Sometimes I remember the day as if it were yesterday.....
I was sitting in my living room this morning~ watching my young children play. I *just happened* to look at the clock~ it was 10:35, mid morning on a hot, humid Sunday morning~ Labor Day tomorrow~~~ and it HIT ME.........28 years ago today was *also* a hot, humid Sunday morning~ and Labor Day was the next day~~~ but *that* morning was vastly different than today. I knew the anniversary was tomorrow~ I have been thinking about it for 2 weeks now.........but today: TODAY it ALL came flashing back......
28 years ago today my mother woke me up in the morning and said that she had a terrible headache and her back hurt.......she had frequent headaches and back problems, so I thought nothing out of the ordinary with that statement. She said "will you please rub my back?" and I said "yes". I did not know that those would be the last words my mother would ever speak.
This is my recollection of that day~ 28 years ago~~~
I was rubbing her shoulders.....there was no sound....no cry of pain.....no words spoken....nothing in the that bedroom or the universe that could have prepared my 14 year old self for the horror of the next 15+ hours.
I had no idea why~~ but suddenly something was different. I asked her if she was okay~ she did not answer~~ it was then that I placed the palm of my hand on her back~ and it was then that I discovered she was not breathing.
The events of the next 15 hours have left scars on my heart and so very, very many painful images that cannot ever be unseen. I relive them sometimes~ in my nightmares~ and I always wake up the same~ covered in sweat, feeling like I am gasping for breath ~ and screaming.
In my heart of hearts I genuinely believe that my mother left her earthly vessel ~ a body that had endured a lifetime of struggle and more pain than I could imagine at the time~~~~that morning in the bedroom........I felt it then and I still feel it today. She was not there~ she never came back~ she was gone and though I could not comprehend the magnitude of the situation~ I *knew* it to be true just the same.
It would take the world another 15 hours or so to accept that and begin to process it. The paramedics came......quickly......they were just down the street.......they tried~~ gods know they tried ~ I remember them working so feverishly to bring her back. I remember that every time they got her heart to beat ~ they would pick up the stretcher~~~ move 3 feet~ only to have the monitor flat line indicating that her heart had stopped again. And they would put the stretcher down and try again. Now I don't know if you have ever seen or participated in doing CPR on a person~ but it is grueling and very HARD work. And it is a brutal thing for a child to watch~ especially when it is their mother.
I have no idea exactly how long this went on~~ but it seemed like forever. Eventually they did get her heart to beat and stay beating and they had intubated her~ and then I was in the back of the ambulance~ and it seemed SO LOUD~ and there was so much happening~ and I think I was crying silently~ at least I am in my nightmares.
Screaming down the street she was transported to a hospital nearby. A team of clinicians used everything that was available at the time to try to bring her back.
For a brief while (a couple/few hours maybe) they were successful in getting her heart to beat again and stay beating. She was placed on a ventilator and transferred to the ICU. But as the day wore on it was becoming more and more evident that it was not going to work. She remained unresponsive.
The waiting room near the ICU is VERY small~ and only 2 people could go in to see her at a time. It was in that small waiting room that we cried and talked and cried and talked and then cried some more.
My mother had always been very adamant about not "living like a vegetable" (her words~ not mine). She had endured WAY more than her fair share of medical issues and had many surgeries. Always she had expressed that if it came down to it~ she did not want to live the rest of her life on a ventilator in "some goddamned nursing home somewhere" (her words~ not mine).
Late in the evening two doctors asked us all to gather in the tiny waiting room. From there they escorted ALL of us into the ICU (you *know* it's bad when the let the whole damn family in at once). In her room one of the doctors explained to us that during the LONG length of time that her heart was not beating and she was not breathing~ her brain was deprived of oxygen. That deprivation had most likely left her with a significant amount of brain damage~ there was no way to tell for sure as she was far too unstable to be transported to radiology for a CT or MRI. But, based on his years of experience and the tell tale signs that my mother was displaying ~ or not displaying as the case may be~ it was his estimation that she may never recover to her previous self. And he asked us to begin talking over the options (which really~ we had been doing all day). He said it may not come down to a choice for US to make~ if her heart did not respond to all of the meds and efforts~ there would be nothing more that they could do.
