The best Christmas present ever

By Jeff Petersen, The Observer December 26, 2012 09:55 am

“You know you’ve grown up when none of the things you want for Christmas can be bought in a store.”

— Anonymous

I got the most amazing gift this Christmas. No, not all the homes and cars of my Chicken Little friends who were sure about Dec. 21, the Mayan apocalypse.

Not an electronic book, a gourmet food basket or even men’s perfume. No, not the car advertised on TV where the yuppie family rides its four new Segways down the suburban driveway only to see a neighbor drive by flaunting his brand-new Christmas car.

The gift was hearing my mom’s voice again. You may recall my mom suffered a major stroke — is there any other kind? — in late October. 

The stroke took away her ability to communicate in writing and speaking. When I visited her at the rehabilitation center in Eugene, this proud author of two books could neither read nor write.

It was heartbreaking.

Then, on a recent lazy Sunday afternoon, with me reading and my wife, Wonder Woman, playing on the popular website Pinterest, Wonder Woman got a call. At first she failed to recognize the number and refused to answer. 

Then, thinking it might be a cousin who lives in the same area code calling, she picked up.

Much to Teri’s surprise, it was Mom. After a couple of minutes of rising suspense, Teri handed the phone to me. Many of Mom’s words came out garbled, but occasionally she would put together a string of words that made sense.

Mom was back.

People tell me that with therapy and determination, much recovery is possible within the first year of a stroke. Now I was hearing it with my own ears.

After three weeks at the rehabilitation center in Eugene, Mom went to live with my sister in the Olympia, Wash., area, where her recovery continues. It’s a huge responsibility, caregiving, and I stand in awe of those who shoulder that undertaking. 

It made sense, though. 

Cherylyn is a stay-at-home wife, and lives just 20 miles from where my mom lived, up until the time of the stroke. That way Mom could be near her family and friends for support.

A Christmas miracle

Now, at Christmas, my 79-year-old mom is pining to move back in with her 85-year-old husband. If she can, she’ll need continued therapy. 

And outside help to do tasks she has yet to master. But she demands her independence and for that I am thankful.

The point is, always maintain hope for a positive outcome, no matter how dire a situation at first appears. I was afraid I had lost Mom forever, at least in terms of letters and phone calls. I had been calling Mom every Monday in what I liked to call Mom’s Day. It’s a weekly form of Mother’s Day, rather than celebrating mothers once a year.

It was a connection.

I missed the listening. The support. The guidance.

I even missed the one-sided conversations where she talks, I listen.

No, the purpose was not to inherit the family treasure, such as it is. Material possessions come and go. What matters is what you have left when all the material stuff is taken away — like the prisoners of war who are given no books, no TV, no company. They are forced to live — sometimes for years — with whatever they brought to their cell in their head.

The bigger point is, persistent high blood pressure over a long period of time brought on Mom’s stroke. Some 75 million Americans have high blood pressure and are at greater risk for stroke. That’s one in every five of us. Some people need medicine. Other people can bring their blood pressure down naturally. 

The keys are reducing stress, getting potassium level up, getting salt level down, consuming good fats such as salmon and exercising 30 minutes a day.

Big challenge.

Mom will never be the same. But she is still Mom, and I am still Son. We will carry on for a day, a year, 10 years — whatever we are given.

There are no guarantees. The only guarantee in life is change. But having Mom call was certainly a stroke of good fortune.