Tuesday 7 August 2012

Talking to Loved Ones Who Can't Answer

Our family was at the cottage recently when we got news of an old friend who had died young of a heart attack.  That got us talking about memories of infirmity and serious illness.  I began to recall my Dad - he was only 52 when he suffered his first stroke.  It was the result of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history and smoking.  My Dad would go on to suffer two more catastrophic strokes, including the last one which killed him.

But, before he died, my Dad was non-speaking for two years.  During that time, he could walk, but mostly used a manual wheelchair to get around our house. He was depressed and frustrated that he could not speak.  Most of all, he despised being dependent - this was a decorated WW11 soldier who had been an elite ice hockey player and a successful businessman.  Nothing in his upbringing gave him the tools to deal with being completely dependent on others to complete simple activities of daily living.

I remember once when there was a snowstorm, my sister was planning to return to university after Christmas holidays.  She was chatting about plans to drive with a friend the next day when my Dad gestured emphatically for a pad and paper.  Always a talented artist, he drew a train.  "Yeah!  Yeah!" he said, pointing to the image.  My sister booked a train ticket and Dad sat back, satisfied he had acted to protect his daughter from a possible car crash due to terrible weather conditions.

Just before he died, Dad was in a coma.  I remember sitting with him and talking.  I talked and talked about my life, my hopes and my dreams.  I don't know if he registered all my words, but I remember being convinced at the time that he felt the love and yearning in my words.  Years later, sitting beside my mother in law just days before she passed away, I did the same thing.  I talked.

I believe that our loved ones hear us, even when they cannot respond.  There is something very fundamental about love and loving words that can be experienced by everyone, no matter how disabling their conditions might be.

This morning, a story in the Guardian newspaper tells the extraordinary story of man who, after suffering a catastrophic stroke followed by 'locked in' syndrome, suddenly woke up and recovered.  There is hope in this story and there is evidence that it's worthwhile talking to our relatives who cannot answer.


BLOOM - Parenting Kids With Disabilities said...

I'm so glad you wrote about your dad. I can imagine how devastating it was to him to lose his voice given his upbringing and attitudes about dependence at the time. Your story about continuing to talk to him -- even after he was in a coma -- is beautiful and meaningful. It's certainly how I would hope my loved ones would treat me. And I believe in communication that surpasses words and hearing.

Julie said...

I have always talked to Meredith with the assumption that she DOES understand me. How tragic to think otherwise. With that said, I have sometimes slipped and spoken about things that perhaps are too grown up for her young ears but i am always assured that she is the holder of my secrets never to repeat a word that comes out of my mouth.

The Caregivers' Living Room said...

Julie, Nicholas is non-speaking but he can say a clear yes and no. One time that I remember and still laugh about is when he gave away one of my secrets! We were at the doctor and it was during a time in our family when my husband was away working all the time and I was basically raising the kids by myself. My little rebellion/pleasure was a cigarette (smoke blown up the chimney of the fireplace) after the kids went to sleep. (I given up completely now but I still miss it!) Anyway, Nick knew about my secret and when the doctor asked if I smoked, Nicholas answered "Yeah!" and laughed. I glared at him and didn't say a word. Little rascal.