Within three months, my world turned upside down.
I’d had a cryptogenic stroke, which left me with Broca’s aphasia and apraxia. Aphasia and apraxia are just fancy medical terms for saying that my expressive communication – speaking and writing – was devastatingly affected.
At the age of 31, with two boys to raise, with a nursing career, and in the middle of training for a half marathon, a stroke was not on my agenda. Strokes very rarely affect someone of my age, but more important than my age was the age of my two children: 4 years old and 15 months.
My kids were much too little, and they needed their mother.
This is what was left of me.
Three days after my stroke, the shock had subsided and the gravity of what disabilities I had been left with came into focus. As much as I tried, communication with the rest of the world was not coming back as easy as I would have liked.
My sister was at my bedside, as she was most of the time that I spent in the hospital. We were working on my speech rehabilitation, which was essentially what you would learn in early elementary school. She was reading out sentences that I was supposed to attempt to write.
I sat cross-legged on my hospital bed with a note pad, trying to write “The dog was black.” I couldn’t do it.
After what seemed like an hour, I scribbled “dog black.” I knew that wasn’t correct. I knew I had missed the connecting words of a sentence, but I had no idea what they were. My internal dialogue could say this simple sentence, but when I opened my mouth or put pen to paper, all I could muster was “dog black.”
And then, clarity.
I could feel the sting of tears welling up in my eyes and the lump rising in my throat. But at that very moment, I was not frustrated, I was not feeling sorry for myself, and I was not overwhelmed.
All I could think of is: What was the last thing I wrote to my boys? What was the last thing I told them? Would they remember any of the things that I had taught them?
I surely did not give them enough encouragement, enough words of praise, and enough words of wisdom to get them through to adulthood. I surely did not say “I love you” enough to last a lifetime.
I had written letters to my boys since the day they were born, detailing their lives. But as life has gotten busier, the letters had been few and far in between. What if I could never write to them again? They needed to know how perfect and how miraculous they are to me. I needed to tell them they are enough, I loved them more than anything, and my heart beats for them.
Bonus: As a bonus for joining Kelly’s weekly newsletter, download a free cheat sheet of 30 simple ways to show your child you love them.
How many words did I waste that didn’t mean anything?
I regretted every time I fought with my 4-year-old about what type of pants to wear to preschool. The times where I uttered the words, “I’m tired” or “I can’t right now, I’m busy.”
I should have used my energy to tell my 4-year-old, “The clothes on your body don’t matter. I respect your choice to wear what you want.” Or “I will always have time for you, you are important.”
I regretted the time I spent on social media instead of writing the most amazing love letters to my children, documenting every cherished memory. How I longed for those moments back.
Would I ever get a second chance?
My sister looked at me with compassion and empathy in her eyes. I gestured to what I had wrote and with tears threatening to spill over, I could only say, “Boys…not write.”
She grabbed my hand. She looked at me, and I knew that she understood what I was trying to say. She said with such conviction that I would get better and would be able to say the things I so desperately wanted to tell my children.
Remarkably, I did get better.
With a lot of help from my husband, sister, and speech pathologist and a lot of determination and hard work, I relearned sentence structure and began to speak and write again. I recovered enough to say what I so desperately wanted to express to my children.
Now, I make a point to focus my energy on choosing the words that come out of my mouth with hopes that I never forget the way this feels and what the stroke has taught me.
Among the many things this experience has taught me is that communication matters. Conversations matter. The words you choose matter. Talking leads to understanding, and that is never a bad thing.
Words have a magical power to make people feel wanted, loved, and special. They let people know they are not alone and even in extreme cases, to want to live another day.
The opposite is true as well. Words can give sadness, anger, and disgust, and they can break a child’s spirit.
We can live in heaven or hell by the sentences we string together. What power! We can choose our words to give love to this world. If it’s honest, kind, and is used to lift someone up, say it. Don’t let fear get in the way.
Related: How to Connect With Your Child: The Magic of the 5:1 Ratio Printable
Please, imagine this for me.
I want you to imagine that you’re a child or young teenager. Remember when you felt like an utter disappointment and regretted your actions. Is it when you failed that math test? Is it when you cut your own hair (or your sister’s)? Or dropped a very breakable ornament?
Now, can you imagine that when your mom, dad, or a loved one found out, they said, “I understand that was a mistake. You will need to fix this, but we can work through it together. You have not disappointed me. My love for you is unconditional.”
How good would you feel? The words they spoke can make you feel safe and supported and important to them.
Now imagine that your loved one had a difference response. They rolled their eyes and sent you to your room, and the look of disappointment haunted the lines in their face. How would you feel? Certainly not safe or loved or important.
I try to remember this in every interaction with my children. Although it sometimes isn’t easy, I want them to feel loved and that I understand they are human and will make mistakes.
Related: 7 Most Powerful Ways to Get an Emergency Dose of Family Connection Printable
I’m not pretending to be some sort of expert or prodigy of parenting. I have made many mistakes and will continue to do so.
I have gone to bed more often than not worried about whether I made the right choices for my children or said the right things. If we’re honest, my guess is everyone has. In all our parenting wisdom, we are perfectly imperfect and will make blunders along the way. I have accepted that.
But what I do ask of myself is to choose to fix my mistakes and never let a relationship suffer for my impulsive or harsh response.
I see now with such certainty that words with intention can bring about peace or can spew out venom that poisons the space around you. Words have the power to mend relationships, stitch together an open wound, and heal the heart.
Say the things that matter to you. Have the conversations you always wanted to have. Tell your children that your heart beats for them. We don’t know when we can get another chance.
It seems like a lifetime ago, but living with the aftermath of a stroke reminds me that it has not been long at all. It also reminds me to not take my second chance for granted.
Now, every day I try to live my life at the pace of my children. I read more stories, I have more playtime and attempt to see the world through my children’s eyes.
At day’s end, when the last story is read and I tuck my children into bed, I ask myself, “Did I give enough encouragement or words of praise to last them into adulthood? Did I say, ‘I love you’ enough to last a lifetime?”
I don’t know, but I’m working on it.
Download Your Free Cheat Sheet
This cheat sheet gives you 30 simple ideas for showing your child you love them. (Find out why this is so powerful in this post about the Magic 5:1 Ratio.)
- Download the free cheat sheet. Join Kelly’s weekly-ish newsletter and as a bonus, you’ll get the printable! Just click here to download and subscribe.
- Print. Any paper will do the trick, but card stock would be ideal.
- Hang your cheat sheet somewhere handy like the fridge. You’ll actually get two versions of the cheat sheet, and you can use them a few different ways:
- For the one that looks like a bingo board, you can cut out each square and put them in a jar. Then when you need an idea for connecting with your child, pull out a random idea and do it. Or leave the whole thing intact and pretend you’re playing blackout bingo to see how many you can mark off over the course of a week.
- With the list version, you can use the sections to help you try out a variety of ideas. For example, if you tend to rely heavily on words of connection and forget the more physical acts of connection, this version of the cheat sheet can help you remember to mix it up.
Here’s a sneak peek of your printable cheat sheet – first the bingo version:
And here’s the list version:
Download my FREE cheat sheet as a bonus for joining my newsletter: 16 Miracle Phrases to Help You Reconnect With Your Child
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