So crying and sobbing like a pack of wounded animals we returned to the tiny waiting room and we talked. We talked A LOT. Her mother, father and sisters were on there way~ once they got word they packed and started driving what must have been a really grueling and horrible 11 hour trip. There was no way to reach them on the highway~ these being the days long before cell phones. We were (and I'm certain they were too) praying that they would get to her in time.
Now I have no love for the man who was my step-father at the time. He was cruel to my mother and to us..........really just a horrible human being. He did very *little* RIGHT by us.............but I have to give credit where credit is due. He did *this* one thing right.....
We decided together~ her four children and husband~ that we would take a wait and see approach~ knowing the doctors needed to prepare us for the worst~ we decided to hope for the best.........
And then he came......the doctor whose face I can't even remember......and his voice was urgent. He rushed out with the words telling us that my mother was now having periods where her heart would not beat correctly (it's called ventricular fibrillation) and this heart rhythm directly precedes her heart stopping. Since she was in the ICU and connected to more machines than I could count~ when her heart entered this rhythm~ they would "shock her back" before her heart stopped. But at this point they had shocked her roughly every 10-12 minutes and the cycle was just repeating. He said that he needed us to make a decision *now*. He said they *could* keep shocking her~ and as long as her heart beat came back this cycle could repeat......however he said eventually that would fail too~ could be a few minutes or a few hours~ but her heart was too badly damaged as was the rest of her body~ her systems were shutting down. He reiterated that he felt that her brain had suffered a tremendous amount of damage and that she would not survive. 4 pairs of children's eyes~ red and swollen from crying~ stared back at him in silence as he told his tale. Once again~ he asked us to decide which path to take......SOON....did we want them to keep shocking her or did we want to let her go?
We talked very briefly after he left the waiting room~ for we had been talking about it for 15 hours now.........and we all *knew* and agreed what was both the right thing to do and what she had always conveyed that she wanted. It was time to let her go.
Back into the ICU we streamed *just* as they were shocking her ~~ I'm sure you've seen it on TV~ where they goop up the paddles and yell CLEAR and everyone moves back and then KABLAMMO......and then they stare at the monitor to see if it worked.......did not ~ CLEAR and KABLAMMO......check again~ did it work? yes...ok heart beating. Well let me tell you what~ if I live to be 120 I swear I will never, ever be able to get that image out of my mind~ the image of her body~~ connected to a ridiculous number of tubes and machines~ *literally* coming up off the bed from the electric shock.....it haunts me in my nightmares~ but not nearly so often as it once did.
In we streamed to her bedside. Conveyed to the doctor that we knew (for real and for certain after seeing the HORROR of they were doing to her poor body) she would not want this. And we did not want this. And as hard as the words were to say we said: when it happens again~ please don't shock her......and he expressed sympathy and understanding and left the room.
Around her bedside we gathered~ we held hands~ we cried quietly~ I know I was praying~ though I wasn't really sure what to pray for.....
And then all of the monitors started alarming~~~ and you can see the tracing of her heart beat on the monitor~ it was not the beep, beep, beep that the monitor had been making all day~
I'm not sure which of us in the room asked, but someone did "is this IT" they said...."yes" the nurse said "this is it"..........holding hands with the person next to us we all reached out to touch her....and I remember thinking in my head (though I do not know if I said it aloud)....it's okay mom, we love you, you can go, your suffering is done....be at peace.
And the monitor that had been tracing her heart now made one continuous screaming bbbbbbeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeppppppppppppp...........and the line was flat.
And she was gone.
She was my mother, she did the best she could with what she had.
I believe she loved us all and wanted us to have a happily every after life.
Her name was Donna..... and just after 1 in the morning~ September 2, 1985 surrounded by her children she died.
She was 37 years old.