My Heart is Broken: Here’s Why.

Four weeks ago, to the moment, my life was perfect. Everything was falling into place, just like every platitude said it would. Good things were finally coming to me, and I was ready for them. My biggest worry in life was how much money it would cost me to fix my bike after I’d crashed it. Ok, ok. It wasn’t exactly a CRASH . . . more like I ran it into a parked car while not paying attention. That’s right: a month ago, parked cars were the bane of my existence.

That’s kind of funny to me now.

Let’s rewind to Wednesday, May 29th: Nance (my mother and bff, for those of you who aren’t in-the-know) and I were excitedly buzzing over making arrangements for my part-time shore apartment in Asbury Park, New Jersey — a move that would fulfill my lifelong dream of living at the shore. It was Adventures in Decorating all over again; except, with this being a second home, I took on more of the role of budget warden and less of the role of a demanding style control freak. I really let my mother take the reigns on this project, much to her delight. I told her “I trust you,” when what I probably really meant was, “I’m far too exhausted to do this whole decorating process again. Do whatever you want.”

If all had gone according to plan, I would have moved in the weekend of June 14-16. Naturally, Nance had arranged for everything: the truck, the furniture (donated from her own collection), the décor . . . plus, every single thing from a list of “First Apartment Essentials” which she had, of course, printed out and begun checking off, promising me “extra” items she had lying around the house. For the rest? She was scheming ways she could buy it all for me without spoiling me too much. Classic Nance.

Right. Well, as I’m sure you can imagine from my incredible foreshadowing, all did NOT go according to plan. Those plans are another world now; a world I don’t even recognize, let alone live in. On Thursday, May 30th, around noon, I got the call from my father that put my life in a blender: “It’s your mother — she’s very sick — was lifestarred to Hartford Hospital — a stroke, or something.” I could tell by his voice that it was bad.

I wailed in the shower, crying “NO, NO NO, YOU CAN’T LEAVE ME YET. NOT NOW, NOT WHEN I NEED YOU SO.”

I wailed on the way to the hospital, as Dave tried desperately to lead my mind away from the dark place: “People make amazing recoveries all the time. Mostly everyone survives from a stroke.”

I wailed when the doctors led us up to Floor 9, the Neuro-ICU, thinking this is really bad. How could this be so bad? How could I have fallen so quickly from a state of grace into a world of horror? Five hours ago, I was texting my mother pictures of lamps, and now I am drowning in a sea of tears and wondering how I will ever live in a world without my brilliant, generous, well-reasoned and overly-involved mother?

I will spare most of the grizzly details, but the gist is that Nance had a very severe and rare stroke which left much of the left side of her brain damaged, and some parts of the right. She had two major brain surgeries in less than 48 hours — one to save what they could of her brain (a feat which proved to be impossible once they got in there for the surgery), and the other, to save her life. Once the doctors were finished doing everything possible in their capacity to save her, we were told we would have to wait to see the extent of the damage. The results might run the gamut from moderate to severe disability, or worse: the unthinkable.

In the days that followed the initial surgeries and news, I will admit, I was a mess. I held it together in emails to friends and colleagues, but inside I silently screamed: I want my mommy. Yes, at 27-years-old, I am still crying for my mommy. To be fair, she is also my best friend, whom I call/text at my every compulsion (or, in the spirit of honesty, any time I have to walk for longer than 10 minutes in the city). She is my go-to; my roll-dog. My voice of reason. My everything.

For weeks, my family waited on news with hushed words and baited breath, wondering if she would survive; and if she did, to what extent we would get her back. We knew that even the best case scenario would mean disability, but we had hope in our hearts and the firmly-held belief that the woman we knew and loved was damn near invincible in her strength. How could she succumb? It was unfathomable.

Yet there was my invincible mother, in a coma, fighting for her life. And I sat looking on, helplessly, not knowing when or if she would get better. The days crawled by, as we exhaustedly lived in limbo. It was the worst kind of hell I can imagine, one I couldn’t have imagined, even in my darkest nightmares of losing her. I’d never felt that kind of pain in my life — the pain of the unknown… my life and my heart were hanging in the balance of something so incredibly fragile; something I couldn’t understand, let alone solve with logic or reason.

It all changed in a moment. A phone call. A word: stroke.

Even through the worst of it, there were beautiful moments, too.

