The last word my mom said to me was, “Heartbroken.” She glared at me with her devil eye – this look she had perfected early in my youth – and spat it through gritted teeth.
“I love you Mom. We’ll be back after we eat. I promise.”
The next time I saw her was after a 45-minute stint in the “nice room” at the ER in Tifton, Georgia.
“You guys. This is a bad sign,” I said to my sister, niece & Erica as we walked into the floral-papered room with plush leather sofas and a TV. There were silk flower arrangements on the end tables and we had a private phone. There were boxes of tissues everywhere you looked.
That afternoon my sister A and I had signed a DNR release, despite knowing Mom wanted otherwise. “This isn’t a life for her … for any of us,” I remember one of us saying.
I offered my call first – DNR all the way – to make it easier on A to say what she really wanted.
“I can take two of you at a time,” Dr. B said from the doorway. A & niece V jumped up. They needed to go first.
“Get ready. It’s bad,” A said as I got up to take my turn with Erica.
“Susan, I’m so sorry. We didn’t get the DNR from the nursing home,” Dr. B, who’d been my GP when I lived in Fitzgerald, told me.
“I understand. If you don’t know for sure, better safe, right?”
When he left us in the curtained space, I heard myself cry out for my mommy and watched my hands trace her frail, bony body.
“Mommy. Mommy. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.”
When I noticed the nurse in the corner by the monitors, I asked, “Did you know her?” Mom had worked as an RN in that hospital and had gone to school with a bunch of the staff.
“Yes, ma’am. We were in clinicals together.”
“I’m sorry. This must be hard for you.” I tried to console him.
When they moved her to a room, they disconnected the oxygen and a man attached a pump bag to the tube that led to her lungs. “Isn’t that magical? You’re keeping her alive right now. That’s really incredible, isn’t it?” I asked him as we rode the elevator to the “letting ’em go” floor.
It wasn’t until I got to the sitting vigil part of the night that I allowed myself to be present in what was happening. Once we were alone – me, A, V, Erica – for the first time with Mom all together, her with a breathing tube and swollen Mickey Mouse hands, I started taking in every moment. And I remember it all.
The doctors asking us to leave the room while they removed the breathing tube (the closest they come to actually pulling any sort of plug).
A visit from S & J who prayed with us and hoped the brief improvement in mom’s heart rate was a sign she was going to make it.
The night nurse offering, “Anything, anything at all,” and his shock when we were so grateful for the thin hospital sheets and pillows he brought in.
Someone half joking, “She’s not totally dead. No need to make it feel like a morgue just yet.”
Finally, finally getting someone to explain the numbers on the monitors and what to look for … to know.
Wedging the rolling office chair — “I’m so sorry we don’t have any more without wheels” — against the hospital tray table so I could hold Mom’s hand while I slept.
Waking up to, “It’s almost time.”
Watching a last tear roll down her left cheek while V watched one roll down her right.
“I lost my mom 7 years ago,” my doctor said to me last week, as she wrote the prescription for my anti-depressants. “You eventually stop remembering the pain of those last moments and start remembering just the good stuff. It’ll get better.”
The thing she doesn’t understand is … I don’t want to forget.