Friday, October 8, 2010

Reason to Celebrate

Today is my mother-in-law Toni's 62nd birthday!

What an incredible, miraculous blessing that is. Last November, if you had asked me to predict what October 8, 2010 would be like, I probably would have imagined that it would be a day of sadness, of mourning, of missing an incredible woman. But the actual day is anything but that. Today we are celebrating another birthday for a woman who is stronger than any of us even knew. We're celebrating the life of a woman who can seemingly conquer anything life throws at her. What a blessing!

On October 30, it will have been a year since Toni suffered her stroke. A whole year already, do you believe it? When I think about it, it still feels like it just happened. I can't believe a year has passed, but what a year it has been. I thought about posting about Toni on October 30 and describing all the progress she has made, but I felt today was a better time to do that. Why should we remember the anniversary of such a sad and frightening event, when we can celebrate her life on such a positive day instead? Let's remember the birthdays that we're lucky to have, rather than the anniversary of such a scary day. And today I want to celebrate this day by remembering how far we have come in the last year.

Last November, Eric and I went to Florida after the stroke with very heavy hearts. The whole family crowded into Toni's hospital room in the ICU daily, just praying and praying for her to wake up. The situation seemed hopeless. We knew Toni was strong, but we were repeatedly told that the stroke had done massive amounts of damage. The doctors didn't seem very optimistic about Toni's chances of waking up, and even if she did wake up, we had no idea how the stroke might have affected her. She may not be able to speak, to understand, to remember her family. We worried that she wouldn't wake up, but also worried that if she did, her quality of life may be so low that she could never be happy. To say that it was a difficult time would be quite the understatement.

But you know what? Toni is stronger than a stroke, no matter how massive. She did wake up, the very day before we would have to make some serious decisions about her life support. Before Eric and I left Florida, she was opening her eyes and sporadically responding to commands. To our relief, she showed signs of recognizing her family. We left feeling cautiously hopeful.

But those improvements were only the beginning. By the end of November already, she had started giving hugs. She was out of her bed and sitting in a wheelchair. She still couldn't talk due to the trach in her throat, but she started working on writing and hand gestures. By January, she could even play Hangman with Kelley! Her personality was really starting to shine through, and we knew we hadn't lost her. With every new development, we felt a little more hopeful.

Toni wrote this "I love you" last November

In the hospital, working on hand gestures. Kelley said this photo was the only one with a hand gesture appropriate enough to share! Now that's the Toni we know and love!

Kelley and Toni played Hangman in January

When I visited Toni in February, she was in a new facility and the improvements I saw were tremendous. I will never forget looking into her room from the hallway and seeing her sitting there, smiling and waving me in. It was such a difference from how she was when I last saw her, I could barely believe my eyes. She was able to eat, mouth words, and we could take her around the facility in her wheelchair. Such progress!

By March, Toni was in another new facility where she could get dressed every day (no more hospital gowns!) and go on shopping outings to Target across the street. She finally had the tube removed from her throat and was able to speak, although she still struggled to find the right words sometimes. It was so incredible when we were finally able to hear her voice on the phone! She was able to have Easter dinner in her new facility with the family, and had a new blouse to wear for the occasion. How wonderful!

Toni in March after her first outing in five months, to Target with Kelley

Celebrating Easter with Ronnie and Kelley

Eric and I were able to see Toni again in June when we went to Florida for my high school reunion. We took her shopping at Target and had lunch with her. We talked and sat in the sun with her, which seemed to be one of her new favorite things to do (judging by her awesome tan!). She was even more herself than we had ever seen before. She was still the sweet, loving mother she always has been - with that attitude that was always there, too!

With Toni in June - I was going to take a picture of Eric and Toni, but she insisted that we all get in the photo!

All that time in the sun requires a new hat!

The next time I saw Toni was in August when I went home to see Heather's show. Kelley organized breakfast for the family at her house, and Toni was able to come! It was so wonderful to see her in a home setting rather than at a hospital or care facility. It felt so much more like "the old days." Eric wasn't home with me, but we talked to him on Skype so Toni could see him, too. And the coolest thing? She was able to move her right foot, which is the side that was affected by the stroke. She seemed so excited about her new trick, and we were all excited, too!

That movement was only the beginning, because just days later in physical therapy, Toni stood up with minimal help. Can you even believe that? Kelley was there when it happened and said the look of awe on Toni's face was incredible - she couldn't believe it either. I think this extraordinary development gave us all renewed hope for what the future may bring, Toni included.

Standing! Unbelievable.

And so we continue on. I can't believe that in under a year, we have gone from thinking we would lose this woman altogether to having hope that she may soon be able to stand on her own. We have come so far from those bleak days of uncertainty in the hospital. She can speak, she can understand, she knows her family, she can shop, she is herself. Incredible. Of course, there is no telling what the future may hold, but at this point, I don't think anyone would have foretold that we would come as far as we have in a year. Toni is such an inspiration - such a determined woman. And again, another understatement!

Thank you again to everyone for all your thoughts and prayers since Toni's stroke last year. I sincerely believe Toni is where she is thanks to the prayers sent up on her behalf by so many. Through the Grace of God we are celebrating another birthday for her, and what a celebration it is.

Apparently, Toni remembered that October 8th was her birthday and insisted on a celebration on this day - not the day before, not the day after, not the weekend after - on October 8th. She requested dinner at Olive Garden, so that's what they will do. She also decided that since October is her birthday month, that she will go shopping every weekend in October. The woman knows what she wants!

I wish more than anything that we could be there for the celebration. Eric is going home to visit her later this month, but I wish we could both be there today. I hope she knows how much we love her and that we are so thankful to have her in our lives. She is an incredible woman, and I consider myself very lucky to be a part of her family.

Sporting Gator colors last month!

Happy birthday, Toni! We love you so, so much.


Becky said...

Such a wonderful miracle. Yay for Toni!!!

Anonymous said...

Great job Meghan! I couldn't have said it any better myself. You know it is touching when it brings tears to your eyes. We wish you guys could have been here tonight for dinner too and I will print this blog out and read it to her this weekend.

P.S. I knew I never should have sent you that gators picture.

Dad said...

I hope there is a wonderful celebration tonight. Happy Birthday Toni

Well done Meghan.

Kathleen Clancey said...

Wonderfully touching tribute to Toni. NO ONE deserves it more.

Molly said...

Happy Birthday to Toni!!! Wonderful!

Kristina said...

What a wonderful post :-) Happy birthday to Toni and God Bless!


Debbie said...

Happy Birthday, Toni! And many more.