The definition of ‘stroke’ (#strokeweek15 14-20 September)

It’s National Stroke Week. The National Stroke Foundation is trying to raise awareness to prevent stroke in Australia, and encourages all Australians to:

  • Be aware of what stroke is, how to recognise a stroke and what to do
  • Live healthy to reduce the risk of stroke
  • Get a regular health check

They are, of course, talking about a particular definition of the word stroke.

But what I’ve discovered as someone who has been affected by stroke (and who lives her life knowing she’s at risk of suffering one herself) is that many of the definitions suit.


Image: page 1633 of Macquarie Dictionary (fifth edition)

stroke(1) noun 6. Also, cerebrovascular accident. Pathology a sudden interruption to the supply of blood to the brain, caused by haemorrhage, thrombosis or embolism.

My dad died when I was 12 years old. I kissed him goodnight one evening and went to bed. Late that night, he suffered a stroke. By the time I got home from school the next day, he had died.

Stroke. I didn’t know that’s what had happened back then. When I realised that I was about to be told my dad had died, I tuned out. Or, more accurately, I tuned into something else: a wall of noise that seemed to come from within me. A wall of noise that no-one else seemed to hear.

I caught a few words of the explanation of his death – ‘he had a bubble on his brain and it burst’ – but I didn’t make the connection between these words and the word ‘stroke’ until later in life. Even then, I didn’t really get it.

Not until I was sitting opposite a neurosurgeon, being told I had a number of these ‘brain bubbles’ myself.

stroke(1) noun 1. an act of stroking, as with the fist, a weapon, a hammer etc.; a blow.

If the word ‘stroke’ had penetrated that wall of noise back then, perhaps this is how I would have pictured it. A mighty blow striking my father down with force.

stroke(1) noun 5. something likened to a blow in its effect, as in causing pain, injury, or death.

Perhaps I would have thought of it in this way. A metaphorical stroke. Of course he died of a stroke; that’s what strokes did. They caused pain. They caused death.

stroke(1) noun 8. a piece of luck, fortune, etc., befalling one: a stroke of good luck.

Or perhaps I would have thought of it in this way. A stroke of bad luck. How else to explain the sudden removal from your life of one of the most important people in it?

stroke(1) noun 13. a type or method of swimming: freestyle is the fastest stroke.

Dad died. Life carried on. It didn’t feel right. After an initial outpouring of grief and incomprehension from people around us, everything was supposed to go back to normal.

Our stroke during this time? Treading water. No freestyle. No breaststroke, nor even a floundering, gasping for breath, beginners’ form of butterfly. Just staying in one place, trying not to go under. And sometimes, a backstroke.

stroke(2) verb (t) 1. to pass the hand or an instrument over (something) lightly or with little pressure; rub gently, as in soothing or caressing. –noun 2. the act or an instance of stroking; a stroking movement.

This was the stroke that helped as I navigated life without my dad after the ‘other’ kind of stroke.

A stroke on the hand from mum. A stroke on the head from an uncle. Strokes on the face from an aunt as she wiped the tears from my cheeks. A stroke on the back from a teacher as she hugged me when I returned to school (and whispered while doing so, “I’m not really allowed to do this.”).

Strokes of comfort. Strokes of understanding. Strokes of not knowing what to say, but knowing that gestures could be more powerful than words.

It’s National Stroke Week. Please take some time this week to learn about the symptoms of stroke, and check out the fantastic work of the National Stroke Foundation.



Have you or a loved one been affected by stroke? Please share (if you feel you can).


  1. says

    Beautiful post, Em. I’m so sorry that you lost your father in this way, and hope that one day medical science gets much better at treatment and prevention x

  2. says

    Sorry about your beautiful dad Em. My grandma died from a stroke. I remember being I Yr12 and I left home to walk to school. I looked down the street for some reason ( in the direction my grandparents lived) and in the distance saw an ambulance but couldn’t tell whose house it was at. My instincts , even then , told me something was wrong so I ran back and mum told me to call the house. As soon as grandpa answered I knew something was wrong with gran.. He couldn’t work out who I was as he was in shock. Beautiful gran passed away a little later ..

