I wasn’t going to write about this… Didn’t see the need, didn’t want anyone to reassure me, don’t need it. I STILL don’t need that. So if you’re reading this, please, immediately realize this: I know I’m not the only person to go through something like this, and I’m not writing about it to elicit sympathy. I’m writing about it to sort out my own thoughts and feelings about it. This medium just happens to be public, and I happen to be OK with that.
This is for me, not you. Just count yourselves lucky you get to peer through the looking glass into my life. Yes, I’m being tongue-in-cheek. Seriously, I’m OK. Read and be entertained or horrified. I expect nothing more or less.
At the end of March, I took a road trip to the west coast with my best friend. It was definitely epic, fraught with hilarity and, quite often, Doritos. We spent some time in Vancouver, among other places, where I got to reconnect with my erstwhile French-Canadienne cousine. She described to me how her parents are doing (her dad — my mum’s twin brother, a thoroughly delightful and stubborn French-born European man — is an amusing topic of conversation for both of us), and how she’s been enjoying living in VanCity since she moved out there about two years ago from Montréal.
We had breakfast together with a group of friends at the Zen Café in Kitsilano. As she was telling me about her parents’ retirement and such, her expression changed to one of anger.
“Get this,” she tells me, recounting her recent summer trip to Scandinavia. “While I was away, Dad had a stroke. And he didn’t tell me until TWO MONTHS after,” she said, clearly enraged, “because he didn’t want to ‘ruin my travel plans.’ Can you fucking believe that?” she asked me, her French accent clearly accentuated by her rage.
“That’s insane,” I said, telling her that if my father did something like that, I’d gladly tear him a brand new one and demand that he thank me for the experience.
My uncle’s OK, and taking all the necessary medical advice, getting tested, etc. In short, his stubbornness gave way to a more pragmatic approach to existence. At the behest of his entire family (and no doubt his own well-formed and often-firing synapses), he’s getting the medical help he needs to ensure his lifestyle is conducive to longevity and not, you know, more strokes.
At the end of our road trip, on our way back to Edmonton, we stopped off at my parents’ house in Calgary, as the way from VanCity is long. The morning we were leaving Cowtown and headed back to the ‘Chuk, I shared my cousin’s story with Mum and Dad, channeling her indignation and revulsion at her father’s failure to share his malady with the people to whom he means the most. My dad smiled perceptively.
“Well, son,” He began. I grinned, thinking some hilarious quip would be imparted to me. “I, uh, I had a stroke too, just a few weeks ago.”
WHAT? I looked over at my mum, who nodded slowly with an expression that said, “Yeah, he’s not bullshitting you, kiddo.”
“Uh… WHAT?” I asked, my mouth deciding to play catch-up with my brain.
“Yeah,” Dad continued. “We were driving home one day, and when I parked and went to get out of the car my right leg wasn’t working properly.”
At this point, my mother starts laughing and says, “He was clomping his foot on the floor of the garage like a horse, or something.”
Now, I don’t know how much bad news you’ve received in your lifetime. If you’re approaching your 30s, as I am, I’d wager you’ve heard your share of wonderful and devastating news. Oftentimes, there isn’t any other way to deal with it than tears. Or disbelief and agape expressions. Or in the case of my morbid family, outright laughter.
Dad laughed, “Yeah, it was so weird. I just couldn’t step down properly.”
“Well… are you OK? I mean, was it serious?”
I’m a idiot: a stroke is always serious. My father’s blood pressure on one side of his body was absolutely through the roof. On the other side, it was perfectly normal. The doc called it a mini-stroke, which I think is doctorspeak for an “it-could-have-been-worse-but-is-still-a-really-fucking-serious-and-probably-life-changing” event.
“So,” I continued. “You were stomping your foot on the garage floor? Like Clever Hans working out a math problem?”
Mum just laughed again. “Are you OK? I mean, what next?” I asked.
Dad explained that he’d made an appointment with a stroke clinic to make sure he’s doing all the right things — from now on — so he’ll be around for awhile. He seemed fine to me. I mean, his hand-writing was a fair sight messier than before, but other than that, Dad was Dad. Normal dude, still making the same inappropriate comments as his children, still attracting the scornful and bemused looks of his wife of 40 years…
That was at the end of March.
Mum and Dad were in town this weekend for my future sister-in-law’s wedding shower. I went over there after the shower to join my entire family — both of my brothers, their spouses and my parents — for a BBQ… and I couldn’t help but feel that my dad looked… feebler.
And I don’t know if he was. Probably not.
He had the same energy, same disposition, same awful commentary. But he wasn’t quite so… I don’t know. There was less of him. He was diminished. And I haven’t really had the chance to parse my own perception, but this is how I felt: like I couldn’t hug him too hard, or rough-house him as usual. And the worst of it is that whether this perception was accurate or not, if he was reading this he would be pissed. Pissed that I would see him differently as a result of a “mini-stroke.”
But there are no such things as “mini-strokes.”
This whole viewpoint was probably exacerbated by my aunt — Dad’s half sister — a thoroughly wonderful woman, whom I love dearly. She phoned me last week, while I was climbing into the car to head home from work. She told me she’d heard about Dad’s “mini-stroke.” She proceeded to reassure me that he was going to be fine, that — after all — he was going to a clinic and getting checked out, and getting the best advice from the best doctors in the Foot Hills. I really didn’t feel like I needed this. Because a mini-stoke isn’t that serious, right? But after awhile, I became more troubled…
My aunt had more information than I did. Foot Hills? Clinic? What?
I was annoyed. And confused. Was this serious enough that I needed reassurance from her? Did I need to have some fear allayed, told that Dad would figure out how best to deal with this?
It hadn’t occurred to me that this was that serious. But it was. It is.
I don’t know if I saw Dad differently on the weekend because he actually was different or if it was because I was different. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is that the stakes have changed. Like it or not, my parents are getting older, and they’re entering that stage of their lives where things can go one way or another very quickly. We’re fortunate in that my family’s medical history isn’t terribly storied. Aside from a few blemishes here and there, we’re a long-lived, healthy bunch. Small comfort, I suppose, and most definitely besides the point.
Am I worried about Dad? Sure I am. I only have one, after all, and I’d very much like for him to stick around — and not just to lavish attention on me and my future accomplishments, but as a foil, a confidante, a friend, and a support. It’s easy to dismiss our parents as lacking the understanding to really “get” us. But their experiences at reckoning the world and their place within it isn’t so different than ours, though the times and tech have changed.
I want both my parents to stick around as long as possible. Obviously.
Who else is going to subtly hint at me that I’m doing everything wrong?
The point of this writing isn’t to illicit sympathy or words of reassurance. I’ve had enough of that from family (but seriously, thanks for thinking of me and reading this far).
Nor am I here to impart some new wisdom you haven’t heard before. I’m just putting things together for myself…
The point is this: (and I don’t care how cliché it sounds) call or go see your Mum and Dad and remind them that, in spite of it all, you really do appreciate their assistance with — you know — BEING BORN, and that even though you don’t always agree with them, and sometimes they just don’t fucking get it, you really really do appreciate all the things they’ve done, the sacrifices they’ve made for you, and the wonderful and varied flaws that comprise their characters. Tell them you love them, in no uncertain terms.
Seriously, they need to know. Parents need reassurance as much as we do. They’re just as flawed, just as fragile, and just as human. Even if they’ve always seemed larger than life.
Love you, Dad. Be well.