We went to Atlanta following the race last weekend. I wish that I could offer a “sunny” report; I wish that I could say there is major improvement in Marie’s status and I wish that I could say that Jim is handling everything that has been thrown at him well.
Our visit with Jim and then with Marie was bittersweet. Jim is doing his best but with so much to process and few concrete answers, he is definitely showing the strain and stress (which is to be expected) of what has happened to them since early September. We took him out to dinner, gave him the opportunity to have a normal evening and for a few moments – relax. Marie is always present in his mind and her reality weighs heavily on even the mundane portions of life.
We saw Marie, had the chance to sit, smile, hug, participate in a portion of her day, share the racing family news and yes – cry. Right now, the right side of her body is paralyzed: the stroke affected the left side of her brain. Along with this is a very definite tremor in her left hand. The staff at the rehab center is working with her (and Jim is a vital part of the rehab process) to improve her ability to eat, swallow, speak and of course train and switch all right-hand motions (like eating) to the left side as well as concentrating on improving reflexive motions such as swallowing. To give all of you an idea of the difficulty, stop using your dominant hand, switch to the other side and use only that side to eat, speak, swallow, move and communicate. This gives you an inkling of what Marie faces daily. She recognizes this and is working to take the necessary steps to improve her quality of life.
It is vital to remember that inside, Marie is still Marie – an intelligent woman with full understanding and a complete range of emotions. To suddenly have a greatly diminished capacity for communication, to be unable to enjoy a full range of foods including her beloved chocolate and Chardonnay, to be confined to a wheelchair, to have her days limited to the often exasperating chore of therapy and limited food choices (everything must be reduced to liquid form and no wine allowed) is her new reality. It’s the spontaneous smile that I loved. Her ability to acknowledge the humor of shared memories, the foibles of a racing event, the news of the individual teams let me know that Marie is there and wants to be in the moment. The nod of her head, the whispered yes and the roll of her eye, to what was a lopsided conversation and the absolute no when asked if she would like grits for breakfast indicated that a very determined lady was making every effort to improve and her facial expression conveyed – more eloquently than words – that what she wants and needs are large doses of normal, primarily normal conversation. Marie is Marie, just Marie with different circumstances.
I haven’t mentioned the elephant in the room, the cancer. Plans are underway to start chemotherapy soon. This will make life more difficult. Chemo under the best of circumstances is never easy and these circumstances are difficult. It is in the hands of medical science, the competent hands of the oncologists, the nurses and the hospital staff to get Marie and Jim through this next phase. Beyond that, there is what we have – faith and hope that both will receive the spiritual guidance required, the strength to continue to fight and the peace of knowing that all of us have their backs, every step of the way.
What can we do? Actually, the answer is easy: provide each of them with what I mentioned earlier – normal. Notes and letters of your everyday events, cards that make them smile and photos, these are so necessary. Gifts, while appreciated, are difficult right now. Food unless cleared by the medical staff cannot be allowed; books are difficult because of the current state of physical movement (but Marie has her Nook and it’s fully loaded along with plenty of music on her iPod).
The best part of my time with Jim? Finally hearing him chuckle during dinner and hearing the protracted “sa –a-a-am.”
The best part of my time with Marie? When I had to leave and I’ll freely admit that leaving was incredibly difficult, there was the whispered response “love you” which left my heart soaring and my eyes full of tears. Marie, Janie and I have a special way of closing our group emails – Janie always ends her portion with “love” and so does Marie, I add “hugs all around.” This is how I am ending my letter to all of you.
Keeping Marie and Jim in my heart, never far from my mind with love for them and each of you and HUGS ALL AROUND.
Cards and letters should be sent to: Bremer, 72 Eva Lane, Stockbridge, GA 30281