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Stroke Smart Magazine

May/June 2007

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Lori and Lupe: A Mother-Daughter Story

By Jean Torkelson

As the third daughter in a sprawling, yet close-knit family, Lori Cavallo always knew where she stood.

Her mother, Lupe, was a chic southern California go-getter, a prominent civic volunteer and longtime employee of the aerospace industry. For many years, she was a single parent who struggled to raise five children.

In their high-achieving family, Lori recalls, “Gloria was the favorite daughter, Susie was the challenging daughter — and I was her best friend.”

Shopping sprees and lunches out, talking about boys and about life, coming home to curl up on the sofa to munch doughnuts and watch game shows — Lupe and Lori shared it all. And because of where they lived, Lupe, egged on by Lori, even tried out for game shows, like "Queen for a Day" and "Wheel of Fortune."

No question about it: As the teenager in the family, “I got benefits the others didn't,” says Lori, today a youthful-looking 49.

Now daughter is giving back to mother.

At 81, Lupe Smith is still chic, well-coiffed and fun-loving. But much of her high-spirited energy has been calmed by a massive stroke.

In the spacious suburban Denver home where they now live, Lori is the homemaker, breadwinner and protector. It's a role reversal which gives fresh meaning to being a daughter and a best friend to Mom. It even gives new meaning to the celebration of Mother's Day.

“It's definitely given me pause,” says Lori. “It makes me stop and really celebrate the day, (and) that my mother is still with us. It also makes me appreciate my role as a mother to my son and to my grandchildren. This whole experience makes me sure to be really present every day.”

Lori renovated the home to make it a place of comfort for her mother. The house is now wheelchair accessible. It's also a gathering place for the clan, many of whom live in Colorado. On any given day, you are likely to find several family members sitting at the kitchen table, talking, trading hugs and laughing with Lupe.

Still at the center is Lupe, ready with a quick smile, her face tenderly expressive. Her hair is coiffed to perfection and she gestures with a graceful, manicured left hand. In a wheelchair because her right side is paralyzed, Lupe can help herself out of the chair and walk assisted with a walker. She rarely speaks full sentences but can respond in a few carefully chosen words.

And in the mysterious world of stroke, some things remain wonderfully unexplained: like how she and her great-grand daughter, Alyssa, chatter together with complete understanding.

Or how Lupe can still sing songs. As the family gathers around to listen, she swings easily into one of her favorites: “High hopes, we got high hopes … high apple-pie in the sky hopes!”

Lupe is “Baseball and Football Grandma” who comes to all the great-grandkids' games.

“This has brought a very splintered family closer together,” Lori says. “We weren't the most communicative family, but this has taught us to be better at that. And it's been wonderful for my grandkids, to be close to their great-grandmother.”

“And she's still a pretty good backseat driver,” teases Lori's brother, Jerry.

Lupe's stroke hit on a perfectly lovely, southern California-dreamin' kind of day in July 2001.

She had just settled down to lunch, along with her husband Glenn and another couple. Glenn was sharing news of their upcoming vacation plans when Lupe's face contorted.

“I don't think she's very happy about your plans,” teased one of their friends. But that wasn't the case at all.

Lupe had been struck by a two-inch clot in her carotid artery. Paramedics rushed her to UCLA Medical Center, where she received the clot buster drug, t-PA.

Against long odds, Lupe survived. But Glenn could hardly care for her; as a matter of fact, Lupe had been caring for him. His square-jawed good looks and broad-shouldered physique belied the fact he was frail with diabetes and on kidney dialysis.

Doctors held out little hope for Lupe but a nursing home.

Then Lori stepped forward.

First, she moved back to California to care for her mother and Glenn, the cherished father figure whom the kids called “Dad.” After Glenn's death in 2003, Lori relocated the family to Denver.

How does their new life together work? Lori is bracingly honest even about the frustrations.

“I have a great shrink,” she jokes, as Lupe looks at her with a mixture of gratitude and motherly compassion.

“I remember growing up, my mother had a friend who went into a coma and her family sat around bickering about her things,” Lori recalls. “My mother said, 'Don't ever do that to me. And don't talk about me as if I'm not there. And don't put me in a home, and'” — Lupe to the last detail — 'make sure my eyebrows are done!'”

Now, Lori has her own set of rules that make things work. One is, don't coddle.

“My mother was not a coddler. So, if you need to go to the bathroom, get up from your wheelchair and go. We don't feel sorry for ourselves in this family. But it can come across as being mean to her.”

“No!” Lupe protests from across the table, looking fondly at her daughter.

“And you don't have to do everything perfect. Take time for yourself.”

Lori has arranged for a caregiver so she can get away regularly. She belongs to a writing group and paints. Through poetry and journaling she airs her insights and frustrations.

She's learned it's OK to stand up to family.

“Everybody has an opinion,” says her brother, Jerry. But everybody agrees the person who takes care of Lupe is Lori — so she gets the last word.

The family has no history of stroke, but they're sure that the family's lifelong love of cheesy, high-fat Mexican delights contributed to Lupe's cardiovascular problems.

Ironically, Lori realizes that her own health — gym workouts and eating right — can suffer unless she balances her mom's care correctly.

“It's something I worry about a lot,” says Lori. “I probably don't do it as well as I should but we try to have an organic, healthy lifestyle at home. I do have difficulty justifying having the caregiver come at 6 or 7 a.m. so I can get up and work out. It's challenging.”

On the other hand, Lori tries to keep life fun for her mother: “I try to balance the fact she's 81 and has fewer pleasures left in life. So if she wants to go out to eat, that's fine.”

Lori scouts out restaurants to make sure they're wheelchair accessible (the real problem often turns out to be the cramped bathrooms).

And Lori keeps her own dreams alive.

“Yes, I would love to get married again,” she says. “And I would love to date, but this situation poses some challenges.”

If she meets someone new, she brings up her living arrangements “almost immediately. Not everybody can handle this situation and I don't even want to attempt to get into a relationship if this isn't something he can accept.”

She adds, however, that at this point, dating isn't a priority.

What gives her life purpose is learning from the woman she still calls her best friend. In her journal, Lori puts it this way:

“I learned to be strong, I learned to keep going.
I learned to admit when I'm wrong.
I learned how to laugh, I learned when to cry.
I learned from watching you, Mom.
You are my inspiration.”


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