Even though it sounds like a lot, you really can’t grasp the concept until it happens to one of your family members.
My mom was a lucky one. She survived. Today she walks, talks, and fully functions as the mom I always knew (with only a few hiccups ;).
However, 2012 was a very different story.
Mom went in for a routine hysterectomy and came out with a stroke. “Unexplainable,” they said. She was left completely paralyzed, unable to speak, and on the edge of death.
There was no doubt in my mind that she wouldn’t recover. Despite the gloomy predictions, I knew what she was capable of and that her strength, determination, and just plain ol’ stubbornness would carry her through.
To this day, I always say “Love + Led Zeppelin” healed my mother, but to be quite honest, she truly is a miracle.
It took months of therapy and practice, but over time, she began to walk, talk and regain awareness.
It was incredible to watch, really. Like a child relearning everything for the first time. A sense of wonder was reborn in my mom and I could see her light shining again. She lives life in the present moment. The stroke allows her the gift of living life one moment at a time, free of worry and forgiveness of the past.
One of my favorite nuggets of wisdom she spoke to us in the first month of recovery was this truth: “Que sera sera.” (Granted, she said “ser-e ser-e” which made it quite funny and in fact was a clear sign she was on her way to being “Mom” again.)
A few months after the stroke I asked her, “Why do you think you had the stroke?” Her reply was a total game changer for me.
She said. “Because everybody needed something from me.”
I am forever changed by the person I’ve had to become because of this blessing in disguise. I know that so many of us have experienced suffering of some kind. Whether it be in your life, your parents, your partner, your children or your friend – we can all connect on a deeper compassionate level that says, “I understand your hurts.”
Without suffering, we would never have the strength to grow our wings. (Ironically enough, my mom’s first tattoo was a butterfly.) Life gifts us with the opportunity for our spirit to grow in faith, strength, and courage. If only we could be thankful for the blessings that spur our growth, we would be given the mindset of peace in the present.
All I could do was accept. Accept the present moment just as it was. I couldn’t waste my energy worrying about the future. I could only live each day at a time in faith that my mom would recover.
I discovered a mindset of acceptance – thankfulness – determination – faith – and unconditional love.
These are the truths in which I now live by. I can thank my mother for all the things she has done in my life like show up to my soccer games, sew my button on last minute before school, taxi me around for 16 years, mash up my potatoes because the way she does it always taste better, but the one thing I really want to thank you for mom is your determination to make it happen and never give up!
Mom, You are a total badass in my book and I’m forever thankful for your journey that’s eternally woven into mine. You are my greatest teacher, friend, supporter, and mashed’ potato maker. Your suffering was my greatest inspiration to be the best version of myself. I’m thankful for the growth in love and faith that it has brought to all of the lives you have touched.
Life has taught me to be grateful for each day and not take it for granted. You never know when your story will end. Connect with the ones you love and forgive the rest.
Carry on the wisdom of the ones that you’ve lost and made sure you ask those unasked questions to the ones you still have.
I interviewed my mom last year on the fourth anniversary of her rebirth. Together we dive into the past and uncover the lessons learned, wisdom gained and struggles that my mom overcame during life after her stroke. She’ll share inspiring tidbits of wisdom, advice on how to live life in the present, and how her stroke has positively affected her life.
00:02 Brit Carmichael: Okay. So today marks four years since my mom has had a stroke. She was completely paralyzed. She forgot how to speak, and everything else along with it. Today we’re celebrating four years of life after the stroke, so I wanna introduce my mom, and here she is. Her name is Kathy. Please introduce yourself.
00:27 Kathy Powell: My name is Kathy Powell. I’m Brit’s mom…
00:38 BC: And you’re a bad ass.
00:40 KP: If you say so. [chuckle]
00:43 BC: Okay, well I just wanted to interview you on this day because it’s so special. I mean it’s been four years since your stroke and so many amazing things have come from it. Even though it sounds like such a tragic accident or situation. So my first question to you is, how has having the stroke changed your life and what benefits have you gained?
01:08 KP: I think many benefits have come out of having a stroke, but the main thing is just having to work harder at everything.
01:35 BC: So, more focus?
01:37 KP: It takes much more focus to do the things that you take for granted everyday.
01:52 BC: What’s one specific thing that is harder for you to do now, than maybe it was before your stroke? If anything.
02:04 KP: I think the hardest thing is my right-handed weakness, I have a hard time opening jars and doing things like that. And it was easy before the stroke, I had no trouble opening jars and doing stuff like that.
02:39 BC: Okay. What is the first memory you have after your stroke and coming back to awareness?
02:49 KP: Well, the good-looking nurse that was [chuckle] taking care of me in the hospital was my first real vivid memory.
03:08 BC: When did you become aware that you had a stroke, or that you couldn’t speak, or that you couldn’t walk or move?
03:16 KP: I think it was about two and a half weeks after I had had the stroke. When I was becoming aware of everything. I don’t really remember much in hospital. My awareness came in Brentwood. But they were taking me down when I was still in the hospital, they were wheeling me down for a swallow test, and that is the main thing I remember, being wheeled down and they wanted me to swallow, but I had been eating everything prior, and they just didn’t realize [chuckle] it, and that’s the most vivid first memory I have.
04:39 BC: When did you realize that you were, I don’t know, not different, but that you couldn’t walk or that you couldn’t speak, what was the first thought or feeling you had when you became aware that you weren’t able to communicate?
05:00 KP: I don’t know, I just remember being so determined, I was going to walk again. I didn’t think about I couldn’t walk again. I thought, “How am I going to get better?”
05:17 BC: Wow. So do you think that your mindset of believing that you would walk again, played a part of being able to walk again?
