For a brief moment in time I felt happy. I was really enjoying my job, my marriage was wonderful, the kids were back in school and daycare and it seemed like we found our stride in this new normal. Then, as if on cue, life reminded me that what goes up must come down. I can’t seem to find my footing anywhere quite yet. I am slowly trying to gather my world back together bit by bit. It won’t ever look like it did before, but I now have a little semblance of a life again so I feel more comfortable sitting down and writing and creating once more.

My dad hardly ever calls me. So when the phone rang at 6:30 a.m. on April 28th and his name came across the screen I knew something was wrong right away. He was distraught. He had just put my mom in an ambulance as she was unable to speak. Suddenly all my medical knowledge left me. I didn’t understand what would cause someone to not be able to speak. Bit by bit my reasoning came back and it dawned on me-a stroke. It didn’t take long for me to make the decision to hop in the car and make the 635 mile journey to her hospital bedside. What followed would become the biggest challenge of my life thus far.

I was so emotional in a way I didn’t even know I could be. Of course I was. My mother, a healthy and active 67 year old woman who walked five miles every day with her little neighbor friend, was now having to spend every day in a rehab hospital learning how to walk and talk again. When I saw her those first few days just lying there, unable to smile or talk or move it absolutely gutted me. Brushing the knots from her matted hair, wiping her mouth, fixing her sheets and all I could hear in my head was how this wasn’t right, I shouldn’t be here, this was all wrong. After five days I was calling every doctor and nurse demanding someone put a feeding tube in her nose because she hadn’t eaten or been fed in five days and had barely received fluids. I wanted to run away screaming, I wanted to crawl into a hole and wake up anywhere else.

I had sometimes wondered if we should move closer to my family, and day dreamed about living closer to the great lakes of Michigan. But this situation never entered those dreams, the road trip while crying and screaming on the highway to myself was not in the plan. After spending a few days at the hospital I came home. My husband and I strategized and planned each step of the way. The kids finished the school year, we quit our jobs, sold our beloved home, and drove 10 hours to move into my parents house with our dog and cat in tow.

I felt guilt from the selfish side of everything I was feeling. I loved my life and was really happy with the way things were. Of course nothing was perfect but damn, it was close. I had to say goodbye to my friends. The job I loved. The home we thought we would grow old in. The quiet state I had called home for 15 years. It is so heart wrenching to walk away from security and happiness. I needed my mother to talk to.

Meanwhile, I had to still be a mother through all of this. I had to create some sense of normalcy for my children whose worlds I was disrupting. Not only did I take them away from their cozy home and friends they loved but thrust them into a life where they now had a grandmother who couldn’t speak to them or play with them like she used to. My son didn’t eat properly for weeks. My once animated overactive son became quiet and reserved. My daughter threw tantrums and didn’t sleep. I was agonizing over the damage I had caused them while trying to cope with my own sadness. The internal screaming grew very loud.

The worst part of it all? I had nowhere to hide. I was now living with my parents, I hadn’t started my new job yet, my children and husband were also home all the time. I had to maintain my composure and help my mom with her speech therapy homework and play games with my kids and find summer camps and register them for school and discuss future plans with my husband. We still had to coordinate the moving of our belongings from Iowa to Michigan and the closing of our house. I wanted to cry or scream or anything to release the tension and I couldn’t get away.

My mothers physical recovery was quite miraculous. Her own doctor showed me the MRI while she was inpatient and was very skeptical that she would every go back to walking at all. But my mother returned home from the rehab hospital before we even moved in June almost completely independent. She began outpatient therapies right away. But she had been taking care of my dad, who now had to be taught how to administer her insulin and how to check her blood sugars. She was confused, paranoid, didn’t understand what was being said to her and no one could understand what she was saying. Global aphasia, two small words that can completely change everything about a person.

Eventually we found new jobs. We found our own home to rent. But when I look back and what we did, in coming out here so quickly, out of necessity and urgency-it takes my breath away. I knew that I had to get myself together. I did some quick thinking before I left and made a last minute telehealth appointment with my primary doctor. I told her I was having chest pains and episodes of panic, I explained to her I my whole situation and I needed some help, anything, to help me through my transition until I could go to therapy again. She prescribed me an as needed medication for panic attacks, and understanding their addictive nature, I have used them very sparingly. I am not ashamed to say I have taken them 5 times between June and September for when breathing seems impossible.

I still don’t have health insurance, but when it finally kicks in I plan to go back to therapy. I am still coping with losing the person who my mother used to be, losing my old life, and the guilt of everything I have asked of my most loving and understanding husband and young children. I have wonderful friends as well who have given me their shoulders and ears to cry on, and am forever grateful for them. I know that this will not be my only sadness or challenge in life. After losing my mother in law only 5 years ago it just seems like it has been too soon for this. But we cry, we forge on and some day I hope to really beam with smiles and laughter again.

My mom is doing well although her speech and confusion issues still persist. I don’t think my dad lets on how exhausted he is, and I know he misses who she once was, like we all do. It’s like she developed dementia overnight, and we didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. But she loves seeing her grandkids and I am so glad to be close enough to help and to be present.

We as mothers and parents have to do this every day. We fight our demons and our inner voices and still have to put on brave faces for our children. We have to reassure them even when we are shaken to our cores unsure if we can even face the next day ourselves. I don’t consider myself strong because of how worn and broken I feel at times. But I do know that I have love, a never ending supply of it. That has been the only thing that keeps me going. I am momming on fumes, and am learning that my fumes are made from love and a shit ton of caffeine!