The night my mom died, after I had watched someone sitting on top of her pounding her chest, I knew I didn’t want to do this all again.
Sitting in the waiting room with my sister, I know I said “I can’t do this again. I can’t go through this again. I don’t want to do this again.”
The hospital didn’t handle death very well at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night. At least not as well as Anschutz did for Adam. But, of course, then, we were waiting for death, life support off, sun fading over the mountains. They were prepared. We were just..waiting.
With mom, we were just waiting for the next step in care when we got the call that her heart had stopped. We had just finished dinner, just across the street. The mad rush to find an entrance into the hospital at that time of night.. running through empty corridors, so many empty corridors.
My therapist has been after me to write about Mom’s death, as I did with Adam. Back then, I flooded my emotions on to this blog. But I didn’t want to go back there; didn’t want to hollow myself into the depths of that pain.
So, I’ve avoided it. I’ve held it at bay with purpose. I’ve got too much to do. I have to show I know how to handle it.
But you can’t do that, you know. The grief is different, of course, for mom. Different from Adam. Adam’s death was the upheaval of my day-to-day existence. Mom’s death was the one we all know is coming…someday…in the natural order of things.
Guilt will always be there with grief. What if I had stayed holding her hand and watching that fucking Democratic debate till the end? Would we have been there when she choked? Would 30 seconds have made a difference? I tell myself again… “Guilt is not a fact. It’s a feeling.” Thanks, therapy!
I left home a long time ago. Essentially at 18. I had to be out there; I had to explore and follow my dreams. That always, I think, made my relationship with Mom different from her relationship with my sister. I was quicker to impatience and frustration, cultivated by years of living apart from my parents.
I haven’t told all the details of my mom’s progression toward death over the holidays, except to two friends who patiently listened to it all on a three-mile hike in Red Rock Canyon.
I yelled at her a lot before getting into the hospital. I was scared and frustrated; I knew something was wrong. Her determination that she was “fine” reminded me of the frustration she felt with dad as his mind deteriorated. I told her she was acting “just like dad.” I think she told me to fuck off. Good for her.
I yelled at her when she only ate the ice cream on her hospital plate. I always asked for another Ensure for her, though. I was there every day in the hospital, working from a corner of the room as she slept. Once, on a good day, I had her tell me about her life as a single woman in Pasadena in the 1950s. Precious memories now.
And then, we took a day off. Saturday. January 11. I really had to focus on work. Barbara didn’t go either. Mom’s youngest brother Alan was there. He texted us that she was active, lucid, said she “missed her girls.”
On Sunday, it was all wrong.
She was not responsive. I pulled the Fawcett of all Fawcetts, being the same woman who demanded to see the head of the transplant unit in Denver … because I wanted her to tell me to my face that my husband wasn’t worth saving. I expressed my frustration this time with my mom’s nurses… “How can you not tell something is wrong? Things are WRONG.” She has the fucking flu, why is she nonresponsive?
Barb and I are pretty much convinced by the trajectory of her symptoms that it was COVID (and flu), It would make her a very early case. We’ll never confirm it. Does it matter? No. Still dead. But, it makes a better sort of sense to me. Makes me feel like it wasn’t my fault; that this was it and an 86-year-old wasn’t going to make it through.
I can’t cover everything I loved about my mom in a blog. She was better than she ever thought she was. Her two years as a widow before I became one set the pace for me. She thrived as a widow; learning, growing, exploring.
I’m not a mother. I’ll never ever understand the pain she felt watching me in pain as Adam died. How she felt worried I would kill myself. Frustrated she couldn’t come to Colorado and be with me for a long time … the altitude wasn’t for her.
But I’ll never forget her arrival in the hospital room in Denver. She sat by the window on the couch. And I sat next to her. She held me. I was 47. She was 82. Adam lay intubated… my life falling apart right there. She didn’t cry. She just held me.
I can still feel her arms around me.