THE 6 MONTHS QUESTION
Cary Grant (one of the classic Hollywood leading men from the 1930s-1960s) once asked: Where will you be in 6 months?
This seems a logistical question if asked of someone who’s going on a trip, or simply out of curiosity. In Cary’s case, it was his film character Nicky Ferrante, asking Terry McKay (Deborah Kerr) to meet him in six months to begin their life together. In the 1959 film An Affair to Remember it took a bit more than six months for them to get it together. In 1993 the take-off on that whole “meet me…” scene was repeated in Sleepless in Seattle which brought renewed popularity to An Affair to Remember.
If someone asked me that question six months ago, my answer then would have been hugely different from what I know now. I would have answered quite casually, “I’ll be enjoying the end of winter. In Tucson March is often very sunny, with temps in the 70°s and 80°s. It’s a time Tucsonans often call ‘living in paradise.’ Oh, I’ll also be hiking and playing tennis — maybe both on the same day. I’ll be planning a trip back East with a road trip up the coast from Virginia to New England visiting family and friends. I’ll be dancing wherever Connie B and Little House of Funk are playing. I’ll also be celebrating 150 years with my twin sister. We’ll celebrate by — well, pretty much however we want. It’s easy to decide.” Freedom, energy, open options, happiness, good health.
Then on August 25 I had a stroke. I’ve written about the onset previously so I’m jumping to about a week after. The absolute numbness of absorbing the fact that, yes, I had a stroke, faded. I felt relief, and a certain happiness in the daily realization that I could walk, talk, eat by myself, and write. Not easily, certainly at a slow pace, but I was doing it. I looked at my arms, legs, eyes, mouth, ears, face adoringly. I patted my head gently each morning. “OK, Eth, here we go.” A switch flipped. I’m gonna be ok.
Each day I journaled how I felt, what was better, along with what happened that was different, surprising, and scary. Over the weeks the Better/OK list was gaining on the Different list. Eventually the Better surpassed Different. The Different became OK. Along the way I envisioned running, speaking at a storytelling event, playing tennis, running, dancing, sleeping all night, no painful headaches. I repeated a phrase to myself about how once you grab onto an idea and ‘see’ it over and over again in your head, it’s already happened in your spirit.
On February 25, 2022, I passed the six-month marker out from my “mild” stroke and the whole assorted baggage that came with it. My life is certainly far different from what I ever imagined. No hiking AND tennis, no road trip up the East coast, no living spontaneously. Decisions get made but not quite as easily as before August 25, 2021.
But happiness and good health? Yes! I’ve had excellent medical care, a huge amount of love and support- online, in-person, snail mail from family, and visits with friends. I have brilliant, I mean that, therapists who are helping me reclaim life activities as before my stroke.
WHAT’S DIFFERENT and OK
My energy level is less, so I meditate more. I plan how long I can be in an activity, so no more rushing around. It’s easier to be patient and compassionate with people-who knows what interior battles they are waging? And I am easier with myself (85%?). I have retired that cape of Superwoman. I am writing, playing tennis, dancing (with Hank in the living room), and planning a June trip East to one location only. March 1 my twin and I began our birthday month celebration.
Everyone’s stroke recovery is different. It’s an equal opportunity disease and the #5 cause of death in the US. So yeah, like Nick and Terry, the execution of my 6-month plan is not exactly what I thought. But I’m here, having better and better days, many of them great days. Life is good.
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and her writing life. She’s retired from professional writing gigs after 30 years of teaching, coaching, editing, and gathering writers to publicly share their work. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships. In retirement she writes to inspire, to connect with folks, and for the pure enjoyment of it. Ethel enjoys sharing stories at Odyssey Storytelling, Zoom gatherings, and anywhere there’s a mic.