    • says

      Thanks for sharing Nat. What a difficult thing to face. I’m so sorry. And I’m so glad you trusted your instincts and went back in rather than just continuing on to school.

  3. says

    Such a brilliant and heartfelt post to help raise awareness, Em. I’m so sorry that you had to lose your dad at such a young age and I’m sorry you live with this fear of stroke too. When I was in my early twenties, my boss had a stroke in the office joined to mine. I could see him through my door slump over and attempt to pick up the phone. I asked him if he was okay and he slurred at me to go away. I ran for help and we were able to get him to hospital. As for me, I have migraines with auras and have been told I am a stroke risk if I go on certain medication. It’s been recommended I see a neurologist, so I think I might just do that.

    • says

      Wow, Renee. Thanks for sharing. That must have been really confronting. Good on you for acting despite his insistence that he was okay. Migraines SUCK, don’t they? As soon as my eyes start that shimmery edge thing, I know I have about ten minutes to smash the paracetamol and get to a completely dark room so that it’s somewhat vaguely kind of almost bearable. If you’re willing to fly down to Melbourne, I can recommend a fabulous neurosurgeon. x

  4. says

    I never knew that you had been affected by stroke in this way Em – I’m so sorry to hear of your loss and your early experience of stroke. Thanks for sharing your experience in such a moving way and for encouraging others to become more stroke aware.

    BTW I thought I had a stroke last year – a TIA or mini-stroke. It’s never been conclusively ruled out so I continue to take low dose aspirin every day. I have never been more scared in my life. Having the left side of my body droop and no way of controlling it, and to have it happen in front of my son, that was the most terrifying thing that has ever happened to me. Knowing the signs of FAST helped me and I hope it helps others too. Thinking of you x

    • says

      Thanks Kirsty. And thanks for sharing. I’m terrified of something happening with the kids around. My daughter knows vaguely that if something happens and mum is struggling to talk, to call dad. But I don’t want to go into too much detail with her and have her worried that something WILL happen, because the odds are low now. Did the aspirin affect how damaged your knee got?

  5. says

    So sorry to hear about your Dad, Em but thank you for sharing such an important message and starting the conversation. After my husband’s stroke last year, I know first hand how important it is to learn about the symptoms. It’s still relatively fresh for us and I feel like I’m always on a state of high alert, but I take some comfort that now I know the signs of FAST, I’m much more aware.

  6. says

    Gosh what poignant post my friend. I’ve had quite a bit to do with strokes, my great aunt had one and it left her very disabled. High BP is a factor which is a big thing in our family, and the reason (among others) that as I write this I’m hooking up to a 24 hour BP test machine! Best to know while I’m young right? Big love xx

    • says

      High BP is a big factor. I hope all goes well with your test. And yep, I agree – best to know now. I’ve been on BP meds since I was 20 and for all the annoyances, it’s good to know that for the last 10+ years it’s been under control (with a few pregnancy exceptions!)

  7. says

    I’m so sorry for your loss Em, I have tears streaming because I just can’t imagine the suddenness of your dads death and the shock. Such an important message to share, I hope you don’t mind me making it the post of the week on my Weekly Sum Up?

  8. says

    I’m so sorry that you lost your father, especially at such a young and impressionable. A beautiful post that very movingly combines your brilliance at words and language with such an important message.

  9. says

    Fantastic post Em. I’m so sorry you lost your Dad so young, and I’m really sorry that you yourself are familiar with a stroke! My Dad had a stroke. Luckily for us it was mild and he fully recovered. It’s so important people familiarise themselves with the signs of stroke, because if they seek medical attention swiftly it can make all the difference to their recovery! xo

  10. says

    This is beautiful. So sorry you lost your dad this way. My dad has those mini micro stroke things – but has a handle on them now. I’ve always been frightened I’ll lose him this way. Thanks for being so candid and raising awareness. Best wishes to you with staying on top of things! Awareness is key I guess. L

    • says

      Thanks Leanne. Awareness is pretty much the only weapon we’ve got against stroke! That sounds really frightening about your dad – thanks for sharing. x

  11. says

    Oh Em, there aren’t words for your loss.

