Monday, June 11, 2012

Part Three

We all staggered into the hospital one small group at a time.  I had sent my sister a text, telling her that she needed to come to the hospital.  She had gone home to grab a quick nap and awoke to me telling her to come back to her own personal hell.  I stood in the hallway outside of mom's room and waited for her.  I wanted to be the one to tell her that it was time to take mom off of life support.  I had to be the one to break the news to her.

"I'm so sorry, honey.  She's gone.  Her mind is gone.  We have to take the next step."

She fell apart in my arms and I tried to give her as much comfort as I could.  She kept saying, "I'm only 21.  This isn't supposed to happen to us.  We're too young.  She's too young."  All I could do was stoke her hair and tell her that I knew it too.  It was too soon.  Her death was avoidable, it was unnatural, it didn't have to happen like this.

If only we could have saved her.  If only she had let us.

- - - - - - - -

I've told this same sequence of events to many people over the course of the last nine months.  Humans are always curious about the death of someone so young and so full of life.  She didn't have a cancer, she didn't die in an automobile accident.  Her death was sudden and shocking, and completely preventable.

In the few months leading up to her death she had relapsed.  Her alcoholism was the worst I had ever seen.  She was an addict, an addict who was determined to end whatever pain was swimming in her soul.  Her demons too great, her mind too weak.

She went to a boyfriend's house the week before.  While he was in deep denial over the true nature of her alcoholism she took advantage of it.  His home became a safe place for her to drink while he was gone during the days.  That Saturday he had left her to visit family.  When he returned later that afternoon he found her at the bottom his stairs, unconscious, laying in a pool of blood.

Between his accounts and the doctors reports we came to the conclusion that a high amount of alcohol in the blood had caused a seizure in her brain.  It may have been more than one seizure over the course of the day, but the final blow came when she was walking up the hardwood stairs.  The seizure caused her to fall backwards, her neck landing on the edge of a step, causing instant brain damage.  Because the brain takes so long to fail it will shut down the other body parts first, trying to preserve as much activity as possible.  By the time her head hit the stairs she was unconscious and didn't feel any pain. She never felt anything ever again.

When her boyfriend came home to her lying there on the foyer floor he called 911 and she was transported to the hospital.  The brain surgery that was performed was an attempt to release pressure to the brain, but the damage had been done.  Slowly, over the course of 12 hours her brain lost more and more activity.  When the brain is no longer active the body will never recover.  That person is lost forever.

- - - - - - - - -

I had been communicating with Thomas throughout the day.  Updating him on the status, trying to keep my calls to him short as I knew that the longer I remained on the phone with him the less I would be able to keep myself together.  I had decisions that needed to be made and I could not be a blubbering mess.

The ICU nurses would change shifts and introduce themselves to us.  They bathed her, changed her, talked to her.  They cared for her as if she weren't just a body in the bed.  As if she was able to respond and communicate back to them.  I will forever and ever be grateful to them for their compassion and their care to not just us, but to my mother.  They amazed me every second I was in that room.

At some point a woman came to see me.  She was there to speak to us about organ donation.  There was no argument from me.  While my mother may have ultimately caused her own demise and did everything in her power to destroy the body God gave her, these people were going to be able to cleanse her organs and give them to someone who was grateful to live each and every day.  Someone who prayed for these organs so that they may enjoy their life in the best health possible.  I was honored to sign the paperwork.

- - - - - - - - -

Saying goodbye isn't like they portray it in the movies.  While we each took our turns with her in her room to have our final moments, no one tells you about the nurses coming in and leaving, or the noises, or the smells. Smells that one doesn't forget easily.

Because we had opted to donate her organs we could not be there when life support was removed.  When we walked out of that room we had to do so with the knowledge that she would be there until her organs were ready.  I was the last one to say goodbye to her.

There was no point in speaking to her out loud.  She couldn't hear me.  I'm  realist, I know when someone is a person and I know when someone is a body.  The woman who was my mother was long gone.  This was her vessel, her poor tired and battered vessel.  I sat in the chair next to her bed and lowered my head.  I said a prayer for her soul and I asked God to please watch over her.  To care for her where ever she had gone.  To forgive her for her sins, and to forgive me of mine.  To watch over my grandmother and my sister as I knew their pain was so much greater than mine.  I had prepared my heart weeks before, knowing that her alcoholism was at it's worst, knowing that she was not long for this world.  But please bless us with Your strength.  Please help us.

I looked at her one last time and I walked out of the room.  One of the nurses smiled at me as I passed her. I smiled a genuine smile back at her.  I was free of this now.  Free of worry, free of embarrassment.  And she was free from whatever pain she was feeling.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Part Two

As soon as I touched down in Kansas City I turned my phone on.  The entire way I was praying for a miracle, that I would land and everything would magically be okay.  Instead it was texts from my sister, begging me to hurry HURRY, get here now.  I sent out a flurry of messages to Thomas and my sister and friends, letting them know I made it.

I stepped outside to grab the rental car shuttle and I was immediately shocked at the temperature difference.  I left Dallas in the early morning darkness, but it wasn't cold.  I landed in the midwest in the beginning of fall in shorts, t-shirt, and flip-flops.  I immediately gave myself a pat on the back for grabbing a light jacket before I left the apartment.  Funny enough, I really didn't think I would need it.  I was using it for bag filler seeing as how I had barely packed anything.  I pretty much lived in that jacket over the next several days.

