As I waited for my husband to fix our internet connection I decided to clean up my Documents folder. I found something I had written in early 2006, shortly after my Mom died. This time of year is always very difficult, as the world is bombarded with Mother’s Day advertisements and emails from merchants with subject lines of “Treat Mom to Something Special” and “Mom deserves the best”. I look forward to the day after Mother’s day, when I can finally have respite from the advertising promos that do nothing but remind me of the mother that I lost on Christmas Day, 2005.
I sat in the hospital chair. How many days had I been there? Had it really been only half a week? It seemed as if I had sat in that chair so many days, all the time leaving with hope, and even on that final day, it was hard not to have one last hope. Because that is what I was raised with. Hope of better days. Hope that everything works out in the end. Hope that a miracle would come true. My entire body ached from the chair; my arms were sore from stretching across the wood to hold my Mom’s hand on her bed, but I was afraid to let go. It’s ironic that Mom was not a big hand holder before her coma; I was forcing it on her in her last days, in a desperate attempt to hang on to her for as long as possible.
It was 5:30 pm on Christmas Day. Around the world, families were united in love, just like mine. Only my day was not full of presents, ham dinners, Santa, or carols. Nobody was displaying their Martha Stewart inspired centerpieces at our Christmas. My day started similar to other years since I had become an adult, in that I woke up and headed to see my Mom. Only this time it was after receiving a phone call from Mom’s husband, my step-father, to say that she had made it through the night and was stable but declining. He had been sleeping at the hospital laying next to her in the hospital bed, not sure how much more time he would have with his wife. I had been sleeping on their sofa at the house, taking care of Babe, Dutch, and Beau and giving my step-father some private time with Mom.
Mom’s organs were shutting down, and it was likely the end. I had a wild ride, speeding down Route 49 through Porter County, Indiana, praying that I would make it in time. Thank god, I found her still alive, still sleeping quietly, but breathing almost imperceptibly.
I sat in the chair, remembering all the years as a kid, when my brothers and I sat in our family room staring at the tree, going near and poking around at our presents but not touching them., Waiting for our parents to get out of bed seemed like an eternity, but until they rose, we could not start the frantic unwrapping of our loot.
And what I was I waiting for on this Christmas? I didn’t want an Atari, or a doll that talked, or anything material. I wanted a miracle. I wanted someone to come in and heal my Mom. I wanted someone to tell me it was all a horrible mistake, or that there was some other procedure that they could do, that there was one last procedure they had not tried that was sure to save my mother’s life. I wanted to override her DNR and beg the doctors to do whatever radical treatments they could. And more than anything, I wished that I could still think of eternity as being that period of time when we had to wait to open gifts on Christmas morning. Instead, eternity was where my mother was headed without me.
I sat in the chair, thinking that if her death was unavoidable that I didn’t want the last hours to stretch on for so long. She had fought long and hard enough. What was another few hours, or even days, if she was in a coma anyway. It would never be enough, time so why make her struggle even longer?
At 5:35, I stood up to get something out of my purse. I no longer remember what it was but it was important enough to let go of her hand for just a minute. At the same time, my stepfather stood up and checked his phone; the first time we had both let go of her hands at the same time since Friday night, and it was now Sunday evening. I turned around to go back to the chair, and I watched her take a deeper breath than she had been taking. She took a second breath, and then lay completely still. The little whooshing sounds that she had been making through the oxygen mask stopped, and my mom lay totally still. I had just watched my mother die on Christmas Day. I stood there, in shock, and then tears flooded down my face. I didn’t know what to think. Time stood still, and I cried in silence, alone. The only person who could make me feel better had just died.
We called for the nurses but the DNR that Mom had signed meant that nothing would be done. It was as Mom wanted. I went outside and calmly told the nurse in the station that my Mom had died. I felt like I had died. The most important person in my entire life was gone. The nurse on duty asked if there was anyone I wanted to call, and I said to her, “No, the only one who I want to talk to is in that bed.” But I realized I had to call my grandfather, a call I didn’t want to make. I wanted to be a child, and wail, and scream, and yell that I wanted my Mommy. But months before, I had started taking on her strength when she had become angry with me and told me to toughen up, that she would not be around forever. And now, I had no mommy to comfort me, and I had to make the call to my grandfather that his only child, his beautiful blond all American baton twirler, his beloved daughter who was all he had left of his Fern, had also died. That I was all that he had left of the four women who he had loved in his 89 years.
I struggled with not wanting strangers to take her body away, with not wanting to be in that room anymore. I had never seen a soul leave anyone’s body, and as we waited, her body changed, started to yellow, and grew so cold. Her face changed into an expression she had never made when alive. I had always been so scared of bodies, and on the outside, she was still my Mom, so I hugged her, and cried, and talked to her. But, I know she was no longer inside of her body. We said goodbye to her many times, and I remember wanting to be the last one to be in the room with her, so even though I went in first, I went back in one or two more times. I don’t know why that mattered, but I just wanted to have one more mother/daughter moment. But that was crazy, because she wasn’t in her body anymore.
Finally, we left the hospital, and went back to the house. We rushed around to try to salvage Christmas, and we opened gifts in a blur just going through the motions of trying to eat, and do what every other normal family in the country was doing. I don’t remember much about that evening, except that I took care of all three dogs, and somehow got to bed. The next day we would start to make funeral arrangements. I was in shock and disbelief and felt more lonely than I had ever felt in my 34 years. It was the first day since the day she gave birth to me in 1971 that my Mom was no longer somewhere in the world, loving me. I was on my own.