Strobe (National Stroke Week 12-18 September 2016)


Image source (used with permission)

When I was nine years old, my family bought a VCR. We were so excited, so fascinated. It had a remote control! And the remote control had lots of buttons! So very many buttons!

Our favourite button was labelled STROBE. If you pressed it, it produced a strobe effect on screen by freezing the image every second while the audio continued unaffected.

Our dad made it our favourite. If we pressed the button, he would pretend to be ‘in strobe’ as well. He would walk with jerky movements, move his head from side to side like a carnival clown or start doing the robot as my brother and I rolled on the floor in fits of laughter.

Eventually, we didn’t need the remote. If my brother or I said STROBE then, no matter where we were or what our dad was doing, he’d start strobing his movements. We especially liked to say it if he was walking or running, and caught him on one foot.

STROBE. Change one letter and you get STROKE. And, almost four years after we got the VCR – 21 years ago now – that’s what took our dad away from us.

And STROBE lives on. Not just as a memory itself, but as the form that my other memories of my father take. They’re flashes, pulses of memory that bob to the surface occasionally, and are generally accompanied not by a constant moving image, but by a single image or feeling.

STROBE. Dad showing us how to boogie board, his face lighting up as the waves propelled him to the shore. STROBE. A smile breaking out across his face as his fingers worked their way across the fretboard during a mid-song guitar solo. STROBE. The feel of his lips on my forehead as he kissed me goodnight and told me he loved me. STROBE. Dad leaning back in his chair, eyes closed, soaking up the sounds of the latest Queen CD.

STROBE. My dad’s inert body and him-but-not-him face presented for viewing at the funeral home.

STROBE. My parents’ hands entwined, my father’s other hand on the steering wheel, as he drove us to my grandparents’ house. STROBE. The smell of Deep Heat as my mum massaged dad’s aching back. STROBE. His hand putting the final touches on a blackboard rendering of Bart Simpson. STROBE. An exclamation of proud surprise when I sang the high notes in an impromptu family car singalong of Somebody to Love.

STROBE. The sound of creaking as my father’s coffin was lowered into his grave. STROBE. The smell of perfume as I buried my head into my mother’s neck.

STROBE. Tears on my wedding day as my mother presented me with a ring formed from her engagement ring. STROBE. The smile on my son’s face, so very like my dad’s.

My dad. A life lived and loved in full streaming colour.

A life I now remember in STROBE.

Next week is National Stroke Week. I’ve written more directly about stroke in the past – my health story, my father’s death and the meaning of stroke.

This year, I’m writing more generally about the effect my father’s stroke has had on me and my memories, more than 21 years after he died.

This year during National Stroke Week, the Stroke Foundation is focusing on time. From their website:

A speedy reaction not only influences the treatment path for a person having a stroke but also their recovery. Most treatments for stroke are time sensitive so it is important we Think F.A.S.T. and Act FAST!

Did you know during a stroke 1.9 million brain cells are lost per minute?

This is why it is important to identify the signs and symptoms of stroke F.A.S.T and call ‘000’ immediately.


Please familiarise yourself with the symptoms of stroke, and take some time next week to check out the fantastic work of the Stroke Foundation.


Have you been affected by stroke, or lost a loved one? What form do your memories take?


  1. says

    Beautiful Em. I love that you have that bittersweet reminder of your childhood… although my first though was that I remember when colour television came in! Just.

    I’ve been doing something about my weight recently as I’ve had some health concerns and had a family history of high BP and heart issues. So… an important reminder!

    • says

      Haha! Thanks for the giggle with the colour television. We were just excited about the remote! Although we still had to get up to change the channel and turn the actual television off!
      I hope your health concerns come good. x

  2. Hugzilla says

    This is so beautiful and so heartbreaking. It really makes you realise just how much our lives can change in an instant. Gorgeous post x

  3. says

    Such a beautiful post, Em but so heartbreaking too. I know first hand (wish I didn’t) how much time matters when someone has a stroke. I would hate to think how different my husband’s life would be if I had found him later rather than sooner. And I’m a big fan of the Stroke Foundation too, they do stellar work!

  4. says

    A powerful and honest post about a really important topic.This is a big reminder. I teach several children affected by strokes and it changes lives in an instant.

  5. says

    What a beautiful tribute to your dad. My dad had a (thankfully minor) stroke earlier this year; it’s affected his vision somewhat and he feels he doesn’t think as clearly now. I’m beginning to think he is like a cat with 9 lives – he’s had a couple of heart attacks, prostate cancer, and now the stroke … hopefully he’s still got a few more lives up his sleeve!!!

    • says

      Oh wow – go your dad! I hope he’s okay – by that, I mean I hope he’s not too down about not being able to think as clearly. I don’t know how I’d go with that.

    • says

      Thanks, Nat. I couldn’t believe it when mum gave me the ring. I really didn’t see it coming! Thankfully, she gave it to me in the morning. Pre make-up application. It actually didn’t fit, but the jeweller knew the story behind the ring and resized it for me before the ceremony.

  6. says

    This post affected me in so many ways Em. The loss of my own father is still fresh in my mind and I also have those flashes of memory and remembrance with certain triggers. I will also never forget how my own suspected TIA made me feel two years ago now. A stroke is such a sudden and quick phenomenon and so, so devastating, both physically and emotionally. Thank you for writing such an emotive and beautifully written post x

  7. says

    What a gorgeous post Em! We hit 21 years without Dad next month. Just when you think you’re dealing with it ok – BOOM – a fond memory, watching an enviable father daughter moment, or even very Dad like characteristic in your kids, sends on a flood of tears. It was sooo lovely to catch up at PB and have a laugh. Sending you big hugs xx

  8. says

    Em, I didn’t comment when you first published this. I think I was overloaded about other things. Now I have visited thanks to your wrap up of the year and I am glad. Not glad about your dad…but so glad to read your heartfelt loving words. Gosh, what a wonderful family you grew up in. I love that your son has your dad’s smile.Bit teary myself now. Love to you. D xx

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