A Stroke Struck and Changed My Family Forever

Time waits for no one. Can ten years fly like a stroke of lightning? Was it not yesterday I was disillusioned by what happened on August 16th, 2007? Was the pain not sharper than the sharpest razor blade ever manufactured? Didn’t I struggle to believe the saying that time will ease the emotional injury and eventually heal me? Wow! As I look back this month, I have no option but to thank God for where He has brought me and my loved ones from. If it had not been Him on our side all these years, where would we be? Time has indeed reduced the indescribable pain. May the name of the Lord be glorified for ever more.

Back in 2003, an unexpected phone call from my younger brother Osa woke me from deep slumber. He had bad news! His close friend in Nigeria had just called informing him our mother suffered a stroke – the right side of her body was paralyzed. A very cold chill raced down my spine as it dawned on me all her children resided outside the country. We were thousands of miles away. How was she going through this nightmare without anyone of us by her side? Tears became the order of the moment and stayed so till I broke the news to my younger sister Uyi who lived in the same city with me.

Trying to imagine our mother partially paralyzed was traumatizing. After all, I just saw a few months ago. She bubbled with so much life during her vacation with us in the U.S. I saw her off to the airport and stood there waving and watching her till she was out of sight. Little did I know I was watching my mother walking with her two legs unsupported for the last time. Such is life!

Preceding the advent of a stroke, my mother lived in the world of happiness she created for herself. We called it “her paradise.” She loved convenience and paid for it in an instant. She always had a staff for any and everything – a house help, a cook, driver, gardener and security or Gatemen like we call them. My mom did not need to lift a finger as everything was done for her.

Her love for God was immeasurable. I remember her gathering children in the neighborhood and wetting their fleeting appetites with cookies so that by the time the real food (the Word of God) came they had no choice but to participate. She also dedicated a room in our house to prayer. When we were young, my siblings and I used to dread being summoned into that room. We were known to spend at least one full hour in prayer with hunger pangs struggling to strip us of the little concentration we battled to maintain.

Entertaining people was something my mother did with a raw passion. Even if we had a visitor at midnight, she had a unique way of coming up with a dish with or without ingredients in the house. Her love for music went side by side with entertaining people. Back in the early seventies my mother connected loudspeakers from her bedroom all the way to the kitchen. How can I forget how the whole house woke up to classical music or hymns most mornings? As music had a permanent place in our house so did my mother’s love for art. From sculptures to paintings, she bought them like they were going out of fashion. Assorted flowers in her well kept garden was priceless for her. She talked to her plants every day and mourned even when the ugliest flower in the garden died.

One of us had to travel to Nigeria to be with our darling mother. Although the timing was bad for all us because coincidentally, we were all dealing with individual storms raging like mad dogs in our lives, my brother Osa, her only son and last child hopped on the next available flight.

Reality set in as Osa arrived in Lagos, Nigeria. Our mother was worse than we imagined. The original plan to get her taken care of till she was strong enough to travel to the U.S. a month or two later went out of the window. Osa had to bring her back with him. They left three weeks later on a flight with a stopover in London.

Uyi and I spent the morning preparing to receive our mother. I had a hard time mentally picturing what laid ahead. For one, I can’t stand seeing people sick or suffering. How was I going to stomach seeing my mother sick and helpless? I had no choice but to sweep my fears under the rug of fate and wait till I set my eyes on her. On the other hand, my sister was more than prepared. She loves caring for people and had once toyed with the idea of pursuing Nursing. She was mentally and physically ready to take on the challenge of looking after our mother.

I can never forget the moment we met our mum and Osa at the Arrivals area of the airport. We were so shocked to see our beloved mother! She was a far cry from the woman I saw off to the airport the last time she visited. Who would have imagined her next visit to the U.S. would be in a wheelchair? I was speechless, frozen with fear and in denial. Her size and exuberance had shrunk so much – she was half her size and so helpless. Her signature laughter that always announced her presence was nowhere to be found. She could hardly talk. I remained in a cocoon of shock the whole day. I just could not look at her in the face. How could I?

That night I got into bed with her. She was lying on her back and staring at the ceiling as if she was looking for answers to the many questions on her mind. She seemed to be glad to be around her children and grandchildren but I knew my mother was wrestling with the unfortunate trap her body was caught in. I laid besides her in total silence. Sleep was far from me because of how much I ached emotionally. I looked at her in the dark and noticed tears rolling down into her pillow. I was also weeping in silence until I summoned up strength and asked in a voice like I just woke up “Are you okay Mommy?” She whispered to me “I am fine my dear.”

The first few weeks were rough. We wore the cloak of patience, dedication and tolerance as we did everything under the sun for our mother. She was like a new baby in our helpless arms. I babysat her at night while my sister took care of her during the day. Although we were feeling burnt out because we didn’t know better plus the guilt of seeing her like that plagued us a great deal. Her visit to a particular doctor opened another chapter.

Series of tests were performed on her and she was referred for Physical Therapy. Her first day in therapy was the beginning of the slow death of dependence in the life of my mother. The beautiful but assertive American therapist made my mother do some things we never imagined she could do even with the presence of partial paralysis. The therapist made us promise not to assist her except it was necessary. I openly welcomed the idea with relief but inwardly doubted if my mother could cope – she was used to being pampered. My mom did not find this verdict funny. How could she? We assured her it was going to be a gradual process for her own good. This was the beginning of the gradual banishment of my mother totally relying on us or anybody to do things for her.

We started by ignoring her constant request to be put on the next available flight back to her comfort zone in Lagos, Nigeria. We were not going to help her escape to her “paradise” because with the stroke she had to do it herself or resign to the fate of permanent paralysis. As our mother attended therapy on a constant basis, she saw some patients coming in without hands or legs but a fierce determination to do things without assistance. She started seeing the liability of depending on others to do the little things you can do for yourself. This motivated her and with time, faith, and encouragement from everyone, she started doing things for herself to the point of mastering the use of her left hand and leg. She learned to groom herself without assistance, get into and out of bed by herself, move around with little or no assistance, feed herself using her left hand and even go on outings with the family with minimal assistance.

She improved dramatically and realized that her idea of “paradise” was actually hell because the ability to do things by yourself is an invaluable asset. Although the stroke is the worst thing one can experience, in my mother’s case it helped us learn some invaluable lessons. For one, it exposed the ugly side of dependence, taught us patience and tolerance, increased our faith in God that nothing is impossible, fostered unity in our family and discouraged taking advantage of any situation. We learned to live every single day intentionally.

We were privileged to have our mother for four more years. We all rotated caring for her in our homes for 6 months to one year at a time. At about 9:30pm on August 16, 2007, our beloved mother went to glory. It left a huge void in our lives but 10 years later, I can look back and thank God for seeing us through this very stormy but valuable part of our lives.

Darling Mommy, though it still seems like yesterday, your lovely memory will continually linger in our hearts. I miss you so, so much! Fond, memories of the good times, your unique laughter, jokes, mozzarella and almond craze and all you stood for. I am eternally grateful to God for the privilege of having a mother like you. I will always love and cherish you. Thank you for bringing me to this world, the beautiful life you gave all of us, your values and all you stood for. No day passes without a memory of you. May your beautiful continue to rest in peace until we meet again.

May the souls of all our loved ones departed, rest in perfect peace, in Jesus’ name.