The first thing I noticed was that the life was gone from his eyes. His spirit just wasn't there. It was easy to understand why and medically, it made sense but that was the most difficult part for me to cope with. It wasn't easy to know he couldn't eat because his ability to swallow even liquids was gone. He couldn't stand up by himself and his speech was much different.
But none of that compared to the look in his eyes. When I walked into his hospital room just 48 hours after the stroke occurred, I was greeted with his usual "hi honey" but it didn't sound the same. He was in his wheelchair which was a nice change from seeing him in the hospital bed looking so helpless. It was heartbreaking and the picture is burned into my memory for life. I wanted the life to come back to his face. I knew with time, his arm and leg would get stronger. He would be able to eat and his speech would normalize. He wouldn't be in a hospital forever but what I wanted the most was to look my dad in the eyes and see the twinkle. The joy. The happiness that I always saw.
Weeks would pass and he would be in a different hospital bed in a different location. I would watch him re-learn how to walk and be happy to sit by his side while he ate a sandwich. I would explain to him that we wanted him to stay another week, that it was for his own good. He wasn't happy with this news but I had a way of bringing it all together and he agreed-one more week.
Another week passed and I sat on the stairs inside the home I grew up in waiting to see the car carrying my dad pull into the driveway. He was coming home to a home he no longer could fully utilize but we did our best to make it home, sweet home. Walking wasn't quite an option yet so he was wheeled around sharp corners and through narrow doorways for many weeks.
Months passed and he was on his own for the first time. Nervous doesn't even begin to describe it but he was out of his wheelchair, walking with a cane and able to function on his own. What a relief.
A now, a year (and a day) later, we gathered at his house to celebrate his recovery. He took control of the BBQ and cooked up hamburgers and hot dogs. He doesn't even use his cane anymore. He emails us to let us know about his newest personal best on his walks around the block. He cracks jokes that make him laugh so hard he is in tears. He refers to his not yet born third grandchild as "her" and "she" because what he knows best is daughters and granddaughters.
His eyes are twinkling again. He doesn't have that far off distant look that broke my heart on Day 2. I'm hopeful for the future and feel so proud that my dad has faced these challenges and defeated each one. He still has items on his list to accomplish but there is no doubt he will knock them out of the park.