I was getting texts from my sister asking me how far away I still was, asking me when I thought I would be there.  I couldn't bring myself to tell her that life support doesn't quit on it's own, there would be plenty of time.  I made my way to the hospital and my sister told me that my grandmother would meet me outside and take me to mom.  I parked the car and psyched myself up just to step out and walk toward that place.  As I started towards the entrance I saw my grandmother's van parked in front.  She was in it and I could hear her voice talking to someone.  I walked up to the car and when she saw me I thought for a minute that she had seen a ghost.  She wasn't startled, but it was like she didn't believe me when I told her I was getting on a plane.  That just 8 hours before this moment I was talking to her on a phone 500 miles away and now I was standing in front of her.  She was on the phone with her husband and she sucked her breath in and said, "Honey I have to go.  She's here.  My support system is here."  She snapped her old-school flip phone shut and embraced me like she hadn't seen me in years.  She cried and cried and I hugged her back, willing every bit of whatever strength I had left to her so that we could get through this together.

We chatted on the way inside.  Up the few floors, around a few corners, and suddenly we're inside the ICU.  Beeps and breathing machine noises all around me.  Other families huddled in their loved ones rooms, trying to make sense of whatever it was they were going through.  Your curiosity suddenly gets the best of you and I tried to not look into each room, somehow attempting to respect what little bit of privacy the person in that bed has left.  And then I was standing in her room, seeing my mother for the first time.  My sister walked over to me and I lost it.  I put my arms around her and sobbed.  A low, gutteral sobbing that comes from the depths of the soul.  The sob that you have no control over.

I looked at my mom and was surprised at how good she looked.  I was expecting so much worse. Her head was bandaged in white gauze, thin tubes in her mouth, her chest moved up and down along with the rhythm of the breathing machine.  I touched her hands, just to feel them and they were cold to the touch.  I pulled my hand back slowly as the realization hit that she really was gone. People who are alive don't feel like that.  The body was still working, the mind, the soul, whatever she had in her that made her who she was was gone.  Now it was just a matter of time before they would tell us that there was no longer any point in waiting for a change.  That point in time would come quickly.

- - - - - - - - - -

Throughout the course of the morning more people came to the hospital.  My ex-stepfather, my godmother and her husband.  We all made our way around that hospital room and then would shuffle outside when we needed a break from just sitting there.  I would have several moments with my grandmother in which we would discuss what our next steps should be.  Wait for the doctor to tell us all hope is lost.  Make phone calls.  Will there be a funeral?  No, no funeral.  Cremation, private burial next to grandpa, she wouldn't want that.  Hell WE don't want that.  I can't face those people.  I can't continue to tell the same story and hear the same sympathies over and over again.  I can't do it.  Neither can you, Gramma.  No, no funeral.

It was sometime in the late morning when one of my uncle's texted me to tell me that he had contacted my other uncle.  My uncle that I hadn't seen in ten years.  My uncle that had stopped speaking to all of us after my mother had filled his head with lies during one of her drunken binges.  I was shocked when he stepped into the room.  He looked down at his big sister lying in that bed and I saw the tears stream down his face.  He looked at my grandmother sitting beside me and said, "Mom".  "Well hi, Son!" she said.  He hugged her and they cried and I cried and the ICU nurse who had been punching codes into a monitor looked over at the scene and I saw her cry.  It was one of the most precious moments I had ever witnessed in my life.  Mother and child holding each other in grief mixed with happiness over their reunion.  Even during this most horrific moments in our lives there was this beauty of seeing these two together again.  All the past forgotten, never to be mentioned again.

I told them to go outside, have a talk.  It would be okay, I would stay with mom.  So there we were, just mom and I.  I sat in the chair near her bed and listened to the quiet.  If you had ever known my mother you would know within 30 seconds of meeting her that she never shut up.  Like, ever.  Even in her sleep there was some noise coming out of her mouth.  But here she was, silent and peaceful.  I took those moments to remember everything I could about the way she looked.  From her thin lips, to how freckled her chest was after so many years of sunbathing.  I noticed she wasn't wearing her jewelry, the jewelry she always wore and never took off.  I made a mental note to ask someone about that later.  I looked at her fingers and remembered how thin and long they were.  I winced at the traces of blood that were visible on her hands.  I looked at her legs and then to her feet.  Dear God in Heaven, her feet.  She would be the absolute first to tell you that she had the most ugly feet God had ever given to a human being, and she would be right.  They weren't pretty, especially today.  They were dirty, but I didn't know at the time where it had come from.  Her toes were painted though.  Even though the paint was chipped and worn and you could tell that she hadn't painted them in a couple of weeks, the red polish was still there.  My mother's signature color was red and her toes were always painted the same color.  A deep and rich fire engine red.  If you knew my mother you would know that the color suited her personality quite well.

As I sat there all I could think in my head was how badly she needed a pedicure.

- - - - - - - - - - -

It was around 5 that night that we were told that more tests needed to be run.  Brain functioning level types of tests.  It was probably for the best that we all go home and rest.  The family of sleep deprived zombies standing around a bed could do nothing for the cause.  Go home.  So we did.

We went to the house my grandmother had shared with my mother.  We sat and we waited.  Waited for anything.  Never wanting that phone call though.  The one that says there's nothing else we can do for her.  We got the phone call at 8:30PM.

"She's taken a turn for the worse.  The brain is no longer functioning.  We think it would be best to come back so we can discuss your options.  I'm so sorry."

My grandmother and I headed back to the hospital, holding hands, and knowing that this was going to be what we all had been dreading.  We were going back to say our goodbyes.