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Thankful for a stroke or health crisis? A different Thanksgiving weekend column – Terry Pluto’s Faith & You


CLEVELAND, Ohio – I was talking to a friend about her mother, who just turned 80.

Nine years ago, her mother went through a stroke and later major heart surgery.

“We are closer now than ever,” she said.

We talked about her mother’s birthday party at a nursing home. She visits her mother five days a week. They talk on the phone daily. For several years after the stroke, her mother lived in her home until more care was needed.

“I love her so much,” my friend said.

“Do you think you’d be close if she hadn’t had the stroke?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “It’s been so hard. But it has dramatically changed our relationship.”

Her mother has said the same thing. The stroke was a life-changer for both of them. It’s a draining physical hardship for the mother and a major emotional burden for both of them.

But had it never happened, their relationship would lack the depth it has today. The old emotional wounds and resentments would still be bleeding.

Through a crisis, a healing has come.

Thankful for the stroke? On the surface, of course not.

But without it, their relationship would still be a source of pain rather than the comfort of today.

My friend knows someone who has had to step up and help with her parents in a long-term care situation.

“It’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do,” my friend told her friend. “But you’ll never regret it.”

I feel the same way.

Tom & Terry Pluto

Tom and Terry Pluto from 1965. Pluto Family Collection.

A PERSONAL STORY

Why write about this during Thanksgiving weekend?

Earlier in the week, I wrote a column thanking the readers.

But in the Faith & You, I wanted to go deeper. I opened with my friend’s story because it’s much like my own story – and the stories of others in my age range.

In 1993, my father had a major stroke. I was so naive about it, I had no idea that strokes hitting the left side of the brain can impair a person’s speech. That happened to my father. His vocabulary was reduced to a single word – “Man.” Sometimes, it was “Oh, Man!”

The left side of the brain also controls the right side of the body. My father lost the use of his right hand and leg – and he was right-handed. Brushing teeth, eating — almost anything requiring his right hand became an ordeal.

There were times when tears came down from feeling helpless.

My friend’s mother didn’t lose her speech. Her left side is paralyzed. She draws with her right hand and has discovered she has artistic talent. She is thankful for that.

My father was great with numbers. But that disappeared with the stroke. So did his ability to read. It was a long, nearly five-year ordeal with my father before he died on his 78th birthday.

Anyone in a major long-term care situation knows about helping someone get dressed and even go to the bathroom. They discovered the need to cut up food, dealing with doctors and pharmacies.

There are those late nights staring at the ceiling wondering, “How can I can face another day?”

Would I want my father to go through that again? No.

Am I thankful it happened? Yes.

THE THINKING CHAIR

When it’s just us…alone…can we see how God worked in our lives during times of trouble? Photo by Terry Pluto / Cleveland.com

LESSON FROM THE STROKE

As you read this section, it can apply to any crisis. – not just strokes. I have friends whose lives have changed for the better in an emotional and spiritual sense while dealing with cancer, dementia, a major disabling injury and a special needs child.

Before my father’s stroke I believed in God mostly as the Grand Designer. I went to church for moral guidance, and sort of like brushing my teeth. It’s good for me – but no real emotional attachment.

During those stroke years, I had to face the question, “Is God real or not?” It was when I discovered it didn’t matter how many books I’d written or awards I’d won – the big question was, “What can I do to help my father find some peace?”

There were nights when I was angry at God, asking, “Why did my father have to go through this?” But the real question was, “Why did I have to go through this? It’s messing up my life!”

I felt like this from the start of Psalm 13:

“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

“How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?”

SUN & CLOUDS OF LIFE

There is so much about life, death, suffering and the power of God we don’t understand. Photo By Terry Pluto / Cleveland.com

THE DARK NIGHT OF THE SOUL

Most people in this situation go through what St. John of the Cross called, “The Dark Night of the Soul.” It’s when a sense of despair and doom seem to be closing in.

What happens next is what matters.

Through frustrations and sorrow, I grew closer to God. I had a friend challenge me to read the Bible. He guided me through different parts. My wife already was close to God, but the stroke did bring us closer together as a couple.

Growing closer also means being hit with a new set of stress and conflicts that comes with a crisis – and learning how to deal with it and each other.

l often leaned on Psalm 34:18:

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Going through my father’s stroke brought me closer to God and him. It also was a way for him to see how much I loved and appreciated him.

A few days before he died, we talked about some family history. I knew he was bitter about some things that had happened. I asked if he wanted to pray for God to give him forgiveness, help him forgive some others and find some peace.

He nodded, tears in his eyes.

We prayed. He lived five more days, and it seemed light had broken through some of the darkness of his soul and finally found the peace that only God can give.

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