Ten years ago I found myself facing challenges I never could have imagined. Ten years ago this week I woke from brain surgery learning I had a stroke during the operation. I was twenty-seven. What was it that allowed me to embrace the challenges faced while recovering from this event? Where does that inner strength and determination come from? I really can’t answer these questions. Whatever it was, wherever it came from, is unknown, yet I am fiercely grateful for this drive. I can walk independently now. I can speak clearly without slurring my words. I celebrate doing simple things in life most people take for granted. I do all these things which, not so long ago, would have been unthinkable accomplishments if I had allowed myself to accept the speculated dismal outcomes predicted.
Each year I ask myself if the 25th of June should be celebrated as an anniversary or as a birthday. Anniversaries are happy days set up to celebrate the joining of two lives. Some might not understand why the date of my stroke would be considered a happy day. It is though. I have always believed it is only when life knocks you down beyond where you could have imagined that you really learn to appreciate all the beauty life delivers. When you climb the mountain of challenges placed in front of you, this is really when you appreciate the beautiful gifts of life. My life before was happy. And, though it is different in so many ways, the life I live now is also joyfully celebrated. So, rightfully, happy anniversary to me for the day which taught me the true potential to change, grow and appreciate the gift of living. Each year is a happy celebration of joining my life as it is today and the years that helped mold the strength which allowed me to overcome challenges.
Or, should I say Happy Birthday to me? No, it is not my true birthday in the traditional sense of the word. However, the stroke changed who I am. I know I am not the same person I was before my stroke. I accept that. I even rejoice this. I recognize I am a different person in some ways. I am stronger. I have more empathy for the difficulties people face. I am more attentive to the gifts life offers. I am more grateful for each and every day I have. Life now is never taken for granted. Similar to an infant in many ways, the stroke forced me to learn developmental tasks once again. I learned how to walk and tie my shoes. I learned how to catch a ball, hold a pencil and hold my beautiful babies in my arms. I learned these early lessons again with the coordination of an inexperienced toddler, yet having the eyes of an experienced adult. In this perspective, happy birthday to me.
Tuesday, the night of my ten year anniversary/birthday ended with my youngest, an eleven year-old, making a tent and sleeping in my room. She was sleeping near my bed, and I reached out my arm to rub her back. She turned over and grabbed my hand. She was rubbing my arm up and down, up and down. Constant repetitive touches on my left arm and leg have been painful since I had my stroke. I asked her to stop and reminded her rubbing me like that hurts. She said, “Give me your other hand then.” I gave her my right hand. She didn’t question it. This is her norm. This is just how her mom is. On this night, we fell asleep with her holding my right hand. I can only hope in the next ten years of our lives we can continue to grow and create as many happy memories of success stories as we’ve discovered this past decade.