• The main news from our family right now is the stroke that my dad had yesterday morning.  The letter below is sort of my diary of yesterday.  As of this writing, we're not sure what the future holds for him.  
  • The photo is of my dad, holding his great-granddaughter, Isobel, just a few weeks ago.  He hasn't yet met his newest great-grandchild, Maple, born a little over 2 weeks ago.

March  31, 2018
My Dad's Stroke Yesterday
According to my phone log, I had 28 phone calls yesterday ..and 55 text messages.  Nearly all of them were on account of my dad.  The first call came in at 9:30 a.m., from my brother, telling me that dad had just suffered a stroke and was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital.  

Because he's had a couple minor strokes in the past, and his early symptoms yesterday didn't seem too bad, I reckoned I'd give the emergency room some time to check him out ...and then I'd head over there right after lunch (about a 90 minute drive to the hospital in Springfield, IL).  

But at 11:30 my mom called me and said things were getting worse. So, I hopped in the car immediately and headed straight there...in pouring rain.
As the oldest sibling, it's my role in the family to be strong and steady; sympathetic but calm. I'm also the family court jester, the irreverent satirist: teasing, aggravating, drawing attention to the less assertive members of the family by conducting mock interviews with them, etc., etc.  I believe in comic relief, even in the worst of situations. On the drive over, I was getting myself psyched to do my thing.  
It's been three and a half years since my dad's colon ruptured and he had to have emergency surgery in the middle of the night.  That night we didn't think he'd survive till morning.  So, as I drove to the hospital yesterday, there was a feeling that we'd all been to this rodeo before. 
So, I was feeling pretty strong until I drove through Dalton City.  That's when I started to cry.  This stroke was serious ...and he might not make it.  (It's not that easy trying to drive when it's pounding down rain outside...but it gets even more challenging when your eyeballs appear to be doing the same thing.  
I suppose the reason that Dalton City set me off was because our family used to live there, back when I was in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades.  My dad was the pastor of the Dalton City Evangelical United  Brethren Church  there, 55 years ago, when he was only 34 years old. 

As the memories of that time... and him in that time... gushed out, I was immediately dumbfounded by the enormity of his life...and suddenly staggered by how much of my own self has been nurtured and shaped by him.  Of course I cried.  What else could I honestly do?
As I drove on, my mind kept conjuring the past:  I'd had a front row seat when my dad's dad  had his stroke, almost 50 years ago.  Grandpa and Grandma had just driven six hours to visit us... planning to stay for a week.  But when Grandpa eased out of the car, he started to get woozy, went to wobbling, and suddenly became confused.  My dad put him right back in the car and drove him to the hospital, fast.  Grandpa lived another 12 years, but he never did manage to return to his normal activities.  
My  dad's grandpa  also had a stroke, when I was a young child. I don't remember the stroke happening, but I do remember him being confined to a wheelchair.  I was only three or four when my great-grandfather and my grandfather got into an argument.  It is a vivid memory.  It was springtime, and they were outside getting ready to plow furrows for their huge garden. And my great-grandfather insisted he could stand behind the hand plow and push it.  My grandfather finally got exasperated and told my great-grandfather (Joel Frank...from whom I inherited my first name) to just go ahead and try it, since he was being so stubborn.  Joel Frank struggled to get out of his wheelchair, grabbed the hand plow, pushed it two steps, and fell down.    Strokes seem to be the thing in my lineage.
When I was diagnosed with a heart defect at the age of 23, and prostate cancer at the age of 55, neither one scared me that much because I was already pre-programmed to worry about a stroke instead.  That other stuff didn't seem all that real to me.  
When I got to the hospital yesterday, they were wheeling my dad in for an MRI and we accidently encountered each other in the hallway.  He looked unsurprised to see me, but couldn't put any words in play.  A couple hours later, he was spouting words... incessantly.  His sentences were well structured, but but his words were all nonsense.  We noticed that his right side was affected, with no control over those limbs and no eyesight in that eye.  
By the end of the day, he was able to move his limbs, and his words were actual words, but he was still very confused. Unfortunately, today (5 p.m. Sunday) he shows signs of regression, especially in his speech. The doctors tell us it will be another 24 hours before they can get a read on anything...or give us any encouragement...or anything else.
I came home last night, slept a little, and then led my three worship services this morning here in Mattoon.  The people in the church were kind and assured me of their concern and prayers...asking me to convey them to my parents as well.  
I could tell that I was getting fatigued by the third worship service, I meant to say that the doctors were still concerned about my dad because " people have a high chance of developing brain hemorrhages within the first 24 hours of a stroke ."  But I instead made the same kind of mistake that my dad used to make (with regularity) during all the years he was a pastor.  I announced that  hemorrhoids  are common after people have strokes... and that the doctors were watching him carefully for that. My daughter Mindy was in the congregation, and she came to my rescue... much to the relief of my befuddled congregation.
Sometimes even the court jester loses control of the situation.  
I'm thinking about my dad around the clock right now... even when I'm doing other things ...and even when paying attention to other people.  But I am noticing things and people in a different light these hours.  I'm much more aware of all the people in church today who had prayer concerns about 
their  loved ones.  

Likewise, yesterday I was unusually aware of the number of rooms in that  huge  hospital, and appreciative of all the patients there who were gigantic in the eyes of 
their loved ones.  There are over 6000 hospitals in the United States...and I'm pondering that all of them are filled with mighty special people.  

And there are almost 70,000 hospitals in China (one of which housed my father-in-law until a few days ago...when he was able to return home much mended.)  No one knows how exactly how many hospitals there are worldwide.  But I'm thinking today that each one is harboring multiple beloved souls... folks who are as special to others as my dad is to our family.  I am captivated by the mysterious but enormous number of beloved people who are being upheld by sympathy and prayer.  So much love... who would imagine in such an insane world that there would be that much real love.  
It's hard to know what to think these days.  Because my feelings are so personal and intense, my hopes are really pushing my optimism... just as my anxieties are goading my pessimism.  

I have desires that my dad will recover.  Maybe he will, maybe not.  In his most lucid moment yesterday, he managed to get out that he was terribly ill. So, I quickly asked him if he was afraid.  And in his only clear and healthy utterance of the whole day, he answered me emphatically: NO, I'm not!  
So...I'll not be afraid either.  The story of my dad and me is just right... whatever happens next.
Click here to read the article I wrote three and a half years ago when my dad had emergency colon surgery.  

 The Sunday letter is something I have done now for over 20 years.  It is a disciplined musing:  mindfulness, memory, and imagination.  I write it when I first wake up on a Sunday morning and then share it with the congregation.  The letter you see published here is usually revised from what the congregation receives.  This discipline of thinking and writing puts me in the place of describing rather than advising.  It prepares me to proclaim the gospel rather than get preachy with the souls who will sit before me.  --JMS


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