At the time, I was working a few part-time jobs, a year out of college, hoping to save up (time and energy) before applying to social work school and seminary. I also simply wanted the flexibility of time to be with my mom while she also attempted to work full-time in the midst of worsening symptoms of Leukemia. It was a week before Christmas when she (and therefore ‘we’) had another bad day. This time, however, was worse. Mom started off a bit confused and delirious while at work, and yet refused to leave when her colleague and good friend told her she should. It would take one of us, a family member, to get her out of there.
Where was I?
I continue to ask myself this very question.
What was so important that I couldn’t run to my mother’s rescue and pick her up from work? If I had seen her mental state that day, I might have insisted on rushing her to the emergency department immediately.
However, I was on my way to a staff meeting for one of my jobs. Was it important? I thought so. In retrospect, though, not at all. It still takes some internal pressure to remind myself that guilt will not get me to where I want to be in life – making Mama proud.
When I returned home that evening, my dad had finally gotten her to agree to go to the hospital. It would be her last trip there, to that – or any – hospital.
Mom spent what seemed like forever in her own dark room, surrounded by an IV pole and machines; mostly equipment not being used on her at all. She received fluids and medication for her fever (hence the delirium). Yet, what cut me right to the heart were her cries for help when only she and I were in the room.
From the hallway, her nurse heard her:
“Help me! Help me! Why won’t anybody please help me?”
I know it was in part her pain and panic creating some sort of a delirious state; maybe even hallucinations. Still, my mother was not one to lose her cool as such, so seeing her do so that night was highly unnerving. Mom in that mode, with nurses quieting her firmly, left a twinge on my heart from the memory that I have never been able to erase.
Of course, my mother was admitted, and for five days she used oxygen and IV medication; with white boards to try and communicate, until she was too tired to write any more. In that time, she moved to ICU. Still, we never thought she wouldn’t pull through, since that’s what we always did.
Until… Christmas eve, 2010.
A day usually filled with joy, love, and tradition for us as a family turned into what still counts as the worst of my life. I have had my share of tragic days, but watching my mother gasping for air as her heart slowed to a deafening stop; that is forever embossed on my brain… and my heart.
Dad had to tell me what happened as my mother was taking her last breaths. For me, it was all so surreal, beyond my full comprehension in the moment, and so I remember very little. Apparently, I ran up to my mother’s wide-open ICU suite as doctors, nurses, and technicians stood around her, a few resting on her bed as they compressed her chest over and over again to revive her heart, but never again the person attached to it.
At one point, standing there watching, I do remember yelling for them to stop; to stop “beating on her chest”. The charge nurse asked me – us – if that was something we wanted: for her to go peacefully now. She informed – or reminded – us that mom would never again be the person she was, if she was able to awaken. I didn’t want to make that choice, and I believe my dad and brothers felt the same, so they continued to work on her life, until all of us finally agreed: it was time.
My mother – my rock and my joy – was gone from this earth; mind and soul. Gone.
Something I do hold onto – besides knowing her spirit is within me whenever I really need it – is part of my dad’s recollection of me returning to the hospital from home that night after hearing that Mom was on her way out.
I ran to my mom’s wide-open suite, yelling as I neared: “No, Mom! No! Mom, NO!!” At that moment, Dad saw her pop up for the briefest second. As she did, he heard a distinct, “Huh?,” rise from her lips. Just as quickly, she went back into the comatose state she was in, until she – my mom as I knew her; as she was known by many – was no more. For the next few hours, I remember finding myself propping up and supporting others when they heard the news – literally; mentally and physically – even as I grieved. I must say, that is one trait my mother passed on to me, though I am trying to do more to focus on me when I need the support myself. I – and my mother before me – have traditionally put others’ mental and physical wellbeing before my own, which can in fact be draining. I still love to connect and engage with people; it gives me energy. And yet, we will all work together to create an atmosphere of greater self-love that can then be exuded and shared outward.
Sharing these stories, this world, with you all is one way in which I’m focusing more on me. While I hope with all my might you get something out of these writings, I also intend to not have that be at the expense of myself or my own needs this time. Until the very end, Mama was thinking about the needs of others, maybe because she knew she was dying and wanted to truly be there for her loved ones; one last time. But for me, until the very end, I will work towards showing others love and gratitude fully by being he best I can to myself first, which brings me to today’s moral for greater joy in life, people:
Love. Love fiercely and tightly with so much strength and no reserve; for you do not know when or if you’ll be showing it again. However, don’t just project that love outward, bring it just as much inward. Then you can know that at least two people in this world love you (I’m here 😉)…
Peace and Love, Y’all,