Love in a Prayer Shawl

My mother, sister, brother-in law and I went to Chicago to visit our nephew and grandson, who was recovering from a stroke; he suffered a brain hemorrhage. Ironically and tragically, this occurred at the same time our father and his grandfather was also stricken with a stroke which unfortunately ended his life a short week ago. Our family is grieving over his loss of life, and yet another beloved family member is trying desperately to recover from a devastating brain injury. And so, we came to the hospital with our love and support for him and his family.

We were once again, walking the halls of a hospital just as we had done the month during Dad's illness. I saw the all too recent pain return in my mother's face as she tried to breathe through her suffocating fear and painful memory of losing her husband of 66 years. At 87, my mom is a matriarch of strength in our family. She proudly proclaims her family of 3 daughters, 8 grandchildren and 18 great grandchildren any time she has the opportunity to brag. She also never forgets to send a birthday card to each and every one of us. And now, in spite of her fear and haunting memory of the vigil she kept for Dad, she was determined to see her grandson. His wife was sitting at his bedside and greeted us as we came in the door.

"He's really talking today…so much more than yesterday! He must know you're here!" She seemed pleased with our presence but looked fatigued from her long days of vigil since his surgery. She was trying to tell him who we were, but it didn't seem to register in his eyes.

He is handsome in spite of his misshapen head from the two craniotomies he had undergone to save his life. A piece of his skull was removed on both sides and his horseshoe suture lines were visible. He was supposed to wear a helmet fitted for him to protect his head from any injury now that he was awake and moving. His mother, who is also my youngest sister, was already in his room assisting the nurse with his care and giving him directions. He appeared restless as he pulled at various tubes that he did not seem to understand their necessity. Overall, he looked confused and unable to follow directions from the nurse. His confusion gave him a childlike quality but, for a man in his thirties, it was obvious that keeping him from getting out of bed was difficult. His wife was sitting on the bed gently trying to keep his hands from pulling out any tubes. He seemed to recognize her and listen, but was unable to stop the behavior.

My sister moved closer to his face to get eye contact with him. "Grandma is here…remember, Grandpa died, but Grandma came to see you along with Aunt Julie, Aunt Nancy, and Uncle Jeff. "We all choked back the tears as he seemed to understand. His restless attempts to get out of bed ceased, and he turned to look at us. "Oh, he said…and for a sacred moment, there seemed to be recognition. My mom stepped up to the bed and laid the prayer shawl gently on his chest. He squeezed her hand and looked at her briefly as she said tearfully, "Here is a prayer shawl that was your Grandpa's… I hope it comforts you."

He then held the shawl like a child with his favorite blanket as my sister quickly re-explained the significance of it again. He became more animated with facial expressions and began to talk with words that had inflection and obvious meaning to him but were incomprehensible to us. Only words like "Wow", "OK" and "Let's go" were clear. His mind seemed to know what he wanted to say, but we were lost in translating meaning in his words.

Weeks later as he continued to recover, the diagnosis was made…Aphasia…

He had lost the power to use or understand words as a result of his stroke. He would need intense therapy to help him learn language again so he could communicate with the world he lives in.

And yet, the shawl needed no words.

Love needs no words; it is felt through the eyes of compassion and the touch of a warm hand. Words can sometimes block our awareness of love's presence but, it is what we do with our hearts that affects others most deeply.

When we still our voices and stop our words, the healing voice of love is heard in a prayer shawl.