Whatever Hurts Us Makes Us Stronger – Thoughts on my Grandma’s Stroke

It’s amazing how quickly an ordinary day can become an anomaly.

Saturday for example: one minute I’m trying to find a quiet place in the house to get some writing done, helping Maile move some furniture, and thinking about finishing the chicken coop. Ten minutes later I’m driving into the hospital to see my grandmother who just had a stroke.

Or two days before that: Lucy and I were coming back from a little date at Target and Panera (the girl loves their broccoli soup and whole grain bread – she has her mother’s taste buds and desire to eat healthy, even at 6). On the way home we passed an accident. Cruising slowly by, I saw two cars with very little damage. But in the grass a fireman was giving a gentleman chest compressions.

There was an urgency in the scene that didn’t match the calm state of the undamaged automobiles resting innocently against the curb. Today, while in the hospital with my grandma, I found out that man was a family friend. He died from a heart attack. He was only 57.

* * * * *

I’m sitting in the hospital room with grandma right now. Her wiry, gray hair reaches to her shoulders – having grown up Amish, she usually wears a covering, and I’ve never seen her with her hair down before. Someone came in to talk to us about her swallowing, now that one side of her throat might not cooperate. Some of her kids, my aunts and uncles, are in and out. She’s excited because she finally gets to eat.

She tries to lift food with her right hand, but the stroke has limited her mobility on that side, so her hand trembles and stops about three inches short of her mouth. She leans forward and uses her lower jaw to lift the food the rest of the way into her mouth. We want to help her eat. We tell her to use her left hand.

My cousin gets ready to leave the room. She’s recently had her own surgery and can barely walk. She leans in and hugs grandma. Grandma kisses her cheek a thousand times, holds on to her face with her still-strong left hand (as if letting go would be the end of her) and says over and over again in her slurred voice:

“Whatever hurts us makes us stronger. Whatever hurts us makes us stronger.”

14 Replies to “Whatever Hurts Us Makes Us Stronger – Thoughts on my Grandma’s Stroke”

  1. A simple, yet powerful story! You’re grandmother has a lot of grace to give. Certainly, God is giving her strength and peace. My prayers go out to your entire family. Thank you sharing.

  2. I just started reading Joan Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking, and it opens much the same way this post does.

    May you find the grace that is offered in a place of such pain . . . as it seems you have with these words, Shawn. My prayers are with all of you.

  3. Shawn, thank you again. This reminded me of my grandmother’s stroke, ages and ages ago. When she came to live with us, and had lost all mobility on her right side. Too much to tell, but thank you for loving your family. She is a wise, strong woman surrounded by love.

  4. Your grandmother sounds like an amazing- and intriguing- woman! I will add her words of wisdom to the verse my grandma always quoted: I can do everything through Him who strengthens me.

    Praying for her recovery!

  5. Shawn—Thanks so much for the updates on Grandmom Smucker. She always has and continues to be a very wise and strong woman!! I will continue to pray for her and the rest of the Smucker family. Keep updates coming!!

  6. Quiet confidence has always surrounded Mom Smucker. She really gets having childlike faith, love her.

  7. I knew Grandma was saying something over and over to Tessa: I sort of assumed she was praying. But I didn’t hear the words. How simple. How wise. “Whatever hurts us makes us stronger.”

    The athlete can never become a strong runner without the pain of working those muscles needed to perform. The mind will never develop well if it is not stimulated and “worked” to keep us alert and quick-thinking. And from an emotional perspective, nothing develops personal compassion like going through it ourselves.

    It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Oswald Chambers:
    “When you are in the dark, listen, and you will hear a very precious message for someone else when you are in the light.”

    I guess after 91 years, Grandma Smucker has a lot to teach us.

  8. I got a call last weekend that one of my family members had a heart attack and was rushed to the hospital. Three days ago I found out that she had passed away. She was 60 and was always welcoming me in, even though I’m not directly in the family, I was always treated that way. Then I got a message today that my pap’s brother had died as well. While he was 93 and hadn’t been doing well for awhile, it’s still hard.

    It’s never easy, and I know the family is searching for answers. I’ve been trying to come up with some, even if they’re just a bandaid for now. I wish the best for you and your family as your grandmother begins her recovery. Seems like she’s on her way.

  9. I’ve always heard the maxim a little differently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I much prefer your grandmother’s “version.” For what it’s worth, my prayers are with you and your family.

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