05:26 KP: Most definitely.
05:37 BC: Yeah. Wow. Were you ever scared?
05:49 KP: I can’t say I was ever really scared. I knew that God had something in store for me.
06:05 BC: What do you think your purpose is, now that you’ve been given “a second chance”?
06:13 KP: Spreading love like I always did. That has been my purpose all along through this life.
06:24 BC: So why do you think you had a stroke?
06:28 KP: Well…
06:29 BC: What did it teach you?
06:31 KP: It taught me to just go with the flow. I think that I really tried to do that pre-stroke, but of course, I fell short a lot of times, and I will fall short in going on. But I want to tell everyone, just relax.
07:13 BC: Yeah. Bottomline?
07:17 KP: Don’t sweat the small stuff. That’s the bottom line. Chill.
07:26 BC: If you could give yourself one piece of advice, you now to you before the stroke, what would that advice be?
07:35 KP: Relax.
07:36 BC: Relax?
07:36 KP: Mm-hmm.
07:37 BC: Okay. How do you relax now?
07:42 KP: Sit outside with nature and soak in the sun and shut my mind off to the world.
07:52 BC: If you could accomplish one thing over the next year, what would it be?
08:04 KP: Again, just learn how to relax and go with the flow, people.
08:16 BC: I told you she was a bad ass.
08:19 BC: What one piece of advice would you give to someone who has suffered a traumatic experience?
09:15 BC: Well, that’s how you relax, huh?
09:16 KP: Yeah. Yes.
09:17 BC: Stop thinking.
09:23 BC: How do you feel like it affected our family?
09:34 KP: Well, I think it brought our immediate family much closer together. Well, it fragmented it for a second, but when the chips fell to the floor, they rallied and pull together.
10:07 BC: Yeah. What’s one thing that you would go back and tell yourself if you were… If you could talk to yourself, laying in the bed, at the hospital at Brentwood, what’s one piece of advice would you give yourself right then in that moment?
10:34 KP: Hold on.
10:34 BC: Hold on?
10:35 KP: Mm-hmm.
10:36 BC: I like it. What do you want the world to remember you by? What if you didn’t wake up that day four years ago? What would you want the world to remember you for?
10:48 KP: My incredible spirit of love.
10:58 BC: That’s deep.
11:06 KP: I want to spread love. I want everyone to feel love.
11:15 BC: Do you feel like people misunderstood you after you had your stroke?
11:23 KP: Some people, yeah.
11:28 BC: It’s funny because so many doctors said that you wouldn’t walk again, or you wouldn’t talk again, nor you wouldn’t make it for very long. What do you have to say about that?
11:40 KP: I say, bullshit. Look at me now.
11:48 BC: Wow, you’re a miracle.
11:52 KP: I feel like a miracle.
12:01 BC: Is there anything that you wanted to share during that time but didn’t know how to?
12:19 KP: Just chill, people. Life’s not so serious. Don’t take life so serious.
12:30 BC: How? How do you do that?
12:33 KP: Laugh, play, enjoy life.
12:41 BC: Yeah. You’re a wise old bird.
12:46 BC: Well, is there any last thing that you would like to share with the world, to inspire or encourage them? Maybe through a tough time or maybe they haven’t even gone through something so traumatic as having recovered from a paralyzing stroke but maybe they’ve just been hard on themselves. What is just one last thing you would share with the world? So that they don’t have to bring a stroke or traumatic event upon themselves, to shift their mindset. I asked you before this interview, “Why did you have the stroke?” And you said, “Everybody needed something from me.”
13:47 BC: Did you think that was selfish to do before?
13:50 KP: Extremely selfish I thought. Thinking of myself was selfish. But now I know I can’t give myself freely if I don’t have any left for me to… Well, I have to refill and refuel myself to give freely to anyone else.
14:22 BC: So, it’s up to you?
14:23 KP: Yes.
14:25 BC: Give to yourself first and then you have an abundance to give to others?
14:30 KP: Indeed, that’s the truth.
14:37 BC: Well, I think that’s it. I think we nailed it.
14:41 KP: Nailed it.
14:41 BC: Nailed it.
14:44 BC: I’m thankful for your life. What’s one thing that you are grateful for right now in this moment?
14:51 KP: My spending time with you talking about my stroke.
14:58 BC: Is it easy for you to share your story? Or do you feel like you have some hangups on that or…
15:05 KP: I have a few hangups. Like I told you, I have a little confidence problem with my speaking.
15:19 BC: And it’s so interesting to me to watch you from the outside because I don’t feel like there’s any difference and I don’t think that anyone listening is gonna know either. Especially from month one, year one, year two. So now we’re at year four. And nobody would know. You use to tell everybody, “I had a stroke.” And it was a little like, “Okay, yeah, there’s something going on with you but you’re kinda normal.” Now today, nobody would know.
15:48 KP: Yes. I was… I would tell everyone, “Oh, I had a stroke.” I don’t do that now. When I’m in a public setting with people I don’t freely share I had a stroke and no one knows.
16:11 BC: No. No, most people that haven’t had strokes are a little bit more crazy than you are, mom.
16:17 BC: Okay, so, what made you shift… Before we go, what made you shift your story? Why did you stop telling people?
16:25 KP: I just grew more confident and I have a little more control of, over my speech.
16:39 BC: Is that something you learned or, do you know how you’re controlling it?
16:46 KP: Just practice, practice, practice.
16:50 BC: Yeah. [chuckle] Perfect.
16:54 BC: Well, that is the truth. All we’re doing in this life is practicing and really it’s practicing to enjoy, practising to live life, not to do life but to be life.
17:07 KP: In the moment.
17:10 BC: Yes.
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