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Meadowlark Hospice

Dawn's Notes

Margaret - September 2019
by Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW

She walked slowly with a cane and a chose a seat near the front of the church.  The brace on her right foot hinted of a past medical condition, maybe a stroke.  That was the first time I had seen Margaret, but I sensed there was something special about her.  She had a warm smile for those around her, and when the pastor encouraged those in the congregation to greet one another, she walked toward me. When I asked Margaret how she was, she replied slowly and emphatically, “I am won-der-ful!”   Her smile matched her words, and I was awed!  That morning when the pastor asked if there were any birthdays, Margaret stood up, raised her left fist into the air, and confidently declared, “I am seventy-one!”

If was obvious that she was grateful to be alive, and she definitely looked much younger than seventy-one.  That was the beginning of my friendship with Margaret, and I will never be able to capture the essence of who she really is with words. The next Sunday morning, after church, I made a beeline toward Margaret.  I told her, “You are an inspiration, in case you don’t know it!” and I asked her about the possibility of writing a story about her.  I met with her a few days later, and here is a little about Margaret. She grew up in Minnesota, the oldest of five children.  She described her mother as “pure Irish” and said she inherited her determination from her mom.  Her father was Norwegian-Swedish, “a man who loved everybody.”

Before June 15, 2001, Margaret said her life was going well, that “it was perfect.”  She had worked her job at a bank that day.  After she got home, she decided to paint a shed.  It began to rain, so she went into the house, but before she could open a beverage to drink, she fell to the floor.Margaret said that “somehow” she was able to call her sister and told her she had fallen.  She did not know what was happening to her, but she had suffered a massive stroke when her carotid artery dissected (tore), and oxygen was restricted to her brain.  She was only 53 years old. Margaret could no longer talk or walk, and she lost the use of her right hand.  She was hospitalized for about six weeks and received physical and speech therapy.  At the time of her discharge the only thing she could do was sing “Happy Birthday,” and she could not  correctly answer “yes” and “no” questions.  Margaret said, “I would get yes and no mixed up,” which really confused things for her and those trying to help her. 

Margaret’s husband Mike drove her to outpatient therapy every day from autumn until spring.  And gradually over a period of about 4 years, her speech began to return.  Today, 19 years later, she can walk, talk, and care for herself and their home. Margaret experienced many losses.  She had to give up her job at a bank.  She can no longer sing or dance and has limited use of her right hand.  She wears a brace on her leg to help her walk. But she had faced her challenges with grit and determination and recognizes the good things in her life:  her husband Mike of 39 years who has stood beside her, their 3 children and 7 grandchildren, her family and friends. She has learned to write, eat, and paint left-handed!  Margaret decorates bird houses by painting flowers on them and she says her bird houses are “gorgeous”—others agree!  She gives her bird houses to family and friends. She also loves to grow flowers and can hardly wait for nurseries to open in the spring in Minnesota so she can buy flowers to plant. Life has not been easy for her, but she has been determined.  We talked about her saying “I am won-der-ful” when she greets people, and she said, “It’s true, I am won-der-ful, even though she does not always feel wonderful.  With a laugh, she said, “I sometimes lie about it just a little!”

A few years after her stroke, feeling began returning to her right leg, causing nerve pain.  But Margaret keeps on going, living, painting, and planting flowers.  We laughed often as she reminisced about her life. I asked her what she would tell someone who is going through a very tough time.  Her words were immediate.  With vigor she answered, “Fight, fight, fight!”  “Keep on going, and fight to live!”  Margaret is hoping to live to ninety! As a result of her illness, Margaret is growing more than flowers.  She grows hope, laughter, joy, optimism, and inspiration for those whose lives she touches.  That’s my beautiful friend!  Her name is Margaret.

The most beautiful people are those who have …
known struggle, known loss, and found their way out of the depths….

- Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Call about the next "Living Life after Loss" Group at:
Meadowlark Hospice
709 Liberty, Clay Center, Kansas
(785) 632-2225
Dawn Phelps, RN/LMSW, Group Facilitator