection of how her kids processed the change. I found myself in tears. I had never really given myself the space or time to feel sad or mourn the loss of my Dad. Sure he is still here, but he is a different guy now. I take care of him now and I am honored to do it. But something changed that day when I saw my Dad in the hospital bed white as the sheets he lay in, and barely able to breathe. It was like he had aged 25 years in 10 seconds. A lot of feelings came up that day, but the only one that I allowed was strength. I had to be strong for Dad. It seems like a thing (some) kids automatically do when a parent gets sick. But it takes a toll. I am seeing that now. I learned that I have some healing to do. And I feel hopeful because finally, I am accessing the emotions I had pushed down years and years ago.
After the show, with tears in my eyes, I got to give Diane a big hug. Her play was not only a drama and comedy, it was also medicine. I let her know how meaningful her sharing was for me. I turned around and introduced her to my Dad who to my surprise also gave her a big hug. He explained he had also had a stroke. I could see he felt connection and understanding. My heart beamed. I guess we all healed a little tonight. Thank you Diane. Though you no longer go to work in the hospital, you are still a doctor, treating from the stage.