Outside the Lines

Eight years before my mother died, she had a debilitating stroke. More devastating than the loss of her ability to speak plainly or the use of her right hand, was the loss of what was beginning to unfold prior to the morning of her stroke: her short-lived revival.

Mom was limping back to life after yet another difficult decade, the one where she became her parents’ caretaker. She had returned to their home, to attend to her mother’s Alzheimer and her daddy’s old age. Those years took a toll on my mother like none other. I was in California beginning my own recovery journey and, while I was learning about powerlessness, I watched it unfold in my mother’s life as depression and self-medication took over.

After that challenging period, after both her parents passed, I watched Mom slowly come back to life. She moved into a small apartment in an assisted-living home in Winter Park, Florida, the youngest resident at the age of sixty-four. She missed us, her grown children who were scattered between central Florida, Tennessee and California, but she had family in Florida, and she began to make friends. She took in sewing and watched Dr. Phil as well as joining in the square dance lessons and art classes that were offered at her assisted living home. And it was there that she recovered her younger self’s truest love: painting. She painted and painted and became happier and more confident.

Cocoa House.jpg

Then my brother Will had a sweet idea. He bought her a modest home in Jackson County, TN, the town where we had lived, where Will and I went to high school. My mother was downright giddy from the attention. My brother’s hope was that Mom and his wife’s mother would live near each other and, therefore, support one another. He thought they would become friends and that would lessen their emotional burdens. However, that match was not made in heaven. Even so, Mom thrived in her Gainesboro house. Floored by her son’s generosity and the attention she received from her other nearby children, Mom painted, planted a vegetable garden, and watched the sheep frolic on the farm across the street from a rocking chair on her own porch. She relaxed into a gentler phase of life.


Not being a driver, she managed to get senior services in nearby Putnam County to pick her up for doctor appointments and shopping. She even found a psychologist. I was so excited that my Mom’s can-do-ness had reappeared, that the old gal was getting her strength and fire back.


The therapist she saw regularly in Cookeville thought that she suffered from PTSD. He convinced my mother to try a new form of therapy that addressed PTSD specifically. I was wowed by Mom’s willingness and bravery. Even though she was terrified, she said she would attend. 

No one knows exactly what happened the morning a stroke burned a valley through my mother’s brain, but I do know she was waiting for the senior services van to pick her up for her first PTSD session. I had high hopes for her future, that this specific therapy might truly bring my mother much-needed freedom from her anxiety and depression. The only place so far where she’d been truly free was in her paintings. She painted outside of the lines, in her own style, at her own pace.

In the anger that crested the waves of my grief, I went through my Mom’s purse to find her address book so I could call and cancel the therapy appointment she would no longer be able to attend. I’m not sure why I thought I needed to do that. I was so proud of her I guess I needed them to know she had not chickened out.