Dealing with a Friend Who Had a Stroke

I shared with you all that a dear friend (my age) had a stroke last November. Otherwise fit and trim, her only real quirk is that she is a devoted hypochondriac, even completing the strange aspirin desensitization program which I can’t get past thinking had something to do with her stroke.

Sharon was lucky to be found on the floor by her daughter who got her to the hospital quickly enough to still be alive!


She had very little movement loss but did lose a considerable amount of speech and cognitive ability. She’s on a medical leave from work but it doesn’t seem (to me at least) that she’ll ever be able to hold down the high powered position she had before the stroke.

I visited her in the hospital soon after the stroke and once more at her apartment in the city. I’ve mostly written snail mail notes and called her regularly. I spoke with her today and she seems to be stuck in a hole. She has no memory of any of our previous conversations. No memory of a birthday card I sent or what she did on her birthday (which was just ten days ago). When I asked her a question, her response was in words that were totally unconnected, words that made no sense together, just a string of disassociated words, although each word was fairly big but used in wrong context.

I asked her about work, whether or not she might choose to retire, and her answer was okay there, saying yes, she might do that, but then she said it was impressive and I didn’t know what she was talking about.

I tried to do most of the talking, telling her about our vacation…. and maybe that’s how I move forward with her. I don’t want her to struggle when she speaks with me yet I do want to stay connected. Her daughter is keeping her mother’s progress (or lack thereof) close to the vest, choosing not to tell friends like me what’s going on. I have to respect that (I guess) but I would like to be in the loop so I know what I can and should or should not do.

It’s frustrating and sad. Any tips for me to help? Should I stay away? (which goes totally counter to my instinct). If the daughter thinks she wants to keep her mother’s health inside a few family members, I guess I have no choice but to comply. The daughter (who is young yet, in her early twenties) is there when I visit and when I call – she’s given up her job to stay home full time with her mother. Sharon’s sister is nearby so I know at least there’s an adult helping the daughter make decisions but I’m concerned the daughter is in full stress mode. Sigh.

21 thoughts on “Dealing with a Friend Who Had a Stroke

  1. This is tough. Can you speak with the daughter directly and ask her to keep you in the loop? I’d continue to call. That way you can hear how she’s doing by what she can and can’t say

    My mother in law had a stroke when she was 90 but had therapy three times a week to get back most if her speech. She forgot a lot but we kept talking to her to keep her brain cells active.

    1. One of the last times I called the daughter answered the phone and I asked her how I could help. Sh didn’t seem to want to answer me so I didn’t press the subject. I’ve known Sharon since the late 1960s so it’s very hard for me to walk away. Sharon’s sister hasn’t even called or emailed me, nor her ex husband. It’s all very strange. I can understand not wanting to tell the world you suffered a stroke but gee, such a old friend?

      I agree to keep calling. Thanks for the opinion.

  2. My guess is that the daughter (and probably sister too) are not getting much–if any–useful guidance from the medical professionals involved, and that they themselves are at an utter loss as to what to do next or expect next, let alone offer insight to friends such as you. It seems from what you say that this isn’t a deathbed situation, which — while a good thing, of course — comes with a bundle of logistical considerations that will evolve unpredictably and perhaps go on for many years. On top of the emotional distress. Scary stuff.

    Do you get the sense that your friend enjoys the visits you two have? There’s nothing you or she can do about her lack of coherence, but if you see a glint of pleasure, it’s a good thing. Actually, it’s the goal. It sounds like you’re trying to follow her cues, which is good too. Are you willing to spell the daughter for an afternoon or two, if the time comes that she’s willing to accept such help? Are you willing spend the better part of a day driving your friend to appointments and back? These are the situations where you could make a real difference over time.

    This is not exactly a parallel situation, but speaking as the daughter of a woman who died of end-stage Alzheimer’s (she was 81, I was 54), I can understand why this young daughter might go into a defensive crouch. It can seem as if relatives and friends demand “reports,” and then feel they’re being shut out when, in fact, you simply have nothing to tell them. Also it can feel like they are constantly judging the quality of your care and the wisdom of your decisions. And you know what? Frequently, they are. I know you’re not “that” person, so I hope you can be patient with the gatekeeper daughter who is, undoubtedly, dealing with plenty of “those” people. Show that you plan to stick around for the long term.

    1. LR, You always make me think. Your comments are so in-depth.

      So, yes, I have volunteered six ways to Sunday to run errands, to sit with Sharon for the day, to cook, clean, shop, read to Sharon if she wants…anything and everything. I hear crickets. I am presuming the daughter and sister want to take it all on themselves. Perhaps my offers to help are seen as gratuitous or hollow? I would do anything they wanted of me, no questions asked, no problem, but there’s a wall there.

      I understand the defensive mode too – when my cousin was dying of cancer, I told his wife that I would not ask how he was doing and would wait to hear from her, let her be the lead for news. So I get that, but Sharon isn’t dying and what I know of stroke recovery, stimulation from friends and family is a good thing. I think the daughter is NOT dealing with anyone (something Sharon said to me on the phone yesterday led me to believe they’ve only told less than a handful of people that Sharon had a stroke). Their call, perhaps Sharon feels compromised, but if they did tell me, I think they’d let me in the door a wee bit more.

