The Final and Most Difficult Chapter in a Completely Unreal Year
Whew. I cannot believe that I made it through the last 12 months. To say it’s been hard is an understatement of mythical proportions. Last Saturday was the one year mark since I lost my mom. To many this may seem sad but maybe not something that would completely change their world, and I get that. But for me, the loss of my mom, who was also my confidant, my best friend, and even my roomate for the last five years of her life, it was a life changing event. In addition to losing her, I was faced with the loss of my job of 10 years, due mostly to the fact that I chose to spend as much time as possible with mom in the hospital the last two weeks of her life, thus surpassing the vaction time that I had left. I had no idea that I was spending the last days with my mom but if I had to do it again, I would not hesitate. There is nothing in this world more important that being with those you love. You never know how much time you have left, and regret is a very sad word. Writing about this experience has been my therapy in every sense and though I’ve had a very hard time coming to terms with the way the events played out one year ago, I feel it’s a necessary closure to my story and to my healing. It may be hard to read, and it’s very hard for me to write, but that is what follows.
For a little perspective, twelve hours before I made the hardest decision I would ever have to make, the ICU Dr on my mom’s floor visited during rounds and asked to speak to me in the hall. I knew that she was not progressing like they’d hoped but I was a little relieved when the Dr explained to me that she would need to be moved to a rehab facility after she was well enough to leave the hospital. He told me that they would help me choose the best place and there were many great options in the area. (Shout out here to all the ICU Drs and Nurses at the Atlanta John’s Creek Emory Hospital. To say they were wonderful people seems to sell them a bit short.) I stayed with her that night and before I left, we talked about her progress and we talked about whether or not she would want to try being placed on a ventilator if it came to that. She said if it would make her better, she would. Then she squeezed my hand and said “I don’t want to die.” I told her it was just something we needed to discuss and she’d be back in FL, with her toes in the soft sand before she knew it, and I’d see her after work the next day.
The next morning I received a panicked call from my sister saying that they wouldn’t connect her to mom’s room. I called the hospital, (I’d gotten to know the nurses pretty well by this point) and I heard the same thing. I asked to talk with the charge nurse and she said “Jennifer, you should probably come down here as soon as possible.” With that I left work and headed to the hospital. When I got there they had placed her on a breathing machine that was very hard to see. She wasn’t really able to talk and when she saw me, she reached out for me and asked me if she was going to die. She was scared and I could see it. This was the single most difficult moment I had faced and I had no idea that it was just the beginning. I assured her that she would be ok, the Dr just told me they would help me find a rehab, and she just needed to rest and save her energy. The nurse asked us to leave and said only one person would be allowed in her room that day so she could get the rest she needed and I went to the waiting room where my sister and niece were just arriving.
A few minutes later a Dr came out and asked to speak with us in a private room. Once in the room he said these words, “We’re at a crossroads here. She is at the end of her life and we need to know how to proceed.” My sister started crying and I felt like the floor fell out beneath me. At the same time, I couldn’t really understand, I mean, how does pneumonia change so drastically in 12 hours? I asked the Dr what the options were… put her back on oxygen and let her “expire” on her own (translation, she could slowly suffocate) or put her on a breathing tube. I asked what was the chance that she would fully recover (meaning she would have the same quality of life when she came home as she did when she entered the hospital) if we tried the breathing tube. His answer was 30%. Thirty percent seemed pretty good and mom and I had talked about it so I said to proceed with the breathing tube but asked if I could talk with her before they sedated her. “Of course” said the Dr and we headed back to her room.
I, being the closest to mom, wanted to be the last person to talk with her so I sent my sister and niece in the room while I waited and talked to the ICU nurse who had been mom’s nurse since the day she was admitted. A few minutes later my sister and niece came out and I went in to talk to my mom only to find that the nurses had given her the sedative shot and she was barely conscious. I held her hand and told her I loved her. I asked her if she could hear me and I could see that she was trying to open her eyes. She squeezed my hand and was out. This moment was incredibly hard but I held onto the hope that she would still recover. A few hours later, when I had just returned home, I got the call I never wanted and these are the words I heard from the ICU Dr: “You’re mother is dying. If you want to see her, you should come to the hospital now.” In a daze, I went. I called the family and my niece got to the hospital the same time that I did and we went up to the room together.
I’ve never experienced anything like this before but I can say this, when we went into the room, she was breathing and had blood pressure (due to the breathing tube and lots of drugs) but I knew, in that very instant, that she was gone. The shock and sadness that overcame me does not have words and I stayed with her and held her hand for three more hours, until the drugs could no longer sustain a heartbeat, all the while feeling like she was looking down on me already from another place, reunited with my dad and brother, and feeling like this was an impossible thing.
One year later, I still want to call her. I find myself, each and every day, thinking about things I need to tell her, places I want to take her, trials and tribulations that I felt I could only survive with her by my side. But survived I have. In no small part due to the incredible people that I am so fortunate to call my friends and family. I don’t know how I did it, but here I am. I will never be ready to say goodbye to her, my T Bo, but I am ready to start moving on and making a new and better life today than I have lived the last 12 months. I know she would want that and the way our adult lives have paralleled is not lost on me, though I will save that for another post. For now, I’ll just end with her favorite poem that she asked me to read at her funeral, which I did, as I believe it speaks to her soul and love of life and all those who surrounded her.
“Do not stand at my grave and weep,I am not there; I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow, I am the diamond glints on snow, I am the sun on ripened grain, I am the gentle autumn rain. When you awaken in the morning’s hush. I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circling flight. I am the soft star-shine at night. Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there; I did not die.”