Driving home from the hospital on Saturday night I was trying to wrap my brain around the events of the day. The reality that my mother was failing and she was more than likely not going pull through her ordeal was beginning to sink in even though her nurses were telling me that there’s always hope. On top of that with the exception of the doctor on call for the weekend most of the other doctors were very guarded about what they would and would not tell me. At times I felt like I was receiving mixed signals about my mother’s chances. I finally decided I needed to call someone who knew of such things. Someone detached from the situation. Someone I trusted. That person was my dear friend Jon. He had a medical background and wasn’t tied to the hospital or doctors taking care of my mother so there was no need be guarded about anything. I knew he would shoot straight with me and that’s all I wanted.
I called him on the way to my mother’s house and told him everything, from her hip replacement to being diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. I told him about her current condition and being hooked up to a breathing machine. After a long pause he asked me if I was ready to hear what he had to say? I said yes. In a very clinical tone he explained to me what was going on with my mother’s lungs. He told me that it would take a medical miracle for my mom to recover. And if somehow that medical miracle happened she would need continuous care for the rest of her days. The quality of her life would be greatly diminished. As I said, I trusted Jon and I knew he would provide me with an honest assessment of my mother’s condition and he did. I am thankful for his friendship and that he was there when I needed him most. I never will forget what he did for me and my family.
The next day at the hospital I was informed that my mother’s condition had not changed. The breathing machine was doing most of the work for her and her vitals were stable. As I sat in the chair next to her the thought of losing my mother was almost unbearable. She always expected me to make the call to take her off a machine if prolonging her life was only delaying the inevitable. That’s easier said than done. The inner struggle I was going through was intense and painful. There were times when I felt like I couldn’t breathe. At one point a nurse entered the room and saw how distressed I was and asked me what I was thinking. I told her I was thinking about my mother and the way forward. I told her about the conversation I had with my friend Jon the day before and that perhaps the best way forward for my mother was to take her off the machine so she can pass peacefully. Up until that moment the nurses attending to my mother needs had been selling unicorns and rainbows in regards to her condition. They were always telling me that there was hope. This time was different. The nurse shut the door, checked my mother’s vitals and said, “You’re thinking right.” I decided I was going to talk to my mother’s doctor the next morning and depending on what he said, move forward from there.
It was 11PM when the hospital called. The nurse on the other end of the line informed me that the status of mom’s condition was changing. I asked what that meant. They said her lungs were failing and asked if they should resuscitate her if she slipped away in the night. My head was telling me to say yes, bring her back if her heart stops, but my heart was telling me to let my mother go. I replied “no”. I told the nurse I was on my way down. The hospital was 15 miles and about 20 traffic lights from my mother’s house. I called my brother and told him what was going on with mom and asked if he was going to meet me at the hospital. He told me no. So I set out on my own and embarked on a final journey with my mom that forever changed my life.
When I arrived at the hospital the on duty nurses were gathered around my mother’s room. Mom was struggling to keep her oxygen levels in an acceptable range. She was losing her capacity to process oxygen throughout her system. They told me she might not make it through the night. It was at this point I looked outside of her room and noticed a nurse I had not seen before in the ICU. She appeared to have a very pleasant way about her. She was moving from room to room but seemed very much aware of my mother’s condition and what was about to happen. I leaned over my mother’s bed and noticed her eyes were closed. I grasped her hand, leaned into her ear and told her I loved her so much and that I would always love her; however her works here were done and it was time to go and be with dad. It was time for her to go and I was going to help her cross over. I motioned for the nurse to come in the room. When she came in I told her I wanted them to remove the tube and take my mother off the breathing machine. If my mother was going to leave this world, she was going to leave it with her dignity intact.
