This note was written by my parents some time after my mother’s stroke in 1975. She was 49, he was 54 and I was 13. The stroke affected her right side severely, she could walk with a brace and a cane but had no fine motor skills at all. She had to learn how to do everything with her left hand. In addition, the stroke screwed up her language abilities, she had aphasia for the rest of her life. It did get better over time but if she was tired, she had such a difficult time finding the right word to say.
Life changed drastically for our family. My siblings were out of the house and living their own lives, but I was just in the throes of adolescence and all the joys that comes with fluctuating hormones. Dad had to deal with a handicapped wife and a very confused teenage daughter. Mental health was never my father’s strong suit so it must have been hellish for him. Whatever else I could say about my dad, the one thing he did was to take care of mom (and me) after her stroke. He was her rock, although sometimes he had a tendency to roll right over her in his haste to do things his way. But he was there consistently.
My mother was a fiercely independent woman, not wanting any help, not wanting anyone to take away her sense of self. I used to cringe (which I believe was my job as a teenage girl) when she would sharply tell people “No, don’t help, I CAN DO IT MYSELF”. I always felt bad for the other person who had no idea why they had just committed a faux pas.
That is why I was so amazed when I read this note recently. It is one of those little things that survived all the various levels of organizing and moving when we closed up their house and sold it. I guess one day my mother decided to explain to my father exactly why she went crazy when someone offered help. And he, in unusual fashion, responded in this wonderfully sweet way. It is so loving and so, well, communicative.
I always thought that communication between the two of them was never a thing of beauty, so this note comes as a bit of a surprise. And it shows just how much I have to learn about who my parents were, especially when they weren’t busy being “mom” and “dad”. It also shows how much I am learning about communication in my own marriage, and how much easier life is when the other person knows what is going on in your brain. I often tell my husband, “I can’t read your mind but I have an awesome imagination…chances are that whatever I come up with is going to be way worse than the reality…it’s better if you just tell me what’s going on.” And I am working on not being the stoic that my mother was and holding onto pain and anger and confusion.
Marriage is a lifelong job and each year I find more job requirements that I didn’t know were on the list. But I hope that I continue to love my husband as much as my parents loved each other.