As I sat there thinking of emotional roller-coasters, I found myself thinking about the many ways I utilize my coaching tools on the journey to recovery from trauma to maintain my sanity.
In March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started. This led me along with the world into a state of panic.
As a woman of color, I asked myself “how did the vicious COVID-19 target the Afro- Americans more compared to other races?” Although I wanted to stay informed to be sure that I followed all the necessary measures to stay COVID-19 free, the media became too much and I just had to stop watching the news. I did not stop social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing though.
While trying to adjust everything in the face of COVID-19, my mother suffered a stroke.
On Saturday of April 18, 2020, I woke up early in the morning and called my mom just to check up on her as I was used to doing. Her response was, “I was trying to call you, but I slipped and fell, I cannot get up.” Those words are still ringing in my mind. Her speech started to slur and sounded like gibberish. Suddenly, her phone went off.
I started calling for help as I rushed from the Bronx to her apartment in Manhattan. By the time I arrived, the paramedics had already rushed her to the hospital. I immediately got into a cab and headed to the hospital.
The security guard at the emergency room entrance greeted me and said that I could not go in. I began crying and calling my mom so loud that the hospital supervisor came out of his office. He understood what I was going through; from uncertainties, to fear, panic, and not sure what will happen to my mom next.
My mother was surrounded by strangers whom I was not sure if they were COVID-19 positive or not. The supervisor eventually got me a doctor who managed to calm me down.
In addition to the doctors keeping me informed on how my mother was doing, they gave me their phone numbers, so I could call them anytime, day and night and I was able to know how my mother was.
In my mind, I was praying and hoping that my mother will not contract infectious COVID-19. I wondered if the hospital staff had put a mask on her. I kept asking myself; “Is my mom in the same room with the COVID-19 patients? Or have they separated her from them? Does my mom even know where she is?” This kept ringing in my mind all that time.
My mother had suffered a few more strokes in the emergency room before she was finally transferred from the emergency room to a normal ward at 2:00 am the following day. This drained me even more.
At times, I thought my almost 90-year-old mom will not make it out of the hospital. This was a feeling that stressed me and so there was a need to control it. I said to myself time and time again, “My mother is a fighter and she will make it out of this hospital”
At this time, I was receiving harsh phone calls and nasty text messages from distant family members and some other people from Jamaica, some of whom I had never heard of before. All this was as a result of my sister giving away my contact without my consent. Despite my sister sharing my contact, she had never called to ask how our mom was doing.
I had called my brother to let him know that mom had suffered a stroke. He pretended to be dumb but he had to know anyway.
Back in 2017, my mother had become ill and I spent more than 10 hours in the emergency room. I also spent 4 nights in the hospital room sleeping on 2 chairs.
When she recovered from this, I thought that it was over but the unthinkable happened. At this time, she was taken into a nursing home for short term rehabilitation. This was not easy for me but she had to.
I needed her to get better so she could go back to her home.
Mom is an active member of the senior citizen daycare which is located downstairs from the nursing home.
Generational roles to trauma and re-traumatization
Every year, the nursing home holds a big Christmas party and my mother is always an active participant. That Christmas, I carried a misses Santa clause suit to go get her ready for the party.
A nurse came into the room and asked if she could speak with me for a moment. As soon as I stepped out into the hallway, the nurse said to me, “I am sorry for your loss”. I was shocked. I didn’t know what she meant.
She went on and told me that my eldest brother together with his daughter, my sister, and my youngest brother’s half-brother, had come to the nursing home the previous night and wanted to tell my mother that my youngest brother had died. Well, they didn’t tell her, so I had the hardest task to break the news to her.
Suppressing the hurting feelings inside was hard, but I needed to do that so that my mother could enjoy herself at the Christmas party, and later I would tell her.
I recall the fake stories my eldest brother would tell my mother about the cause of my brother’s death.
His death was the result of a “Lonely heart” with the talk of needing money for burial expenses. My sister told my mother that she doesn’t know where she went to identify my brother’s body. This was followed by another fabricated story. My eldest brother told my mother that one of my youngest brother’s tentacles had been cut off and that his body was so decomposed.
Understanding my mother’s pain and the trauma, not to mention the pain I was going through, I hid mine and focused on getting my mother stable enough so that she could be discharged from the nursing home.
I think I should mention that a couple of years before my brother’s death, I had bought my mother a motorized wheelchair that she used for about a year before a taxi slammed into her chair as she was crossing the street.
Well, my eldest brother has friends who use walkie-talkies. They do listen in, on calls to the police responding to accidents – this lets them be the first on the scene pretending to be supportive, accompanying victims to the hospital to gather the necessary information and getting an attorney in place.
I recall the text message I got from my sister, “mommy got hit by a taxi, but she is okay now”. I had recently returned from a trip, I called my mother and she said she wondered why I did not come to the hospital, and that my sister had taken her to a lawyer whom she never saw and she was made to sign a couple of forms.
Having street smarts, I knew my eldest brother and my sister were about to take my mom for a ride.
I stepped in and reached out to my network of personal injury attorneys. With an honest attorney in place, my mother was able to settle her case.
Getting compensated by her lawsuit caused bitter feelings for my eldest brother and sister. Since none of them knew how much money she settled for, they did all they could to cause her grief.