      I think I’d feel better if I could talk with Sharon’s sister on the phone but I fear if I call the sister, it’ll be perceived as stepping over the boundaries the daughter has set. So I won’t.

      Yes, Sharon seems happy to see and talk to me. There’s a smile or a laugh. I’ll call every couple of weeks and ask if I can visit when I’m in the city. I think that’s all I can do.

  3. Hate to ask this, but, do the family know of the existence and/or read your blog? There may be reticence about how much information gets out and to whom.

    I would like a gigantic iPad.

    1. Reasonable question. Sharon knew when I first started blogging because she had a competing blog – very left wing politically and we used to have dueling comments. She quit that blog after a couple of years and when I “retired”, she, like most others, assumed it was permanent. She has no idea (to my knowledge) that I am blogging again. Do you think I’ve stepped over any boundaries? I don’t say who she is other than her first name.

      1. No, I don’t think you’ve crossed any boundaries, but, it’s the only reason I can think of that her family won’t even give you the courtesy of a return call or message. Maybe S told them that you’re a right-wing hothead and they’re giving you a wide berth (you know how liberals are)?

        1. You do know that you are a good enough friend of this blog that you could tell me outright if you felt I had crossed a boundary.

          Sharon has been a card carrying atheist and liberal as long as I’ve known her. A Hillary fan but I bet she’d be on the Bernie bandwagon if she were able to converse about politics. We respected each other’s differences, laughed about each other’s points of view, and continued to be good friends, despite being polar opposites.

  4. At 22, I closed my eyes to my grandmother’s dementia, and now I’m lost dealing with my mother’s mental decline. I wish I had the experience of involvement with Gram.
    These situations require professional help. I don’t believe a 20-something without medical/mental knowledge is equipped to handle this.
    Since there is impairment, the law needs to recognize someone to make decisions. So who has this legal power? If there is considerable wealth involved, the process gets more complicated. It is a nightmare for all involved. Even social security wants to know who has the power to spend the money.

    1. Oh Flash, that’s tough to read. I’m so sorry you are watching your mother decline. It’s got to be very hard on you. Mom’s are the heart of the family – they are the ones who bring everyone together, the ones who love the most unconditionally, so when they fail, the rest of the family crumbles a bit.

      I agree wholeheartedly that stroke patients need some professional help. I do know Sharon is getting some speech therapy. Beyond that, I don’t know if the daughter has power of attorney to make these decisions, I don’t know who else is helping (or not) and I honestly think the daughter is in far over her head. The daughter had serious medical issues as a child and Sharon took her all over for diagnoses. If I were a betting woman, I’m guessing the daughter feels it is her obligation to give back that time to her mother rather than getting in more professionals. We all make decisions that work for us and our loved ones, but the daughter, as you said, is way too young to grasp what has to happen. Plus, she quit her job! That can’t be right.

      1. I hope your interest does not fade. There are tough decisions ahead for this family. Someone must be strong and take action to determine if the future has improvement possibilities or only decline. Make plans and follow through. Help.

        1. I’m coming to grips with the fact that my involvement will be limited to a few phone calls and a visit now and then. I don’t feel I have any right (morally) to second-guess the decisions the family has made for Sharon, even tho my heart tells me they are wrong. For example, I would have thought the sister would have moved Sharon to HER house, taken overseeing the care and therapy process, and let the daughter go back to work.
          Good luck with your mom. Is she nearby at least that you can stay connected?

  5. Although Sharon’s daughter is calling the shots, the reality is she is probably overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for her mother. She’s likely scared. And, she may be afraid of giving up any control. Some people don’t want to ask for help but are grateful when it is given.

    If I were Sharon my first thoughts would be for my daughter. The carer needs care. So, I’d probably write to the daughter, saying how much her devotion to Sharon means to Sharon. The daughter could use a lot of understanding and emotional support. Send the kid a present and let her know you’re thinking of her.

    Under the circumstances you can’t do much more for Sharon than to sit with her and carry on a one sided conversation. I don’t know beans about strokes but I bet she understands a bit of what you’re saying.

    1. Swanton, I would write to the daughter in a second if Sharon didn’t have an older sister nearby. When I asked Sharon if speaks with or sees her sister daily, she didn’t know. And I don’t think Sharon has the mental capacity to understand her own limitations or to comprehend how much the daughter is sacrificing to be the default caregiver.

      1. My thinking is that if and when Sharon recovers she’ll be happy to know someone cared about her daughter when she wasn’t able to. Doesn’t matter whether Sharon knows of her daughter’s sacrifice. Being nice to the daughter right now is a nice thing to do. That’s all.

  6. It really does seem that you’re doing your sincere best to hit the balance of caring a lot but respecting boundaries. Perhaps there are issues among family members’ relationships that you have no way of knowing about that are driving their behaviors? And I think Flash is onto something with the possible issue of who has POA and the extra problems if there are a lot of assets.

    1. Sharon and her sister are pretty close. I haven’t seen or heard of any family rifts but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. Most of us don’t air our dirty laundry.

  7. You know, your mother has vast storage of experience…a lifetime. Maybe talking to her will help you find your way in this relationship.

    1. Excellent suggestion. I speak with her at least twice a day, we start with a regular 7:30a call where we hash out overnight political news. There’s much to talk about today!

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