…the first time my mother opened her eyes and looked at me after the stroke, grabbing for my hand and squeezing as I said “I love you, I love you, I love you” through my tears…

…strangers on the brink of collapse in the ICU waiting room, still finding it in their hearts to mouth “good luck” as we would leave to meet with the doctors…

…friends, colleagues, community members and co-workers rallying around my family to provide us comfort, hope, support, meals, flowers, groceries, gift baskets and much-needed distractions during the hardest times…

…somberly celebrating Father’s Day over Mexican food, and still finding a way to laugh boisterously while reminiscing over our favorite family vacation Mom-memories…

…and sitting on a blanket next to beautiful, supportive Bonnie, with the sun shining on my face and the whole park empty except for us, feeling for the first time like some day I’m going to be ok.

Last week, we moved my mother to Palliative (end-of-life) Care. Too much damage was done to her brain; too much functionality lost. She wouldn’t want to live the life she would have been left with. The stroke left her a shell of the woman who taught me the strength I harbor today.

So here I sit in a hospital, watching my mother slowly die an unexpected death. I knew this day would come, eventually. It is the way of the world; of life. Children are supposed to outlive their parents. But nothing could have prepared me for this. Nothing could have readied me for this broken heart, scattered haphazardly in my chest. From the 9th floor window of the hospital, I watch the first nice days of summer disappear over what little skyline Hartford has, and hope deeply that she doesn’t feel too much pain.

I hold her hand and sing softly to calm her, replaying in my mind every moment between us that I can remember, so she still feels close. My mind leads me to this one moment, the day Nance’s mom died. I was 6 or 7 at the time. I was crying in my room, feeling sorry for myself for losing my grandmother. But then it dawned on me that whatever my feelings of loss, there was somebody else in  far more need. I trudged through the house and found my mother, in the kitchen, on the old spiral cord phone, bravely making arrangements for the wake and funeral through her tears. When she hung up, and looked at me, I said “it’s gonna be okay, Momma. You have me.” She pulled me into her, both of us sobbing, and said, “I know honey, I know.” And she did.  Always. I’m proud to say I never faltered in my devotion to her.

I haven’t heard her voice in nearly 4 weeks (the stroke took away her ability to speak), but I can hear her in my head telling me I will be fine, eventually. That it’s going to be hard, but that I am more than capable of absorbing the pain and undertaking the struggles and responsibilities that lie ahead. And there are many. She would remind me that I am a badass survivor; a warrior woman with an endless bastion of heart and strength.

I am my mother’s daughter, after all.

12 thoughts on “My Heart is Broken: Here’s Why.

  1. Nance scored me my first apartment in this city (and promptly began emailing me pictures of suitable couches for said apartment); she told me I looked good in my first pair of skinny jeans; but most importantly, she raised a strong, beautiful, intelligent and loving daughter I’m proud and honored to call my friend. Chelsea, I love you. Nance – thanks.

  2. Thank you for writing this Chelsea. I know that it must have been incredibly difficult but it is a beautiful tribute to your mother and the love that you share. You, Nance and your family will definitely be in my thoughts.

  3. I don’t know you but reading this reminded me so much of myself and the relationship I have with my mother. I would like you to know that you and Nance are now in my prayers and everything will be alright. Stay strong and have faith, Chelsea.

  4. My sincere sympathy to you and your family (followed link through Cultural barista).
    The words I heard through my telephone at 27 from my sister were “mommy has a brain tumor”. I felt the same shock and horror you did. I’m 53 now – it’s been 26 years – all I can say is she’ll be by your side forever. Keep talking to her because she’ll be listening.

    • I miss my mother.It has been three months without her but I know the wound will be as fresh as it is now till I breathe my last.Tears rolled down reading your blog but you are an inspiration that one has to keep function for the sole reason one stopped.The reason is all that we have.Thank you.This broken heart would love a reply 🙂

  5. Chels, tears run down as I read this. I do remember the wonderful stories of your mom you would share with us in college. You would speak so highly of her and always with a smile. I hope those memories continue to bring a smile to your face. Your mom has blessed us with a wonderful young woman in you. May she rest in peace and may you and your family find peace through all this heartache.

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  8. My 36 yr d sister and best friend had a stroke 4 months ago and she had severe damage to the left side of her brain. She now has aphasia and apraxia and everything has changed. I’m so happy she is here with me and yet so sad to have lost all that she was. What profound pain. Pain no one seems to understand. Thank you for sharing your story. As I read the words I felt so much less alone in my pain. I am sending you light and healing.

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