I recall the day my brother saw me and asked me what my mother did with her money from her lawsuit. I told him I was not her bank sitter and that is a question that he should ask her, but if it gave him any comfort, I have my own money”. He responded, “That’s a shame Angela.
My sister took time off from work to take mom for the doctor’s appointment and she did not get a dime of mom’s money. I guess my mother was supposed to pay her.
Let’s go back to the nursing home. My eldest brother thought that my mother had a lot of money from her lawsuit, he expected her to write him a check for my youngest brother’s funeral expenses. When his 1st plan failed, and he didn’t receive a check from my mother, – he told a more graphic story of how my youngest brother died.
My sister would tell my mother that it will cost $2000+ to have his body cremated, but my mother still did not write a check. My sister was crushed and hurriedly went upstate to Dutchess County to claim my brother’s body, and she signed the death certificate unbeknownst to my mother. She thought that because my brother had a military background, and she worked in the Veteran hospital it would be free money back, but it did not end that way for her.
After a year since the death of my youngest brother, my mother became ill again and had to be hospitalized for a few days. As usual, I was by her side every step of the way.
The day that my mother was discharged from the hospital, my oldest brother came to the hospital with crocodile tears attempting to be clean with my mother and me. I thought in my mind, “he is desperate for money again – what trick does he have up his sleeves this time?”
Brace yourself for what happened next. The following day, my eldest brother came to my mother’s home and brought with him my youngest brother’s ashes and the death certificate.
You can imagine the hurt and the trauma this caused both my mother and I. This was my brother’s means to work his way back into my mother’s heart.
Making Sense of Intentional Trauma
Talk about evil. My mother and I often ask why they would behave in such a manner. My mother always talks about how deeply that hurts her, and they both attempt to come around her as if all is well. “Do they have any idea the damage they have caused in my heart? – that was my son”. Those was my mother’s words that continues to echo inside of my head.
So that was what I played back to my eldest brother, I asked him to inform my sister since it is obvious that they could not understand how this played a role leading to my mother’s stroke.
Writing this was strenuous for me. Back to what happened following my mother’s stroke.
Finally, the doctor said my mother could be discharged but he recommended she be placed into a nursing home because she would need a lot of rehabilitation. I told him, “I do not speak that language, the only nursing home my mother will be going to is to my house”.
The first few weeks were very challenging, I had to completely put my business activities on hold, endure verbal abuse, harsh phone calls from family members and having up to 5 different service providers in my home offering my mother services.
Not to mention I had to call EMS on 2 occasions, after trying to get my mother back in the bed but because she could no longer walk her legs were weak. I used to cry because I was not able to use her finger stick machine properly, and her speech was slurred so each time she tried to explain the process to me, I could not understand a thing she would say.
Commitment to travel the road to recovery
There was so much pain, hurt, anger, distrust, and fear that both my mother and I had hidden inside that I needed to find a mental balance as I attempted to begin the healing process. At the same time helping my mother in her recovery from her stroke and shielding her from the ugly behaviors and verbal abuse I was exposed to by a few family members.
Reaching into my Trauma Recovery toolbox, I pulled out my “Pivoting through trauma” worksheet and assisted my mother to complete the exercises as I completed mine. Together, we could regain control of our sanity.
Because my mother was still struggling with her speech, I went out and brought her a dry eraser board with markers, a deck of alphabetical flashcards with photos, and a deck of cards.
Three to 4 times per day, I did speech therapy with her; I held her hand with the marker to help her write her name and her address. After a few weeks, my mother’s beautiful facial features began to return to normal and her speech improved. I was now able to understand everything she would tell me.
I followed one of my Pivoting through trauma exercises, named positive; 1st steps to diffuse traumatic connection.
I combed through my phone log and blocked all toxic family members and changed my company phone number.
Overwhelmed by the responsibilities to care for my mother, I got long-term care approved by her insurance, so she would have a home health aide for 8 hours – 7 days a week.
My mother often cried and said that she wanted to walk again. I promised her that she would. As part of her Pivoting through trauma exercise, we worked out together and I was able to get her extended time with the physical therapist and her legs are getting stronger and she is now able to stand-up with some assistance.
The next step was having her write all the great memories she had of my youngest brother who died. When she finished, we did some debriefing and came-up with some ways that she could keep his legacy alive.
The next exercise was having my mother write down 1 biggest short-term goal and 1 biggest long-term goal she would like to accomplish. She said, “I want to walk through my pain, trauma, and dance again.” So together we came-up with a plan to launch a shoe line and name the shoes after her.
My mother said, “That’s nice, but what will that do?” I asked her if she knew what June 5th was. She replied Horace’s birthday – that is my youngest brother who died. Then I asked my mother to close her eyes and think about what that would look like if she could take her 1st step on Horace’s birthday in her branded shoe. Her eyes beamed with hope and excitement.
We created a mission statement that her shoe-line is designed to inspire all those daring to boldly pivot through traumatic life events, toxicity, and to keep the legacy alive for the loss of a loved one. On the 5th of June, my mother took her 1st step.
In such trying times you must have the necessary trauma recovery tools in place. My mother enjoys going outside, getting the abundance of compliments of her footwear, and being a member in my Trauma Survivors Cafe.