Discovering a “completely different me” when your life is turned the other way up – Terry Pluto’s Religion & You

CLEVELAND, Ohio – I received this email from Heidi Martin:

“My entire life started with a phone call. That led to a visit to my mother’s emergency room. She had a major stroke just five months after we lost my father. Almost 17 years later, we still live with me as their primary caregiver.

“I try to hold together the remnants of my previous life – and at the same time drive a newly defined life forward. Despite all the many challenges we faced, my mother was inspiring. I am so grateful for all these years of ‘extra time’.

“I think one of the hardest things was to accept that I couldn’t be who I was before her stroke – or at least to realize that I should like the newer me better. And without God’s help I would never make it. “

This is a very powerful story because many of us turn our plans upside down through real life.

One day her mother was able to take care of herself. The next day, welcome to “Stroke Land”, as I called it, after my father had his severe stroke in 1993.

I had seen people with strokes who lost their leg and / or arm function. But it was a shock to find out that my father couldn’t do more than say a single word … man. He lost the ability to read.

My father helped me get dressed once – although I was too young to remember. I know he changed my diapers. He told me that. Suddenly these roles were reversed when we entered Stroke Land.

My family had help with two general practitioners who allowed us to keep my father in his home. But our world has been changed. And it changed in the nearly five years he lived with the stroke before he died on his 78th birthday.


Heidi Martin is an Associate Professor in the Chemical Engineering Department at Case Western Reserve University. She didn’t mention that in her email. I googled them and found out.

That led to my calling her.

She told me about her parents, who were from Delbarton, West Virginia. Her father didn’t want to work in the coal mines, so he moved to Euclid to look for a job at the Fisher Body plant. Clara and Verna Martin had been married for 49 years when their father died in 2004.

She grew up in Euclid, the same house where she now lives with her mother. Heidi’s dream was to go to Case Western Reserve and then teach in college.

This working-class young woman was “driven” not only to do her PhD in a primarily male field, but also became the first female member of the chemical engineering department of the CWRU.

She was an assistant professor with two years of teaching experience when her father died and her mother suffered a stroke similar to my father’s: right side paralyzed, speech almost gone. Your mother tends to say “da-da-dad” or sometimes she answers every question with “yes”.

“That’s the worst for me – so difficult to communicate,” said Heidi.

An award ceremony at Euclid in 2015 that saw Heidi inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame. John and Jennifer Banasik, used with permission


“I was an only child,” she said. “Very close to my parents. One day I spoke to my parents about a time when long-term care might be required. Nobody in our family had been through it. “

Heidi has promised her parents to work to keep them away from a nursing home.

“Even after my mother’s stroke, I had no idea what it would be like,” she said. “I never expected it to last 17 years. I’m thankfull. But there are times when I cry, I pray and I know that I’ve lost some things during this time. “

Heidi employs general practitioners around 40 hours a week. She knows that many people cannot. “It’s so expensive,” she said. She makes Sunday Church online because it’s almost impossible to find carers to work that day.

She pushed hard at CWRU, earned a job, and became an associate professor. But she also knows that most of her peers (50) are full professors. Because of her mother’s stroke, Heidi cannot plunge into her career as fully as some of her colleagues. But she saw that something good came out of it.

“I can be very self-critical with a perfectionist streak,” said Heidi. “That helped me forgive myself, be more patient.”

Caring is humiliating. You can be brilliant at work but feel like an idiot trying to help your parents bathe or shower. It often requires thinking in pairs. It can be exhausting and lonely.

“Some people just don’t want to be with people who are sick or disabled,” she said. “And when it comes to home care workers, some are better than others. We’ve had a couple who were dishonest. Others are wonderful. But you have strangers in your house. “


Heidi and her mother Clara Martin with ballroom dancing buddy Nichy Vegas.Steve Brockman, used with permission


Heidi said family carers must “find a release”.

She loves to garden. Your mom likes to point out the weeds she’s been missing. Heidi takes part in ballroom dancing competitions. Reading about faith is comforting.

She found that she can leave her mother home alone for a few hours. I did the same with my father by sitting him in his favorite armchair and watching his television show. Just go for a walk.

“Go to yourself,” she said. “You can’t be perfect.”

Many of her students have become “family” for her over the years.

She encourages caregivers to take care of their own health. For those who have family members in nursing homes, “be as present as possible; stand up for your darling. Let the people who work there get to know you. “

How does she live in the world of science and still have a strong belief in an invisible God?

“In my view, science and physics is our attempt to understand what God has done,” she said. “I don’t pay attention to the debates about how big the galaxies and the rest are.”

She paused to reflect on her life in science and in stroke country as her mother will be 84 in a few weeks.

“I see God helping me with my mother,” she said. “So many people jumped up just when I needed them. Through all of this I know that God was there. “


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