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Originally published Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 5:06 AM

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‘My Daughter, Myself’: struggling with stroke recovery

Linda Wolfe’s inspirational memoir “My Daughter, Myself” is a candid account of her struggle to help her daughter and family after the daughter suffers a debilitating stroke.

Special to The Seattle Times

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‘My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey’

By Linda Wolfe

Greenpoint Press, 156 pp., $20

What are surely two of Linda Wolfe’s strongest instincts — maternal and journalistic — come together in the inspirational memoir of her daughter’s battle with a nearly fatal stroke.

“My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey” follows in the footsteps of other gifted writers who’ve worked through their anguish as parents doing what they do best professionally, such as Isabel Allende’s “Paula” (about the loss of her daughter after she never awoke from a coma) and David Sheff’s “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.”

On Mother’s Day 2002, Wolfe’s vibrant 38-year-old daughter, Jessica, woke up in the middle of the night with a headache like the inside of her head “ripping apart.” She was misdiagnosed in the ER and sent home. Jessica had suffered a stroke and slipped into a coma.

“… Despair to joy. Joy to despair. Despair back to joy. Joy back to despair. For me, the next few weeks weren’t so much a roller coaster of emotions as a bullet train zooming back and forth between two fixed points,” writes Wolfe, author of the novel “Private Practices” and nonfiction work including “Wasted: The Preppie Murder.”

Jessica lives but her recovery, including relearning to use the left side of her body, is painstaking. Wolfe writes with candor about her own debilitating depression. She flies back and forth from her home in New York City to Jessica’s home in San Antonio, Texas, to help care for her two young granddaughters and support her son-in-law with difficult decisions such as choosing a rehab facility. Everyone is exhausted. One chapter’s straightforward title is “The Great Mother, Son-in-Law Struggle.”

Wolfe shares sobering statistics: one out of every seven young stroke victims is given a misdiagnosis; stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. She explores the history of the field of physical therapy and reflects on how mothers of past, disease-prone generations had to routinely cope with the death of a child: “Poor Mary Lincoln lost three of her four sons. ... Women diarists of the 17th and 18th centuries often wrote about a child’s death in a tone if not of acceptance, at least of resignation.”

Along Wolfe’s journey we meet members of her blended family (Jessica’s devoted stepdad, Max, is prone to Yiddish exclamations) and new friends (the upbeat Iranian taxi driver, Dean, shuttles Wolfe around San Antonio and sweetly encourages her, “Don’t be despair. Your daughter will be better.”)

Jessica, does, indeed, get better, humbling Wolfe with her lack of self-pity — “Big deal, so I walk with braces” — and joyfully and fully re-entering the full life of a young wife and mother.

Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi is a Seattle Times desk editor.

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