My dad is complex—he does not express feelings well or often. He does not see the amazing things that he has done and has said that he had a lot of regrets. This really bugged me.


By Michelleanne Bradley


I have found my family to be rich with opportunities for Buddhist practice; lots of equanimity, compassion, mercy, grace, and so many other micro and macro-opportunities.

No one provided quite as much gooey stuff for practice as my dad. I love my father, and he makes me craziest. I am most like him in so many ways, and so different in many others. He was politically conservative—I am decidedly not that; he wanted me to be girly and ladylike, and I am not that.

On 7 August 2019, he suffered a massive stroke. The two years after were painful and grueling in so many ways. His recovery impacted all of us, none so much as my mom, who became a constant caregiver, driver, and as my dad put it, nag. He could not do some of the extremely basic things that used to come as easily as breathing. He lashed out in frustration when he could not complete a thought or find a piece of paper or figure out a task.

I left Syracuse when I was 20; I am now in my 50’s.

My relationship with my parents evolved a great deal in the decades I lived far from them. I used to say that on visiting, I would pass through a worm hole where I transformed back to the 20-year-old who they froze in time in their minds. I have grown up a lot, and so have they.

I love the story of my parents. The first time my parents saw the house I bought, Dad said what I needed was five gallons of gas and a match. Later he said that he did not see what I did in the house, and that I did a great job. I have lived on that compliment for years. I stopped tripping over myself for the approval of my parents a while ago. I still want it but liking myself and having good boundaries is far more important to me than the approval of anyone.

I have been in therapy for a few years now (EMDR).

Part of therapy for me has been to reconcile the important relationships, and to face people (including myself) with compassion, empathy, kindness, grace, mercy and love. This has been a lot more difficult than it may read. My dad is complex—he does not express feelings well or often. He does not see the amazing things that he has done and has said that he had a lot of regrets.

This really bugged me.

I wrote him a big, long email for Father’s Day, which happened to be the week before I flew there for our annual family vacation and told him that I am super proud of him, that he had taught me so much, and I never regret that he is my dad. I told him that I know that some people think that they have awesome dads, but none compared to him, and it is not about the “stuff” part, but about how he has lived that has been a great example. He appears gruff, but he is a softie.

Some say that I have inherited this presence and energy from him.

We arrived late Wednesday night for our annual trip. I flew from California to pick up my nieces and nephew in Arizona, we continued together to Syracuse. Grandma’s birthday was July 4th, and she was turning 95. The first week we planned to be at camp on Wellesley Island and the second week in Syracuse.

We had a great first few days with my parents. Saturday, we went to check out a farm, and to get ice cream on the island. Dad and my oldest niece and I went to the mainland to pick up a few groceries, I was all excited to find Death Wish Coffee. He said that he didn’t really like the name of the brand, but if I liked it, we would get it. When we got back to camp, Dad fished off the dock with his grandson. That night he made dinner on the grill and played cards with Mom and the kids into the evening.

It was a beautiful day settling into vacation.

We had plans to spend the next day out on the boat. Sunday morning my mom woke me at 5 am to tell me that there was something wrong with Dad, and she needed my help. I was instantly awake.

He was on the floor between the bed and the wall when I got into their room. He told me that the floor was slippery, and his shorts were slick, and he could not get purchase to get up, so he needed to take off his shorts. I tried to help him up but could not manage because of the bed and the wall.

I knew that he was having a stroke.

Mom called 911, I had to talk with the operator because mom could not remember the address.

He asked me to drag him by his feet around to the doorway so that he could pull himself up, and then that I put on his shoes so that he could get up on his own. Instead, I got him a pillow and made sure that he was on his side in case he started to choke, I could clear his airway. I moved the nightstand, and his CPAP machine, cleared the way as best I could for the first responders.

Mom was getting dressed and throwing stuff in bags so that she could leave with him. I turned on the outside lights as the first ambulance pulled in, answered the preliminary questions, and led them back to Dad. I heard them asking questions to assess his mental clarity, and I rolled my eyes when I heard his response to their question of who the President was. The EMTs arrived next, explaining that they would be airlifting him to Syracuse from a field nearby.

They said that Mom would not be able to go with him. Everyone who knows Mom was shocked that she did not just hold on to the landing skids. I think that she was trying to not freak out the kids who were still sleeping.

After Dad left to be airlifted, the girls came down from the loft and we proceeded to scramble to help Mom pack the car so that she could get to the hospital too. We did stop to wave to the helicopter that took off from the fields near the main road with Dad onboard. At first, we were throwing all the stuff into bags and packing coolers and sorting the stuff that would go in Mom’s SUV, and what I would take in Dad’s truck. I was also trying to sort when it would be a good time to call my brother in Arizona.

It was still very early in the morning when I sent a message out to the group of super-friends I have known since high school letting them know what was going on, because I needed the support (we have had a messenger group going for a few years now, they are everything to me), and a text to my cousin Lori, because she is my twin soul. As soon as Lori let me know she was awake, I called her and filled her in, and she was on the road up to camp be with us.

My brother called me back after multiple text messages and I got him a ticket on the first flight out that night. As news spread, we were trying to figure out how to handle all the moving parts and what exactly needed to be done. When Mom got to the hospital, he had already been taken for scans and treatment had started—it was a bleeder, not a clot, and more massive than the first stroke had been.

The vacation had come to a screeching halt; it was time for big practice.


Photo: Pixabay

Editor: Dana Gornall



Michelleanne Bradley