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Bonnie Franklin’s Life as a Caregiver: One Day at a Time
By W. Reed Moran
From 1975 to 1984, actress Bonnie Franklin played Ann Romano, a single mother facing life’s daily challenges with grace and humor, on the popular sitcom One Day at a Time.
Three years later, in 1987, her father had a major stroke. “In that split second, the world changed for my father and all of us who loved him,” says Franklin. At the age of 84, Franklin’s active and optimistic father found his speech gone and his right side paralyzed.
It was the beginning of a new, unscripted life for the entire extended family.
“After discharge from the hospital, my father had to learn to do most everything we take for granted, walking, speaking, all over again. It took a lot of courage, dedication and therapy, but he did it,” says Franklin.
“His nine years of recovery proved to us it’s possible, depending on the type of stroke, to have a very good, beneficial, and successful life, post stroke.”
What helped make the recovery journey a generally positive experience for all?
“First of all,” says Franklin, “my father had this amazing gift: the gift to be able to ask for help.” Franklin says reaching out helps the family by reducing worry, increasing communication, and allowing caregivers a sense of purpose and participation in the recovery process.
And asking for help includes seeking out those in the community who support stroke survivors and their families. “Whether …through the stroke association or your local hospital, find out what programs are out there,” says Franklin.
“We were lucky enough to find tremendous resources for all sorts of post-stroke needs through the Stroke Association of Southern California,” says Franklin. “One of the most surprising and beneficial results was becoming part of a community that’s so strong and giving.”
Franklin reports that through community connections, the patient finds people with a common problem, and this often helps develop a drive to move forward. For the family, it’s an opportunity to share the successes and frustrations of being caregivers.
“Sharing with other caregivers allowed us to realize we [were] not alone. It’s an enormous relief to be with other people who understand what your family is going through.”
Franklin knows what it’s like to want to hide in times of crisis, but advises fighting this instinctive reaction. “When you don’t give in to wanting to isolate yourself, you find that there are people who love you, understand you, and have the knowledge to help the patient and family get through the day.”
Franklin’s family found out through community involvement that the future can be quite good after stroke. But it is important to stay focused on the present. “Another caregiver taught me an important lesson, and if you’ll forgive me, it was this: take it one day at a time.”
Franklin says that the family learned to live each day fully and richly, leaving behind any expectations for the future.
It’s not an easy attitude to develop. But it’s essential to enjoy what’s there, while at the same time realizing that life will never be exactly what it was before. The future can be good, but know it will be different.”
Franklin and her father appreciated every day of their journey over the next nine years. “In many ways it was a wonderful time,” says Franklin. “Because my father was forced to slow down, I finally had the chance to really get to know him. We talked, we laughed, we cried. I discovered this tremendous humor in him. And his intelligence never left him.”
But living with stroke is never easy. “It’s a daily grind, for everyone, and that has to be acknowledged too,” advises Franklin. She reminds caregivers that their most important, yet most difficult job, is self-care.
“If you don’t build in time in the day for yourself, you’ll eventually feel drained, resentful, and guilty,” says Franklin. “Ironically, the most selfless thing we can do for the stroke survivor is our own self care, recharging our batteries for the next day.”
Franklin is still actively involved in the stroke community more than 10 years after her father’s death, because she’s eager to give hope to others. “Stroke may seem like the end of the world but it’s not. It’s just a change in how we view the world. Sometimes it’s a better view.”
Franklin and her family came to clearly see what’s important in life. “We all learned greater empathy, admiration for the courage and achievements of anyone who is struggling with any disability. Most importantly, we learned the joy of making time to create true, deep human connections.”
“If we can live in the world with this awareness of our need for each other, it changes everything for the better. We are never alone we are always interconnected.”
Use National Stroke Association’s discussion guide to identify and share tips for improving quality of life after stroke. The guide includes questions to discuss at your next stroke support group meeting, with your family, or independently. Go to www.stroke.org/myturn to download the guide or call (800) STROKES.
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