My grandma had a stroke. This is what I learned. – By @carlyillston

By Carly Illston


My grandma had a stroke. This is what I learned. 


Earlier on this year, my grandma suffered a stroke. The worst possible kind, we were told. She wasn’t expected to make it through the night. But she did. Then she wasn’t expected to be able to swallow by herself when they took the feeding tube out. But she did. Now they say people that have suffered the same type of stroke as her are not expected to make it to 12 months. But she’s stronger than ever. 

Pre-stoke, my grandma had an enviable social life. Having lived in her village for the majority of her life, she has (rightly so) become part of the heart of the community. Never a stranger to a glass of Shiraz in the Red Lion, she was part of the heart of the community. Walking was her passion. She had a buddy that she went walking with a few times a week, and was part of a few different groups that went on walking holidays together. She was out and about all the time, meeting this friend or that. In fact, a few weeks before her stroke, she had told my dad not to call her on weekdays because she would most likely be out. 

Now I’m not going to dwell on the bad parts of her condition now, because that doesn’t help anyone. Instead, I’d like to share some things I’ve learned from visiting her for a couple weekends recently. 

  1. Never underestimate your opponent 

As my grandma’s communication skills have become quite limited, we soon figured out that games were the way to open a sort of 2 way dialogue with her. Dominoes, noughts and crosses, and Connect 4 are some of her favourites. When I sat down to play Connect 4 with her, I will admit that I went easy on her, and so she won the first game. Then in the next game, I thought that I should try to win to keep the score even. I had calculated my strategy, and had spent the last few goes lining up my counters, ready to win. But lo and behold, my grandma had been a few steps ahead of me and triumphantly placed her counter to make a row of 4 that I hadn’t even seen, let alone tried to block. Did I learn from my mistake? Of course not. So she went on to win overall. 

  1. Just say it 

It’s clear that sometimes my grandma is really trying to ask something, but can’t get her words out, which is incredibly frustrating and demoralising, so she often gives up. This has made me realise that we need to say things while we can. Tell our friends how much they mean to us, catch up with our family across the world. If you have something you want to tell someone, now is the time. 

  1. Keep laughing. always. 

This one speaks for itself really. A bit of laughter can transcend language barriers, and make you forget that you’re in a care home. Even if it’s just for a second. 

  1. Never underestimate the power of a good manicure 

In all my childhood, I don’t think I ever saw my grandma without nail polish on. Light pinks, turquoises, sparkly silvers, pearly whites. Colours that make everything around you seem a little less dull. Even know, when her dark hair dye has faded, and without her makeup, she can look down at her nails and feel a sense of joy. 

  1. Don’t be afraid to tell people exactly what you want 

My dad and I were up visiting last weekend and decided that what her room needed was a bit of festive cheer. By the time we left, it looked like Santa Clause had thrown up in one corner of the room. We brought in a tree, tinsel, lights, Christmas cards, and a Santa teddy bear for good measure. Now, my Grandma is incredibly fussy about where things should go in her room and she is not afraid to boss us around, making us painstaking positioning the teddy bear’s hat properly, or moving the Christmas tree a few inches to the left. It took a good half hour to sort the decorations. But I loved that. After all, it is her space. Why should we be walking on egg shells in front of anyone, let alone our own family? If we know what we want, we need to say it. 

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