A Stroke of What?

Tibetan endless knot

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A Stroke

The meaning of the word is interesting, isn’t it? Someone can be stroked by someone else, be slapped by someone else, have a stroke of luck, or have their brain slapped by itself resulting in some kind of disability. Recently a friend of mine had a stroke and she happens to be 88.

She was at home and suddenly felt her left arm lose feeling, her mouth lose control, and she felt off balance. She had a friend drive her to the Emergency Room where she put on lipstick before the doctor came into the room. The doctor briefly examined her, inquired about her symptoms, and told her it was fine to go home saying there was nothing seriously wrong as far as he could see.

Being a dutiful sort of person she didn’t argue but meekly left the hospital for her home twenty minutes away. As she is a very intelligent woman she immediately went to her computer, got online and googled her symptoms: she realized she had, in all probability, had a stroke. The symptoms became more pronounced and in twelve hours she returned to the Emergency Room without makeup or sophisticated dress and was taken more seriously. This time she did not allow herself to be dismissed and the doctor on call immediately understood the seriousness of the situation. He ordered a CAT scan which clearly spelled out where in her brain the stroke had happened. She was admitted instantly and treatment was begun.

Why am I telling this story? Well, for a lot of reasons. The obvious reason is that here is a story of how an older WOMAN can be viewed by medical personnel if she is wearing nice clothing, has makeup on, and discounts her symptoms. My friend was trained in childhood never to complain and she doesn’t. She is constantly brave and stalwart no matter what happens in her life and a lot has happened.

I am also telling the story because it is about death and how we feel about death. My daughter brought my friend a copy of the video done by Jill Bolte Taylor called “My Stroke of Insight” and they watched it together. For those of you who have not seen the video it is about the author’s experience of having a stroke at age 37 and what happened to her during the time she was experiencing the stroke and her subsequent recovery. It  has been all over the internet as people who watch it are inspired by Taylor’s description of her passage into a place where she had no control  and her resulting “right brain consciousness” She describes her transition into spirituality and a deeper understanding  of all that is possible in life.

To my daughter’s astonishment, my friend was disgusted by the video, claiming the scientist had publicized her experience to make money and discounting her insights into life and the spiritual side of things. The funny thing was later that day I visited the house bringing with me a copy of Taylor’s book not knowing my daughter had already previewed the film with my friend. I find this kind of synchronicity often happens with my daughter but that’s another tale.

Here’s my final analysis: I think all of us are frightened of death and the closer we get to it the more frightened we are. I have been with older people as they faced death and with younger people and I find that the younger people often have a more gentle outlook on what is going to happen after they move on from this life. Maybe because they have been exposed to a different type of spiritual understanding of life, the possibility of life after death, reincarnation or some type of reassuring picture that death is not a final journey where the light turns off and we are nonexistent. I think older people were not able to have the luxury that younger generations have of examining life and its meaning and hanging on to hope and to the idea of universal love. The power of actualization and the belief that you can create your own destiny. I have a feeling that if you haven’t ventured donw the spirituality path during your lifetime whether in church, temple or Buddhist meditation, you may have a hard time when faced with your own immortality.

My mother was terrified of death and often asked me what I thought happened once you stopped breathing. She once asked if I could go with her as it would “be more fun with me there”. In the end she fought dying with her every gasping breath, a death rattle that went on for two weeks. Painful to watch, not for me but for her.

My friend who had the stroke asked me recently what I thought happened after death and said she had read of those who meet dead friends who are sent to greet them. I agreed with her and said I believed this to be true. I am not sure she believed me but I was happy she was considering the possibility. I feel tremendous love for my friend and already a deep sense of loss for her place in my life. I like to be with people when they are at life’s end and hope that my comments are reassuring to them. It often surprises me at how reluctant the healthy are to discuss death with their loved ones who may be dying. If we spent a little time  understanding and accepting death while we are still vibrantly alive it might be helpful when we face the real thing.

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