    I love how you wrote this with the different meanings of stroke punctuated throughout. Such a beautiful piece of writing. Thanksfor highlighting the symptoms too, so important. xx

  12. says

    Such an informative and a crucial piece everyone should read. So important, especially the “time” part of it. I’m so sorry to hear you lost your Dad to a CVA – hopefully this post helps educate people on the symptoms, and hopefully if anyone does notice anything out of the ordinary they’ll help someone thanks to you Em x

  13. says

    Emily this is a beautiful post and I’m so sorry that you lost your Dad this way and so young. My Grandmother died from a stroke and my best friend had one 2 years ago but luckily fully recovered, it’s so important to be aware so your post is very appreciated. x

  14. says

    A beautiful post and a timely reminder. I’ve been laid up with a migraine for the past 24 hours and the constant is whether this is heading towards another TIA. My symptoms when I had my first (and hopefully only) TIA weren’t standard – I didn’t recognise them and neither did the person with me – no droop in the face, no slurring of the speech but I had been weak kneed all afternoon, then started to lose words until finally it was as though a blind had come down over one eye, moments before a roaring headache. Now I know, my family and friends know and together we have an action plan. Which I hope none of us ever have to use. Sorry for the loss of your dad xxx

    • Emily says

      You poor thing. I can’t bear anything when I have a migraines. As soon as the shimmers start, I know I’m on the clock to get to total darkness and quiet and ride it out. Thanks for sharing what your TIA was like. Without the symptoms, that’s scary to think about.

  15. says

    It seems almost callous to say this, but that was beautifully written.
    I’m so sorry Em. In my family there’s a history of DVT- two people are on blood thinners for the rest of their life, to prevent against stroke. My grandfather died when my dad was seven, the month before my uncle was born. I imagine his reaction would have been something akin to yours.
    Big hugs my friend. xx

    • Emily says

      Thanks Jess. I will always accept praise of my writing. Always. How’s this for callous: are you a publisher by any chance?!
      Blood thinners are so totally unfun. When you’re naturally unco, they’re awful. I get stares all the time because I’m always covered in bruises.

    • Emily says

      Thanks Shannon. If just one person who didn’t know the signs of stroke before now does, then mission accomplished. x

  16. says

    I’m sad for you, for your loss, Em. This is a beautiful tribute to your Dad, and shows just how serious the issue of stroke is. My step-dad suffered several strokes, one while I was speaking to him, and I know just how quickly your world can change. Much love x

    • Emily says

      Oh Lisa, I can’t imagine watching someone have a stroke. I’ve asked my mum about it but will never understand unless I live through it. Much love back to you.

  17. says

    It seems to be the good ones die young Em!! They just got the timing wrong on our Dad’s. I think it’s such an important message to promote about Stroke awareness. It’s so great we can openly talk about these things and get on track with our own health. Talk to Drs openly any concerns etc. I love that no topic is taboo now. I’m hoping healthy diets is next on the firing line like smoking often is in Australia.

    • Emily says

      Oh, didn’t they just? One of my favourite books is April Fools Day by Bryce Courtenay, and I’m so glad the silence (near reverence?!) they had to treat doctors with is a thing of the past. I have SO many questions for my docs every time I go!

  18. says

    Oh Em. Your words. I have no words for your beautiful words. Big hugs to you. Thank you for sharing your story, helping us to understand and raising awareness x

  19. says

    Beautifully written Em. I’m really sorry you lost your Dad. We’ve experienced in our our family too. I’m glad you’re able to raise awareness through your blog.

    • Emily says

      Thank you so much, Laney. It’s been wonderful to get the message out there, and see the response. And I’m sorry you’ve experienced it too.

  20. says

    It is so great you’re spotlighting this illness and making people aware of the symptoms. There is so much that can be done early now. I’m really sorry about your Dad and hope all goes well with you, but I’m sure it will as you are aware and alert to the symptoms. :)

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