Dad Finds A Friend
It took five years after his stroke before Doris' father met another survivor with aphasia.
Doris "Joy" Thurston, Caregiver Stuart, Florida
For several years before my father passed, I envisioned starting a stroke club for survivors and their friends and family members. So when I heard that seven stroke couples had been meeting at the Martin County Library once a month for a year, I was thrilled. I called the president and founder, Ruth Harrop, whose husband Tom had aphasia, just like my dad. She invited us to their trailer. Tom, a ruddy, smiling man with sandy hair and a slight limp, met us at the door. He ushered Dad to a flowered love seat and proceeded to use sign language, asking Dad how long ago since he had his stroke. Ruth and I helped them communicate.
Tom pulled out a red photo album and asked Dad if he would like to see it. “Photography is Tom’s hobby,” his wife explained. “He’s really very good although he does it only for fun.” Photographs of a child’s face, a flower, an old fisherman and some water scenes were much appreciated by Dad, whose eyes lit up like a schoolboy’s.
“Dad taught me how to enlarge and develop prints,” I interjected eagerly. “He loved photography, too.” As an artist I appreciated the excellent quality of Tom’s compositions and color. He took several pictures of Dad. I wished Dad had some activity or talent that would occupy him. Nonetheless, I was happy that he walked alone holding his head up and was interested in his surroundings. We were served tea and cake, and the “strokers” seemed to appreciate each other without talking.
I thought about how men hide their feelings until they have a stroke. Then their personal emotions are revealed in ways that were never evident before. Dad’s experience of another person with aphasia, I am sure, made him feel less alone in this world. What a pity that five years had passed before he had the opportunity to meet another person with the same condition.
Dad sat on the couch and appeared interested and alive, with a trace of his old humility and graciousness. I could tell that he was grateful to be invited to their home. Tom was an inspiration. He urged Dad to climb the two steps into their living room without his cane. In five years, he had never done that. We had not gone to the Indian River Drive Club luncheons to be with his friends because we did not think he could mount the steps. Mother went alone. But that day Dad surprised me by handing me his cane and grabbing the rail with his good arm. He pulled himself up step by step, and I returned his cane at the top.
As we left, a neighbor came over to jump start his vehicle, and I walked to Tom’s van to help him remove the jumper cables. “Let me help you,” I offered. He gave me a quick punch in the belly, much to my astonishment—and it hurt! I remember getting angry until I evaluated the situation. Here was another stroke survivor, like Dad, whose anger could easily be aroused when you tried to help him. “This goes with the disease,” I told myself, and apologized. The punch in the stomach was a small price to pay for Dad’s first communication in five years with another stroke patient with aphasia.
Sketch drawn by Doris of her father, Bob Thurston
Editor’s note: Excerpted from the book Stroke! A Daughter’s Story available at Amazon and at DorisThurstonArts.com.