It took about an hour for them to run through the procedures to take her off the breathing machine. By 1:15 in the morning she was breathing on her own. I stayed with her. Talking to her and letting her know how thankful I was, and how much I loved her. I told her it was time to go with dad. That her mother, father, and brother were waiting to greet her with open arms. Her eyes were still closed. If I had but one wish it would be to see mom look into my eyes one last time; however the chances of that happening were very slim because of the amount of morphine she was on. So I settled for holding her hand next to my face. It was around 4:45 in the morning and there was no significant change in my mother’s condition. She had been off the breathing machine for three and half hours and nothing had change. I asked the nurse about moving her from the ICU to hospice room so she wouldn’t have to hear all the morning activity of an ICU. The nurse agreed and said they would have to order the room for her. I buried my face back into my mother’s hand waiting for them to move her.
I wasn’t sure how long it had been since my hospice room request but something strange happened that forced me to lift my head up. I swear I smelled my dad’s cologne in the room. I looked up at mom and to my surprise her eyes were wide open looking up at the ceiling. I couldn’t believe it. I quickly made my way around the other side of her bed and gently tilted her head towards my gaze. It was my final chance to speak to her in this material world. I wasn’t going to waste it with a lengthy goodbye. I was going to keep it simple. I told her that dad was here to take her to the other side and not to worry about me, I was going to be alright. With those final words, my mother’s eyes rolled down and she looked directly into my eyes. With that last look; a final remarkable moment between a mother and her son she told me everything I needed to know to move forward in this life. She told me she loved me. She thanked me. And finally there would come a time when we would be together again. She was going to be whole again and her worries were over. And with that off she went to be with loved ones on the other side. She was gone.
I sat down in the chair next to my mother’s bed and began to sob as nurses entered the room to officially mark the time of death. What had I done this evening? I was directly responsible for my mother’s passing. There was no one else there with me. I was alone. What was I going to do? Then I felt a gentle touch on my shoulder. It was the nurse with the pleasant way about her I had seen earlier in the night. She asked, “What troubles you John?” Without thinking I blurted out, “I feel like I just killed my mother.” She gently rubbed my shoulder and with kind soft eyes she said, “Oh no John, you just had the tube removed. Nothing more.” All of a sudden I felt this peaceful warmth, almost a calming energy work through my body. Everything I was feeling, all the weight of my doubts and decisions I made in regards to my mother lifted off of me. For the first time in three weeks I felt like I could breathe again. This energy told me that mom was great now. That she was whole again. In an instant the remarkable final moment I shared with my mother changed me forever. I felt incredibly blessed and loved. I felt like I was blessed to get a rare glimpse of the “man behind the curtain” and because of it I have gained a new appreciation for life and how precious it is. The time we have here is short and we have much to do. And all of this occurred because of the touch and kind words from a stranger. I never got the chance to tell the nurse who comforted me that night thank you because I couldn’t find her before I left the hospital. I hope she knows how much her actions helped me heal and see how the events that unfolded that night with my mom were a blessing.
It’s been three months now and even though my mother is gone from the material world, she has forever left her imprint on my heart. Mom’s life was not defined by a few significant events, but one that comprised a thousand little things she did during her lifetime. She lived a full life and when I say full I mean it was full of family, friends, love, sorrow, and laughter. Her kindness and charity overflowed onto those she encountered each day. The one thing she wanted for each of us was to be good to each other, help each other, and find happiness in life. Her love for her family and close friends was unconditional and unlimited.
I’ll close with the final words from my mom’s eulogy.
Don’t mourn for our mother’s passing. She’s fine. She’s doing awesome. If you must mourn, mourn for the things she took with her. The love from her we felt each day. The kindness she showed towards people and animals and the generosity of her spirit. These selfless acts and gifts of the spirit will be missed by all of us. But know that her beautiful soul has forever left its imprint on our hearts, and as long as we hold onto that we will find a way to move forward and live again. We will come to understand that she hasn’t really left us because she is with us always in our hearts and memories. And that she will forever keep watch over us as we ride this roller coaster we call life…
A thousand little things.
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